Wandering Bolivia. Sucre.

Nights rides on a bus are sometimes a blessing. You can sleep and not worry about missing the landscape. So it was on my way from Uyuni to Sucre. The seat was comfortable, I had a big llama fabric wrap around me, and my bladder stayed quiet. The bus reached Sucre at 3a.m. A short cab ride and I was at my airbnb Hostal CasArte Takubamba. I’ll write about this again but not once did I fear taking a taxi ride in the dead of the night in an unknown town, in an unknown country where I did not speak the language. I would never do that in India. Not an alien country AND I speak the language.

It was a relief to sleep on a bed in a warm room after the freezing temperatures on the bus. The hostal is a beautiful old casa, (house/abode in Spanish) that also doubles as an art gallery. One of the guys invited me to an opening later and it was really interesting to see the chi chi set of Sucre. This place offers a very good breakfast too. Fresh fruit, freshly squeezed juice, eggs on toast and a variety of Bolivian teas. I had coca leaf tea every day.

Hostal CasArte Takubamba

Sucre is beautiful. dscf7347

It is laid out like a square grid, streets running perpendicular and parallel to each other with a green space bang in the middle. There is a church on almost every street. I wonder how Christianity dealt with indigeneity and vice versa. Indigenous cultures are embedded in nature, tied to this universe, manifesting multifold. Then there is the idea of a singular God. The dissonance therein and eventual assimilation would make fascinating study. Although I guess colonising forces always have the upper hand. On my last day in Sucre a guest at the casa invited me for Sunday mass but I had a flight to catch. Pity. I would have loved to go. A service in Spanish after experiencing one in Manase, Samoa.

The genteel atmosphere of Sucre was a welcome change after touring Uyuni in one day. I walked around and observed the locals as I love to. Bolivia is slowly getting prosperous (as one local in La Paz told me). I saw indigenous people tucked away in corners trying to eke out an existence or just beg. I don’t have a solution for poverty; to prevent people from being forced out of their own land, where no God or gods can alleviate suffering nor prevent greed or selfishness. It breaks my heart. I wish I had an answer. I don’t think global poverty can be eradicated with us from privileged positions wanting to help others but maintaining hierarchical status quo. The failure of free trade economy is obvious for all to see; the world is not flat! There has to be a collective solution, the will and leadership for it. How that can be when the world order is imperialistic? Not that communism is the answer either. That order to begets its own pecking order and unilateral power. President Evo Morales of Bolivia, not quite comunista y socialista you know. (Incidentally I blogged about Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat way back in 2009.)

Back to Sucre. As is also my habit I eat street food as much as I can and I discovered this little place under the stairs of a building. A whole pot of hot chocolate con leche, queso (cheese) empanadas, masaco de yuca con queso sonso, a kind of cheese pastry that is a Bolivian speciality. Another time I had Milaneza de pollo, a chicken dish, in the food court at Mercado Central, the central market. Right amongst the people some of whom were counting their coins for what was a treat out. It reminded me how I went to this roadside joint two of the three nights I was in Shanghai and finished off an eggplant and rice dish from an orange plastic plate.

I got a taste of South American soaps while dining. Like Hindi television soaps they are loud, melodramatic and hilarious. I was riveted :-p

Oh and was I not surprised to see Asians established in Sucre.

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An old Korean couple ran a Kodak Express right in the town centre. Asians rule!

I did most of my shopping at a co-operative in Sucre. The wool, the fabric, the style is quite unique. Arts and crafts that reflect the local people and their ideas of the world, their interactions with outsiders. Museo Casa de La Libertad was another little place I browsed to know more about the history of Sucre and Bolivia in general. And there is a great vegetarian cafe just off the town square too.

There were many parades through the streets during the time I spent there.

On my last night in Sucre I went up to the church behind the casa where the street was closed for a fair. A jatra जत्रा as one can see anywhere around a temple and on festivals in Maharashtra. Some things are the same across countries and cultures. So what if the language and religions are different.

More Wanderings. Bolivia. Uyuni.

