Wawa

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Meaning: baby (Quecha word)
Just outside of Sucre, Bolivia’s ancient capital that stands proudly gleaming with beautiful white colonial architecture lies the small town of Tarabuco. Known for its Sunday market, keen shoppers take the hour long journey in a colectivo (minibus) to wander among the stalls selling everything from artisanal woven tapestries to toothpaste. We have lunch in the centre of the marketplace, eating some delicious oily pasta dish for about 30 cents each and then head back to Sucre. In the colectivo I get to sit up front with the smiley driver with gaps in his teeth that show when he laughs and a polite teenage boy. One of my favourite things about travelling is the random conversations you have with anyone and everyone. As the van winds along the road back to Sucre the teenage boy tells me about his studies in architecture, how he hopes to design big buildings one day. I tell him and the driver about Australia and they are full of questions, my favourite being “Is it possible to bring my donkey into Australia?” They ask me what I think of Sucre’s buildings, did I come to Bolivia from Australia by bus, where my family is, what language other than Spanish do they speak in my country, what’s it like to fly in an aeroplane. The driver roars with laughter whenever I make a joke and the two of them are so interested in everything I tell them about this far off land on the other side of the world. I ask them all about Bolivia- why are the houses unfinished? (To avoid paying tax on the house) What is the native language spoken here, do they speak it, where is the best place to visit in Bolivia, what food do they normally eat at home? The boy teaches me a few Quechua words, the most widely spoken Indigenous language in the region. Wawa is the word for ‘baby’, or wawita for ‘little baby’ is the cuter version. The Bolivian wawa is usually hoisted up onto its mother’s back In a colourful strong wool fabric tied around the shoulders like a little sack. Outside a cafe in town I watch a mother lift her baby up expertly from floor to back all by herself in one swift movement. The baby rests his little chubby cheeks on his mothers back, wide eyes taking in the world as she wanders about doing her daily business. In the colectivo we arrive back in the city and I farewell my new friends as we all wish each other well, sad that the little journey has come to an end.

El Cielo

lrm_export_20170303_131603Meaning: sky/heaven
Carlos, our Bolivian guide for the past two days through the incredible landscape of the Eduardo Avaroa national park wakes us in our beds at 4.30am. We have spent the night in a salt hotel, where everything from the beds to the tables and chairs are made of salt. Its still dark but we can hear the rain outside falling in heavy sheets off the sides of the roof. Carlos shakes his head when we ask if we are still going to see the sunrise. He has made an executive decision. The salt hotel stands on the edge of the largest salt flat in the world: the Salar de Uyuni and this morning we are supposed to be crossing from one side to the other. But the storm is worrying even him. We will wait until it gets light, he says. Two more hours of sleep and dawn has broken, so we pile into the trusty jeep and hope for the best. The rain is still bucketing down as we follow the other jeeps along a narrow path flanked on both sides by water where only a few days before it was dry. Suddenly the jeeps in front of us stop. The path has come to an end. In front stretches the flats like a newly formed ocean. Stoic Carlos who adores his car stuffs some thick plant he cut earlier into the front of the engine so that the salt water can’t enter. We all get out and look at each other under hooded raincoats and wonder how the hell we are going to cross this, already a foot deep in water. One by one each of the cars leave the path and form a convoy across the salar, driving into a great nothingness. Its impossible to see where the stormy sky ends and the watery flats begin. There is no horizon to remind us which way is up and which is down. And then, when we think we’ve had the worst luck with the weather and have settled for blasting one of Carlos’ favourite tunes, ‘I will always love you’ by Whitney Houston through the speakers, the sky opens. A patch of blue that looked like a mirage before grows and expands into a huge gap between the clouds. Rays of light shine through illuminating the salt flats and the water with blue and fluffy whites. The sky stretches out and leaks into all the corners of our vision, joining up to its reflection below until we don’t know whether we are standing in the sky or the ground. Whatever you’ve imagined heaven to look like, the Salar de Uyuni comes very close.