Student Reflections: Claudia Segovia-Salcedo - La Paz

After 20 hours of an exhaustive trip from Athens, we arrived to El Alto, La Paz. I had seen some pictures and videos about La Paz and the mountains that surround the city, but from the plane, the view was different, completely amazing: many snow mountains forming strange figures contrasting with the blue color of the Titikaka Lake and the yellow of the Altiplano. I was so excited to know this area of South America, another face of the Andes completely unknown for me.
La Paz is a large city located in a valley between the Andes with many architectonic and cultural contrasts. In the downtown, buildings and churches are mixed; however, the spanish influence is almost none in the city if you compare with other latin countries. In the surroundings, you can see houses of the same color and the same style, a monotonous and poor view. Cotacota is another neighborhood from La Paz. It is clear the social differentiation of this area, the presence of indigenous people is less than in downtown and the architecture changes completely. The richest people live in this area, you can see a variety of architecture tendencies, the presence of supermarkets and good restaurants, than are not common in the downtown. I really expected a different city, more cosmopolitan, with a better tourist infrastructure, and better roads.
In relation to the cultural contrasting, La Paz and Bolivia in general is a very unusual case. In this country, you can feel the contrast between being an indigenous or a mestizo. Most of the populations shares indigenous features; however, it is a clear differentiation between indigenous and mestizos. One of the ways is the clothes indigenous women wear very distinctive skirts named "polleras" and a black hat, while the rest of the people wear "occidental" clothes. Another way of discrimination is the economic, because only people that have money can access to different neighborhoods or attractions. Sometimes that is not matter if you get a good education or a career, if you do not have enough money, you cannot access to this special circle neither, according to some Bolivians. I had never felt before that kind of strong discrimination.

I learned a lot in this trip about the group and myself. I realized the importance of the legacy for the Bolivian people. I learned about the life and professional expectations of some Bolivians, and how they deal with their cultural and economic contrasts. All of these experiences have become an invaluable knowledge about this country and its people, but at the same time, this trip has helped to value more my country.

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