My travel doctor had warned me about altitude sickness in La Paz, as I mentioned in my post Wanderings Again.. The only other time I’d experienced altitude sickness was in Sikkim, high up over Natha La Pass the other side of which is Tibet, the roof of the world. I was fine when I reached the hotel, breathing well, speaking full sentences. I walked around looking for dinner, found a cheap Chinese restaurant, had a tasteless rice dish, went back to the hotel. My flight to Uyuni was at 6am the next morning and I had booked a taxi for 4am. I felt nauseous through the night. I thought it was the rice. Well, it was the rice. Churning in my stomach because the bloody altitude was hitting me and although my respiration was fine I was inhaling rarefied air. So I threw up. Then I threw up again. I still did not connect it to the altitude. I thought it was a migraine because that is the only ‘condition’ I suffer from and that is the only time I vomit. Inside my oxygen starved brain I was chiding myself…you travel you suffer you get headaches that is so typical onward and upward serves you right. Throw up once more. That went on through the night. Chunks of undigested rice. I had to re-arrange my backpack in the morning, which, anyone who has travelled with one will tell you, is part of the daily routine. How To Distribute The Weight Evenly-An Ongoing Exercise. And it was cold. Bloody cold.

I slept through the one hour trip to Uyuni (yes I vomited at the airport).

Uyuni is a remote town straight out of a Hollywood Western. I took a taxi into town. This was the only part of the trip I had not organised. I was going to wing it. The main drag was empty. Not a soul on the street. Not even a drunk straggling home. Before I could get out of the taxi a fast talking local woman with a loud voice opened the door for me and sold me a day trip to the salt flats. Her office was warm and I could hang out until she assembled a group. Adventure on! I was dehydrated and cold. I stretched out on her office couch and was fast asleep in a second. Here is the point when a traveller should be alert to potential theft, assault etc. Not once did I feel I was in danger. I will reiterate this through my travel stories in Bolivia. Not once, never through my time in Bolivia did I feel scared.


Main street, Uyuni.


Main street, Uyuni. Guardian princess perhaps.

So it was a day of touristy Uyuni train graveyard and salt flat viewing. The group was full of Asians. Two Koreans, four Japanese, one Indian and the Bolivian guide who turned out be quite a keen photographer. He wanted us to pose and pretend for the camera. As if it was part of the service, for us to take these memories with us this way. At least I think this is what he wanted us to remember.

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More photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/drsapna/albums/72157659571976489

I was meant to be in Sucre the next day and the plan was to take the overnight bus but was the only part of the trip I had not booked. The tour business lady told me there were many buses going to Sucre and that I will get a ticket easily. I actually got the second last ticket. If you have travelled through rural India (or in my case rural Maharasthtra, which is my state) then such experiences are deja vu. You go into an office full of people, children, bags, sacks, lots of chatter, comings and goings. A seat number is written down on a receipt voucher, money exchanged and you turn up at least 30 minutes before the bus departs. You don’t know if the seat number actually means anything or fellow travellers will ‘catch’ the seat for someone else, whether there will be any place for your bag, whether there will be a ‘pee’ stop and whether you can safely empty the bladder in a female friendly space.


There were two buses departing at the same time, both to Sucre. Mine was a seater not a sleeper. It was unclear initially which was which. I waited to the locals to get in. Then I climbed in. There was a large Bolivian woman in my seat. Now these are formidable women you don’t mess with. She sat stoic. It was her seat! I ran back to the office and hey, the girl who wrote my ticket nonchalantly changed the number. Sorry. As if that was routine. Not for me. Whew and geez! Thus I took my overnight bus from Uyuni to Sucre. Safe as a single female backpacker in a foreign land, in a bus mostly full of locals.







Films I Want To Share

Nagraj Manjule’s Sairat : Where Class Inequality Is Surmountable But Caste Inequalities Cast A Long Shadow

Don’t know how and when I will get to see Nagraj’s new film Sairat but I am fan so want to share. I loved the trailer. The cinematography is gorgeous, the songs melodious. The film should be a zinger.

So in between my self indulgent posts, here is a fangirl share.

via F.I.G.H.T.C.L.U.B.


