What a week! Between a weekend trip to Bolivia’s famed Salt Flats, Salar de Uyuni, paragliding, our first-ever Remote Year Impact Conference, a trip to the private studio of ceramicist Mario Serabia, and lots of fun along the way, it was a jam-packed 7 days.
Celebrity Game Night
We Remotes can be goofy sometimes. We kicked off this week with a round of Celebrity game night. (For those that don’t know, you act out/impersonate famous celebrities/movies/pop culture. We had a lot of Kardashian references.) It’s always a blast to witness the cultural barriers come out when our resident Austrian tries to act out an American actor he might not know very well, or our resident Belgian makes us all laugh with his antics. All-in-all, it was a great night hanging out with the community.
Architectural/Street Art Tour
In El Alto, the town that sits above La Paz, there is a housing project that was painted over by Roberto Mamani Mamani a few years ago. He transformed a cluster of 7 or so buildings into huge, colorful testaments to Bolivian icons like Pacha Mama (Mother Earth). He also got in the Guiness Book of World Records for having the largest street art/mural. We got to the buildings quite late in the evening, when it was just dark enough not to see them clearly, but they were still a sight to behold (see pics below).
We also saw some cholets, which are basically Aymara (indigenous Bolivian people) party houses. They are colorful and decadent, and I can only imagine the fiestas that go down here. Fun fact: the picture below of me standing in one got reposted by ExperienceBolivia, so basically, I’m famous. (Not really.)
Remote Year Impact Conference
Every month, my group has been hosting at least one service-oriented event. In Cordoba, we picked up trash in a park. In BA, we cleaned up an under-served school. This month, we put on the first ever Remote Year Impact Conference, with the topic being Digital Marketing. I was one of the presenters, on a panel called Start-U Up in Digital, focusing on getting your career going. We had a great turnout of over 100 Bolivian young professionals and students, and they benefited from hearing about how to launch an app, how to build their personal brand, and more. The event was a huge success, and I hope we do more of these in the future. My favorite part was after the formal conference, where we had break-out sessions and got to interact with the students, giving them actionable advice for their specific projects.
Ceramicist Mario Sarabia’s Studio
I had a unique opportunity to visit the home/studio of ceramic artist Mario Sarabia. Sarabia was born in La Paz, grew up for a while in New York (actually not far from my neighborhood), and now lives in La Paz where he makes ceramic art focusing on the old Bolivia (indigenous) and the new Bolivia (Spanish). He talks about himself being a mix of both and so not truly belonging to either.
Aside from seeing his beautiful work, I loved spending time with him. He came off as an older sage, and taught us more about art history than anything else. My favorite quotes from the evening were:
History from a book is doubtful. Art history is visible.
and, on the Spanish conquest of the indigenous peoples:
Eliminate art, you eliminate religion. Eliminate religion, you eliminate politics. Eliminate politics, you eliminate economy. Eliminate economy, you eliminate culture.
An incredible experience that I’m lucky to have had.
I decided to maintain my #growthzone adventurous alter ego and go paragliding. Even after a previous group had a pretty bad accident, I got up on top of a mountain, and ran off of it, with an instructor named Miguel and a huge parachute strapped to me. Ironically, it was more peaceful than scary, and floating above the beautiful Andes near La Paz was an amazing experience. The few moments of feeling my stomach drop during a turn or wind catching the parachute weird, and the slight nausea from what I can only describe as your body rebelling from flying make me think that once was probably enough, unless a stunning enough landscape presents itself.
Here’s a video of me flailing like an idiot, and then flying:
Weekend in the Salt Flats
It’s hard to explain the feeling of having just salt, all around you – 21,000km of it, 125m deep. First, you notice the slight smell of sulfur. Then, there’s the painful morsels if you want on it barefoot (seriously unpleasant). Mostly though, it’s amazing. The sun is so bright from reflecting off the hexagonal squares, and any other vehicles or people seem like specs in the distance.
A group of us went in two 4×4 Jeeps, with some notable highlights:
- Arriving in sleepy Salar de Uyuni, a city whose industry of salt has turned into one of lithium and tourism.
- Playing on abandoned trains, relics of older times when trade was prevalent with Chile.
- Lunch in the Salt Hotel, made of – you guessed it – salt. Even the chairs were salt.
- Taking some risque/glam shots with nothing but salt and sky.
- Walking around a cactus island with cacti that are thousands of years old.
- Seeing amazing lagoons with hundreds of flamingos. What are they doing up in these frigid, barren conditions?!
- Listening to the full Hamilton soundtrack between our hours of driving to different stops.
- Staying in super rustic accommodations (the second night, they were described to us by other Remotes as “staying with the Taliban”), but cozying up in our sleeping bags.
- Seeing landscapes that inspired Dali – literally. His famous stone tree is in a photo below.
- Waking up our last morning to see geysers that can only be described as other-worldly. Because it felt like being on Mars.
- Bathing in natural hot springs after two days of being cold almost all the time.
- Some of the best pizza we’ve had in South America before our flight back to La Paz, and meeting the Bostonian who runs the joint.
An even better recounting of our Salt Flats trip is here, written by fellow Remote and friend, Kelly.
And with that, our time in La Paz is almost up. Next time: our last week in Bolivia, and the start of our last South American stop, Cusco.