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.
Día del Mar march in La Paz, to commemorate Bolivia’s lost access to the sea during the War of the Pacific against Chile. The landlocked nation is now suing Chile at the International Court of Justice to try to get the territory back. In a similar suit, Peru recently won some ocean territory whose ownership was disputed with Chile.
From the family farm near Cochabamba where I WWOOFed for two weeks. It was an amazing place: a large variety of organically grown crops and animals to help sustain a family of five, run by a stay-at-home agronomist dad and his working biologist wife. The site produced almost no waste. Food scraps get composted or fed to animals, urine and dishwater are filtered for irrigation, dry toilets are cleared out every few months to make fertilizer, and inorganic stuff like plastic is stuffed into empty coke bottles that are then used as construction material.
I wrote this blog post back in, like, January and never posted it. Better late than never:
Cuzco’s Plaza de Armas is beautiful, but walking through there as a tourist wears on your patience pretty fast.
As a gringo, you’re a walking dollar sign, constantly declining pitches for restaurants, nightclubs, textiles, trinkets, massages (or perhaps “massages”), weed, cocaine, and info about Machu Picchu.
After four months of living in Cuzco and frequently passing through the Plaza de Armas, this got pretty annoying. After a certain point I unfortunately got in the habit of avoiding eye contact and giving cold refusals, or ignoring the hawkers altogether. This was partially a deliberate tactic to minimize intrusion, but also partially just because I was past the point of containing my irritation. I’m actually frustrated with all the previous people, but today I’m taking it out on you, sir.
Of course, the sellers themselves have it even worse. To earn their paycheck, they have to repeat the same pitch over and over and over, nearly always to be rejected by rude foreigners who obviously have money to spare.
I don’t know what the solution is, but it struck me as an interesting example of how economic inequality creates an animosity that feels very personal to both parties, even though it isn’t at all.