More Wanderings. Encounters

Travelling, as always, reiterates how I can be any person and live anywhere in the world. I will always be an outsider, I will never ‘belong’ (what is belonging…), and yet I am here. Of course I indulge in such existential questions and analysis because I can afford to do it. If I was struggling on a daily basis, trying to earn a living, support other people, pay the bills, if I was a minority where I was not allowed to be live with my beliefs, my culture, if I did not have a voice at all then the idea of travelling seems distant and alien.

Even my minimalist backpacking is a privilege because I can afford to do it. I have the choice to do it. As an academic friend who studies multiculturalism and international students pointed out to me, such kind of travelling is an upper middle class indulgence. It is not just me trying to make do without certain travel luxuries because they are beyond my budget (well, some are) or in a non-consumerist manner; it is because I have the freedom to do so.

That said, travelling is a very humbling experience for me. I don’t see myself living in hotels and seeing places with travel groups. Intrepid is my word, my thing. Simply because in this space I meet the locals, I get to have conversations with fellow travellers on a similar journey, I see my place in this world. A nothingness, an inconsiderable speck, a spectre of self-centredness in her daily existence.

As I waited in the lounge to board my flight to La Paz I saw this tall, dark man, very distinctly Indian. I strained to look again. I had seen many ‘Indian’ looking (not indigenous) people in Santiago. I am one of them but I rarely get recognised as Indian. I am from everywhere but there. Except other Indians who stare at me suspiciously. Is she? Isn’t she? But she has no designer gear on her, she is in rags…and she is alone…Indians don’t travel by themselves, not women…I can see the emotions flicker across their faces…so I fit among the locals in Santiago. Never mind that me no hablo Español, hablo only poquito.

This man was definitely Indian. I placed him as either from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh or interiors of Maharashtra. He had a moustache, a red thread on right wrist and a gold chain around his neck. All external markers of a Hindu male from India. Then I noticed the Indian passport. Bazinga! He looked at me suspiciously as I seated myself opposite him trying to eavesdrop.😉 It was a group of four with the other three very possibly Chilean. I am pleased to report our man spoke impeccable Español. Rarely on my travels have I encountered an Indian speaking the local language or being so comfortable. It was quite cool.

On the flight sat next to me a man who kept peering at my book. He was, he seemed Chilean. Is that Arabic, he eventually asked me. No it is Marathi, my mother tongue.


The Mahabharata

Where is that from? So we got talking. He was going to La Paz on business and offered to help me find a taxi to go to the hotel because the Bolivians might swindle me. Does not cost about seventy Bolivianos? I had done all my research. Nah, he said, they might charge more. He said he had been to La Paz a couple of times on business. He had a factory in Santiago and made industrial chemicals. He was, he finally told me, third generation Chilean-Lebanese. His grandfather had moved to Santiago from Lebanon. He could not speak or read Arabic except for a few words. Habibi, I said. He laughed. Yalla! He laughed more. Do you eat fatoosh, hummus, falafel? How do you know, he asked. I don’t, I said. I assume you do. Food is the great memory from and of your ancestors. Fifth generation New Zealand Chinese still have Chinese food at home. Curries and mango pickle, Yorkshire pudding, pho, sushi/kimbap; different flavours, same desires and yearning. Putting down roots does not mean belonging. Putting down roots does not mean permanence.

So I travel. Seeking home. It can be India, somewhere in East/South-East Asia, New Zealand, Australia, Europe and now South America. Wandering, encountering, believing in the oneness and diversity of humanity.


New Wanderings. Santiago.

First stop in South America was Santiago. I’d decided to forgo the laptop and just depend on my smartphone, one more way to be minimal. Just took an extra 16GB hard disk for my camera. I also gave myself an upgrade from the usual hostels to airbnb accommodations through the trip except La Paz but more about that as I write about those places. I booked a tiny room with Esteban and Arturo in Santiago Centro.

The plane manoeuvered itself through mountains and clouds to land on a rainy winter’s day, the Andes looming surreal as we touched down. They grew larger and intimidating as my shuttle went towards the city.

Slums on the outskirts, crumbling buildings, magnificent presidential palace, old world edifices, Santiago is a wonderful city. It could be in Europe but it is a remnant of colonialism and then the after effects of Western imperial interference.

