Chojasivi – The Newest Tourist Destination in Bolivia

Sailboats on the lake Chojasivi is a town on the shores of Lake Titicaca, about 2 hours from La Paz. A friend of mine is volunteering for the NGO which is working there to try to make the town a tourist destination. I spent this past weekend there as one of the first groups of tourists to visit the town. It was a really interesting experience, and I learned a few things: 1) it is possible to travel 75km for under $1, 2) it is difficult to take pictures while riding on a donkey and 3) I am not very good at traditional Bolivian dancing!

We left Saturday morning from El Alto (the city above La Paz on the plains). We arrived just in time to catch the bus. Buses here tend to leave when they are full, and not on a particular schedule. After about an hour on a paved road, we turned off onto a dirt road, for a very bumpy ride with lots of dust. After an uneventful trip, we arrived in Chijasivi just after noon. The community members involved in the project were all waiting for us. They showed us to a room which they had decorated with clothes, instruments and paintings. After welcoming us with a bit of a song played on traditional instruments, it was time for lunch!

Lunch consisted of some delicious foods, all traditional from the area including quinua, potatoes, rice, eggs, meat (which is not actually part of their every day diet), and fried plantain. It was all really good! Then it was off to see the community!!

But what would our mode of transportation be?! Donkeys, no less!! I must admit, this was a first for me. They had picked out the nicest donkeys available for us to ride on to see the community. Once we were all mounted on the donkeys, we were off. Each of us had a guide leading the donkey, so we didn’t have to worry about steering, just about not falling off when your donkey starts hee-hawing at another donkey!!

Our first stop was to see a family who raises chickens. We were shown where the chickens live, how they are taken care of and were given some egg with quinua patties to taste the eggs that the chickens produce. Then we went to see a family who raises guinea pigs. Guinea pigs are eaten here, not kept as pets like at home! This family also had a “greenhouse” where they were growing lettuce. The Altiplano receives a lot of frost, and in the winter it is difficult to grow crops (due to the cold and lack of rain), so having a greenhouse really helps people grow crops all year long. After that we went to see a family who has cows, and saw how they are milked the cows. A few of our group gave it a try, and it’s actually quite tricky!

Woman dancing Then it was back to the room where we would eat and gather the whole weekend. After tea, which consisted of tea with bread and cookies made from lima bean flour (really quite good!), we went outside to the basketball court behind the building to watch some traditional dances. The community consists of four smaller villages, and each presented a traditional dance, most with instruments accompanying it, but one with only singing, which is supposedly from before the time of instruments. We were the guests of honour! We were sat at a table in front of the dances, while the rest of the community members sat facing us and the dancers from the other side! I’m pretty sure we were a bigger tourist attraction to them than they were to us! At the end of the last dance, we were taken on to the basketball court to join in the dance.

Afterwards, it was time for dinner (if it seems like all we did was eat interspersed with activities, you are correct!). Dinner was quinua soup. It was quite good! After dinner, a few people told us some town legends. Even though I’m pretty sure I understood all the Spanish, and I tried really hard to pay attention, I really didn’t get the stories! But they enjoyed telling them. Then it was off to bed early because Sun would be an early morning. Myself and two other girls slept in a common room which was full of bunk beds, while another girl slept in a family’s house. We all had the opportunity, but I opted out of it because I was a bit nervous that I would catch fleas.

There was no running water near our room, and the bathroom was a sanplat latrine (or squat latrine for those who don’t know the technical terms!), which was fine for one night. It was quite clean, so I didn’t mind. It’s always nice to see a clean and well used latrine!! The town’s water supply, however, came from a well of about 60m deep with a pump which they run to fill the tank and then shut off. So there is water in the community, just not all the time or necessarily when you want it.

Sunday morning started at 6am, with breakfast supposedly at 6:15am so that we could get to the lake for a day of sailing. Unfortunately, breakfast was not ready until nearly 7am, which when you get up at 6am is a bit annoying, but they are just learning so I will forgive them this time! Breakfast consisted of white bread and tea. Then it was a 30 min walk to the lakeshore to get in our boats.

Lake Titicaca Each boat took two of us, and at least two community members. The boats are about the size and shape of a rowboat, made out of wood with a mast near the back and one sail. We sailed out into the lake through all the reeds, which are collected and used as feed for cattle. Other types of reeds are used for roofs. We saw all sorts of ducks and birds. About an hour into the ride, we stopped at a floating island. I’m not entirely sure how these work, but there were probably about 15 people all standing on this little floating island and it didn’t sink! It is made out of reeds and other plant material that floats on the water like a raft. We saw eggs from at least three different types of birds.

We climbed back into the boats and continued to an actual island with another community living on it. There was a museum there, which we visited and saw some artifacts that had been found on the island. We then walked around the town and had a snack (yep, more food!) by the church. The snack consisted of quinua patties, eggs, lima beans and chuna (dehydrated potatoes, which are not so good). After that it was back into the boats for the 1.5hour sail back to land. We arrived just in time for lunch, which was huge and really good with potatoes, rice, fried potatoes, tunta (another type of not so good dehydrated potatoes), fried plantain, friend cheese, meat, egg, quinua, and I can’t remember what else!

We packed up, paid what we owed (200bs, or about $28 cdn, which is what we decided to give them not what they asked for – they didn’t really know how much to charge), and were taken for another spin on the dance floor as a goodbye. Then we walked up to the road just in time to flag down a bus that was going by for another bumpy dusty ride back to El Alto.

It was a very interesting trip, and I am glad that I was able to be a part of the first group of tourists to visit! They have some things to learn, and a few other challenges to overcome, such as actually building a hostel with running water and toilets, better communications and overall marketing, but I think it’s a great idea. It was good to see the enthusiasm in the community. For every one job there were at least two doing it, which for now is good because they can all learn from the experience. The idea is for people to come see life in the community and see the lake as well. They certainly have a lot to offer a foreigner who knows nothing about rural life in Bolivia.

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Posted in bolivia | travel Submitted by Meg on Mon, 2007-09-03 22:41

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