Pepper Etters: Message from a traveler |

Pepper Etters: Message from a traveler

Staff Reports

As I am about to depart on my trek through the Bolivian Altiplano, I thought I would send a quick update your way, for all that are interested. I would also like to offer a subtle reminder that the coffee table book is still available at the pre-purchase rate. If you have questions about the book, or would like to reserve yours now, please send an email to, as I will be out of touch for the next several weeks.Again, the pre-purchase price is $75, a savings of $35 over what will be charged after the expedition is over. The book will feature a minimum of 25-30 pages of images and prose from my experience here in the high altiplano. And I am only going to print the edition in limited numbers, no more than 100, so its value has the potential to increase over the years. Again, to reserve your copy, contact Jody at the above address, or send a check made out to Pepper Etters to:Pepper EttersAdventurous Spirit PhotographyPO Box 353Vail, CO 81658Alternatively, payments can be made by credit card via PayPal. Contact Jody for details.The response to the book has been great. My thanks to those that have already reserved your copies, and all the other support this venture has received!And now, a bit of an update…After arriving in La Paz sometime around the 2nd of february, I spend a few days exploring the streets and alleys and re-familiarizing myself with the culture. La Paz is an amazing city, its small 2-5 story) concrete and adobe buildings seem to spill into the enormous crater which houses the city. Its like a giant cascade of red, brown and white rushing down from the flat farm lands above, before squeezing into every available space in the valley below. The buildings come to rest in a chaotic, have stable state, clinging to every possible inch of land from trim to the basin below. Visually, it is a bizarre scene, like no other city I have visited before.Within the city itself, many streets remain cobblestone and even dirt, while only the main thoroughfares have been paved. Any street running toward the valley floor is amazingly steep and becomes a struggle to ascend thanks to the grip that the altitude puts on the chests of any new arrivals. The roads are narrow, and the sidewalks even smaller creating a constant struggle between the traffic attempting to navigate the steep streets, and the countless pedestrians milling about.Like any city, La Paz has its share of business types, students, beggars, tourists and more. What makes it quite interesting however, are the thousands of indigenous and mestizo women dressed in giant skirts, tiny bowlers caps and carrying goods and baby’s in colorful shawls. These women are often found tending various market stalls around the city. They sell any number of things from common household goods, to various fruits, breads and other foods, to toys and clothing. Ethnic men line the streets as if they have nothing to do, spending the days chatting and chewing coca leaves out of elaborately woven, colorful pouches as their ancestors have done for ages.The typical sounds of a city intermingle with the third world cacophony of dogs barking and fighting, and horns blaring ceaselessly. A pleasant string of music from the altiplano snakes its way through the harsher city sounds. Its haunting melodies created by a mixture of flute, pan, pipe, guitar and other instruments emerges from restaurants, music stores and the occasional street musician. Around the numerous plazas and churches, arises the babble of voices and conversation as friends catch up on each others lives.Perhaps one of the most unique parts of the city is the Witches Market, a collection of stalls staffed by quechua and Ayamara Witches offering ageless remedies, potions, herbs and spells for sale among the encroaowls development and influx of western medicine. Displayed in their carts, and shops one can find an assortment of colorful idols, talismans, potions and amulets. For a small fee, you receive the one of your choice, depending upon your need, along with a spell or incantation designed to give it power. There is something for everyone, whether you seek better health, love, happiness, money, power or strength. Other items available include various mixtures of herbs and potions, candles, incense, and colorful cookie looking things shaped into countless forms. The most shocking thing to see in the stalls of the witches market, however, are the assortments of dead animals collected from around the country. There is always a large number of dried llama fetuses and dried baby llamas, and often one can find skins and parts from leopards, anacondas and other snakes, owles, condors, frogs, and a large assortment of undescernables. Unfortunatly photography of the market is difficult as the wiches belive that the camera takes their soul, or part of it, from their body and places it on a piece of paper!Moving beyond La Paz, I had the fortune to witness the Carnival in Oruro, claimed to be one of the worlds best carnival celebrations. Alhtough I had hoped to spend a few days there, I was unable to obtain any sort of lodging as the town becomes overun with visitors. With a normal population of 200,000 its save to say the town reaches critical mass each year with teh influx of 400,000-600,000 additional spectators. While I had expected something more of a chaotic party featuring countless costumed partygoers dancing randomly in the streets, it turned out to be a fairly orderly affair, at least by bolivian standards.To accomodate all of the people,owls bleachers are set up lining what appears to be several miles of the avenue of folklore. Beginning early in the morning, an endless parade of elaborately costumed dancers and their bands progress down the avenue in an ever stimulating tapestry of color, movement and music. There was an energy unlike anything I have previously experienced. Dancers representing numerous towns and every province of Bolivia created a additional element of a cultural show. WHile there were common themes among the costumes and dances, differences were quite discernable. Representing the lowland jungle areas danced people dressed in elaborate headdresses made out of feathers from an assortment of birds from the jungle. Other groups represented their distinct cultures by wearing traditional dress, and performing traditional dance to traditional music. THe crowd favorites are the Diabladas, or devils, who are perhaps the most elaborately dressed dancers of all. Their costumes were garish devil like masks adorned with skulls, horns, dragons and dead animals. One dancer even incorporated a huge condor with a 6 ft wingspan into his mask. Some costumes were long heavy flowing designs featuring thick coats of fur, while others presented more colorful collections of lighter fabric, and more modern fabrics. The dancers carried staves adorned with various assortments of skulls, owls, birds and feathers. The women wore elaborate devil like masks paired with skimpy dresses of colorful, elaborate fabrics.Apart from the actual parade, the secondary function of the carnival ensued with gusto. As onlookers imbibed incredible amounts of beer, chicha and other beverages, they engaged in wild water fights. Vendors sell water ballons, squirt guns and espuma (a shaving cream like aerosol thing) which are all used with little restraint on the surrounding masses. Most people don rain ponchos to ward of the onslaught of water and espuma, though it rarely does any good. I did manage to somehow keep my camera dry, which was a real ordeal.Since the carnival experience, I made my way into chile, where ritual like I savored all the foods and things I missed. Spending some time in Iquique I stumbled upon a small parade celebrating the Danzamerica folklore festival going on the next few days. Although i was unable to stay and witness the festival, it was great to see the parade which featured costumed dancers from Mexico, brazil, equador, peru, argentina, and chile.Now I am in San Pedro de Atacama, an interesting little desert town in northern chile. The past several days have been spent organizing details for the real reason for this trip, our attempted traverse of Bolivia’s Altiplano region. Despite the fact that we are in a typically efficient country, we have run into several setbacks preventing our departure. It looks like everything has been organized, and barring any changes, we will head into BOlivia tomorrow, spend a few days exploring the area around Laguna Verde, and then hire a jeep to take us to the edge of the Salar de Uyuni, the worlds largest salt desert. From the little town of san juan, we will buy a few burros and perhaps a llama and begin our trek across the salt flats and into the lusher alpine tundra regions beyond. Our plan is to spend a majority of the time visiting with the local Ayamara populations to learn about about their life in the Altiplano. With a bit of luck, we should arrive at our final destination of the Volcan Sajama about 3 weeks from leaving San Juan. We will then spend up to a week climbing the Volcano, Bolivias highest peak, before returning to La Paz and eventually making my way home.Well, that turned out much longer than expected. Hopefully it was a bit entertaining, if nothing else for those of you that read it all. I am sure I will find the time upon my return to let you all know how the trek went. Of course, if you would rather not receive these kinds of emails, let me know and I will take you of the list.I hope everyone is enjoying themselves where ever you are, and whatever you are doing.Pepper

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