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My first morning I walked to the Bio Bio flea market. I had assumed it started early but it was closed. So I took the 206 bus back to the city not knowing that buses in Santiago don’t take coins. The bus driver gave me a free ride to Santa Rosa and a wee lecture on getting a bus card. My host Arturo advised me to take the metro instead. I have been on the London, Paris, Berlin and Shanghai metros, I have done Singapore and Hong Kong but I give my gold medal to the Santiago Metro. Smooth travel, spacious stations, super security, signage, lots of art. It was a pleasure. No one stopped me taking photos or filming, a complete contrast to India where even a minor activity requires paying obeisance to self important overseers first.

The Centro Cultural de la Moneda is a small arts space in Santiago Centro, just below the Palais de la Moneda. Free entry, small and immensely interesting exhibitions, crafts shops and a cafe. This is a place worth visiting. I love art galleries and museums so I spent a lot of time here at the exhibition Grandes Maestros Del Arte Popular De Iberoamerica Coleccion Fomento Cultural Banamex-the great folk masters of Iberoamerica. Folk art from across South America reminded me of Madhubani and Warli art, Tapa cloth, various Pacific and indigenous weaves, sculptures and pottery. There was Christian art, lots of reference to death, mermaids, and tree like installations that I did not understand but assume are about Catholicism.

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Santa Lucia is like Mount Eden in Auckland except that it has lovely old structures and easy steps. There were lovey-dovey cuddling couples kissing endlessly in every nook and cranny. All other visitors, from skater bois to grown men everyone loved their selfie stick. There is a great artisan market on the other side of the road.

A little further up the road still in Santiago Centro (Alameda # 20) I discovered the best pizza ever at Pizzeria Bella Italia. I was careful to mostly eat vegetariano as they say in Español and there was quite a choice.

Chile must be the rare non-Western country that has a poet for a national icon. I searched and searched for English translations of Pablo Neruda’s poems but did not find any. It was at the Fondo De Cultura Economica in Santiago Centro that I found a an entire shelf dedicated to poets but no Neruda. Instead I bought a book of poems by Oscar Hahn for a young Colombian boy I am mentoring.

The place I was most interested in visiting was the Museo de la Memoria y Los Derechos Humanos, the museum of memory and human rights.

A modern structure on a very European looking street this building holds the stories and memories of the toppling of Salvador Allende and the cruel regime of Augusto Pinochet that was supported by Western ‘democracies’. This is a permanent exhibition. There are posters of the victims, torture instruments are on display, there is a section called El dolor de los niños, the pain of the children, all reminding me of the Stasi Museum in Berlin. I alternated between being very angry to tearful and then saluting the spirit of the Chileans for bringing back democracy. History is made by the people and while democracy and liberty are not perfect concepts they are worth fighting for. Even a ‘state of democracy’ is not static but a work in progress that should still have at it’s base and as it’s aim human betterment and independence, where social hierarchy and religious hegemony are disrupted constantly-not for the purpose of unrest but for mobility and hence freedom. And there are other exhibitions that look at other countries, their struggle for human rights. There was a photo exhibition on the complexity of the ‘war on drugs’ in Colombia called Violentology. A quote from another exhibition called Los Durmientes El Exilio Imaginado (The Railway Ties/The Imaginary Exile) by Enrique Ramirez said “Time as experienced through memory is not linear but rather a kind of pileup of events that become linked, tangled, blended together.” There is an audio-visual archive in the top floor that stores from across the world material related to this period of Chilean history. The librarian told me his memories of Pinochet’s return to Chile and his frustration that he never stood trial. We chatted via broken English and Español about democracy, refugees, migration and what not and would have gone on. Random conversations with strangers are most often the delights of low brow travel. But one has to go to the next destination. It was time to say ciao to Santiago.

More photos at https://www.flickr.com/photos/drsapna/albums/72157657651187374/page1


Wanderings again. South America. Prepping.

Long time since I posted anything. The intention is there not the time. Sometimes procrastination, sometimes fear. I might have lost my touch, I am a fake writer…then I remember..this is to share my thoughts and be grandiose enough to think people actually want to know. The thoughts were cooking and maturing. Ripening. There is a Hindi word for it पनपना.

