A friend in Bolivia sent me into the jungle for a few weeks to volunteer with some nuns he knew who he said were doing health education work–teaching people about sanitation, boiling water, etc. I took a plane across Bolivia into the provincial capital of Trinidad, then another flight on a Cessna six-seater with no seatbelts to arrive at Bella Vista. The nuns greeted me warmly but it turns out they weren’t doing health education at all (and for their part, they thought I was going to be a doctor!) I ended up teaching English and chess at the boarding school the nuns run. Miss these kids.
Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt desert, takes up hundreds of square miles in southwest Bolivia and is visible from space. Underneath it is by far the world’s largest lithium deposit, containing somewhere between 40 and 70 percent of the world’s total reserves. The mineral is used to power a wide variety of consumer electronics, and this GlobalPost report argues that the metal will become increasingly important as climate change drives the search for alternative forms of energy.
The Bolivian government sees the potential for windfall profits from the resource, and already has a lab on the Salar to experiment with various extraction methods. But as one Bolivian pointed out to me, widespread extraction would mean potentially scarring the view of one of the world’s most unique natural features. Big money for Bolivia maybe, but it would make the scene a little less romantic for the Argentinean couple off in the distance here.
El Alto, built on the plateau beyond the valley of La Paz. It’s often referred to as the capital of Aymara culture, and the city’s growth reflects the growing urbanization of Bolivia–El Alto’s population was 11,000 in 1952, 307,000 in 1985, and about 800,000 today. Its endless streets of cubic red brick buildings are filled with Bolivians who combine urban life with rural custom, taking the Aymara language and culture and adapting it to city life. It’s a symbol of the increased power and cosmopolitanism of Bolivia’s indigenous peoples. They are still building.