Words & Photographs: KEVIN FAINGNAERT
Touring South America, Kevin Faingnaert discovers contrasts high in the Bolivian Andes: from the suburbs of La Paz to the saltwater lagoons and volcanoes of the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve
I had long dreamt of a trip across the heart of South America, ever since learning Spanish during a year living in Seville as a student. I particularly liked the idea of being able to communicate with the local people I’d meet along the way. While in Bolivia, between visiting Peru and Argentina, I went almost everywhere by bus. That gave me a great chance to spend time with the locals. The buses were always packed and I enjoyed the atmosphere, with a man or woman often hanging from the door and yelling where the bus would head to next.
My route took me to La Paz, rising more than 3,500m above sea level. I needed a couple of days to get used to the altitude. The city has an extraordinary setting, forming a deep bowl in a high plain (the Altiplano). There’s a raw human energy to almost a million people living in this bowl, with everything tumbling towards its centre. I loved the brightly-coloured houses of the outskirts, and wondered how they’d been contructed on such steep slopes. I was also amazed how many elderly people could walk with ease up and down the steep streets.
Across much of La Paz, you’ll find stalls. I thought it a special combination of objects: mirrors, books, TVs and Catholic paintings, like an art installation in a museum.
As I travelled onwards across Bolivia, I met the indigenous women known as cholitas, proudly wearing the fashion of a bowler hat over braided hair. I also happened upon the man you see below, who told me his name was Jorge. He was driving tourists in a 4WD between the Salar de Uyuni salt flats and the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve. I couldn’t resist asking him for a portrait, as I was struck by the combination of the green lake and his red top. I found it intriguing to meet this man in the middle of nowhere, standing there waiting for something, right next to a volcano.