I was coming to the end of my hospital runs, eighteen months in a hell where love and empathy are at the bottom of the list, and I needed to go somewhere to renew myself. I had two weeks paid leave (that I’d applied for months in advance), dreams of losing myself in a new adventure and finding the purpose of my existence again. I mean I know the purpose of my life but it requires reiteration from time to time. Especially when you are coming out of a black hole called hospital that has sucked your life blood and left you purely in survival mode existing day to day. I had just been to India (post about that later), I love Asia but it is not out of my comfort zone; Asia is home. I could have gone to Europe again but I am comfortable there too. The U.S does not interest me yet and anywhere in Africa is too far away.

I don’t know where and how South America came on my radar but the more I looked at it the more I liked the idea. The original plan was to do Chile only. Santiago is a direct thirteen hour flight from Auckland. However Chile is a vertical country and it was going to be either the North or the South.Chile Map

So it had to be Bolivia, a square-ish country. That I did not speak Español or that Bolivia had/has the reputation of being dangerous did not deter me one bit. If I could survive Shanghai knowing only three sentences in Mandarin, then Bolivia was a cakewalk.

I read Lonely Planet and blogs about Bolivia. It is not an easy place to access. My travel agent Shane Lust (yes you need one to do these out of way places) and I went back and forth working around dates and flights. Even then he could not book the domestic flights in Bolivia. Amaszonas is the only airline that you can book from outside Bolivia. There is a government airline but it is unreliable. I spent many anxious moments trying to confirm flights and pay online. Then I phoned their call centre and the process was smooth after that.

My travel doctor not only gave me my yellow fever shot but also advised me on how to plan my itinerary. La Paz, the highest capital in the world, was where I should spend time at the end of the trip; I had to avoid altitude sickness. So it was going to be La Paz-Uyuni-Sucre-Rurrenabaque-La Paz.

It was winter in New Zealand and winter in Sud America. The temperature drops to 0° in Bolivia but it was going to be hot in the Amazon rain forest! I had to buy a new backpack because I’d given my old one to my niece who was going on a school trip to Japan. Buying a backpack is quite an exercise. There are many, many helpful articles from other wanderers/travellers. Since I had gone through that process once I knew what to get the second time. It was easier because I found a really cheap one at Kathmandu. Next on the list were woollen socks, a light merino jacket and other bits all from Macpac. The idea was to take 4 pairs of clothing  such that I could wash and dry locally in laundromats. Layered winter clothing is essential, as any New Zealander will tell you. Then there is sunscreen, lip balm, a hat, gloves, beanie, scarves. All essential whether winter or summer. That I would not get clean water in Bolivia was a given but I worried about my environmental clutter buying bottled water. Until I discovered this beauty.


Simple, easy to use and carry. A life long investment for travellers like me. Of course I also took water purifying tablets and coffee filters to strain water.

For this trip I upgraded myself from hostels to airbnb accomodation. I also decided to forego my laptop and only connect with my phone.

One last thing, the most important thing. Travel insurance. Medical students getting ready to go overseas on their elective told me about World Nomads. Cheap, effective insurance. I even got myself air evacuation, just in case. Another thing, on par with insurance, was to register on safetravel.govt.nz a New Zealand Ministry Of Foreign Afairs and Trade initiative that not only offers travel advisory but are able to count Kiwi heads via local embassies and consulates in case of emergencies. They will come looking for you even if you are deep in the jungle. Because they know. After what happened at Bataclan in Paris I will register wherever I go, except Australia. I was all set to go wandering, again.


Ready, steady, go! Souff America!


Brave New World of Yoga

Source: Brave New World of Yoga

Here is an inspiring post from a yogi. I often laugh off skinny white women in their Lululemon Athletica and spray tanned skin talking about ‘yoga’ because I believe that the truth cannot be appropriated, that for every such instant-nirvana seeker there are yogis who, with their truth, will carry on and that stream is ever flowing. (I don’t mean the angry Baba Ramdev types who propagate Hindu extremism through their teachings, that is equally corrupt.)

Maybe I should defend yoga more often when the next skinny white woman rubs it into my face?

New Wanderings. Castles And Cathedrals. Strasbourg 3.

And a bit of Deutschland.

It is kind of weird I started to write this while on my trip to India in April because the obsessive compulsive kind of person that I am, it was necessary to finish stories and impressions from my trip to Strasbourg first. Then I was meant to talk about my India trip but by the time I’ve completed this post I have also been to Chile and Bolivia. Strasbourg is like, so last year.🙂

Alsace is full of medieval castles and Gothic cathedrals. The Strasbourg cathedral is a case in point. The first time I saw it, bang in the middle of the town square, dark, imposing, intimidating, sharp angles and jutting bits, I was not impressed. I mean as a structure itself, it is quite an achievement. Must have taken a lot of labour and time to complete it. The fear of God perhaps being the biggest driver. Who wants to face the wrath of the Almighty, and then the monks/clergy/whatever the church dwelling types are called. But as a religious building it is unwelcoming. Of course I wandered through as did so many tourists. The stained glass windows are quite amazing, so is the imagery, tea lights and candles adding to the atmosphere.  I climbed to the top of the spires, got a super view of Strasbourg. But imposing does not mean invitational and inclusive. I don’t have a single photo of the cathedral. They disappeared from my memory card; some sort of conspiracy of the universe. I can’t prove what I said, this ugly cathedral that is the main attraction in town.

My friend S and her friend took me on the Route des Vin D’Alsace. Little villages, medieval castles, an interesting fairyland Christmas shop, vineyards, poppies growing wild, cherry orchards, liberty monuments, the French countryside in the summer.

My trip to Alsase was memorable. I loved Strasbourg, loved the Black Forest, loved Baden Baden. S and her parents were such lovely hosts. I will go again. To Strasbourg.

Check out my photos here

The French Approach to “Anti-Racism” — Pretty Words and Magical Thinking

This is just me procrastinating some more and avoiding completing my travel stories from my trip to Strasbourg last year (this time last year I was house-sitting, cat-sitting, cruising around through Alsace with the mad Alsatian.) I have been to India and back and that is another post but being the OCD person I am, I have to finish telling my stories according to the timeline. Non-linearity is for my fiction. So I came across this post which I had to reblog. Just this afternoon I had a discussion (more like me putting across my points vehemently) about increasing the refugee quota to New Zealand. My argument being that I am tired of white bleeding hearts who want to save lives but don’t have a plan to support refugees once they are here. Resettlement is not integration, where are the resources, what about the racism, health, jobs, education etc. All on Twitter. The ‘pretty words and magical thinking’ in this title made me want to read it and I was transported to France, the people of colour I saw, who were so visible yet not included in mainstream discourses…I have mentioned this before… Anyway, this is an interesting piece.

Aware of Awareness

I first came to France twelve years ago during my junior year abroad. I was the first person in my family to get a passport and I could barely contain my excitement. In the winter of 2003, two years before the riots that followed the untimely deaths of 15 year old Zyed Benna and 17 year old Bouna Traore, I landed in Paris bright-eyed and bushy tailed, armed with a very shaky grasp of French and a naive fascination with this beautiful country.

As an African-American, I was vaguely aware that France did not deal with issues of race the way we do in the United States. And when I happened to forget, French white people were keen to remind me. In one of the sociology classes I took at a university in the south of France, I hesitantly raised my hand to ask a question. The white French professor had…

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New Wanderings. Musée et musing, sort of. Strasbourg-2

I love museums. To go to a new city means to visit at least one museum there. Strasbourg has so many museums like every city in Europe.

I took the tram to Museé d’Art Moderne et Contemporain, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.


I can live in a museum. Nah actually I can live in a library😉 I would be dead and preserved if I lived in a museum eh.😀 The Louvre can tire you, there is so much to see and absorb but this museum in Strasbourg is compact and just right.

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Then I discovered Gustave Doré. This here is one of his most famous paintings-Le Christ quittant le prétoire.


He illustrated Danté’s Inferno, he was cartoonist and sculptor as well. He was modern and contemporary and a pioneer whose influence is especially obvious on almost all graphic novels I have read until now.

There is a reason why I love museums. Because I learn new things all the time. How does Doré’s work affect my life? I now I have a reference for the ‘comics and cartoons’ I see AND work I look at in creative moments.

Next time I am in Strasbourg I will visit this museum again.