Monday, 16 September 2013

London based charity does cabaret – Bolivian style - to celebrate 30th anniversary

Sarah Terrazas, Chair of Friends of Bolivia, is our guest blogger this month and she tells us about the celebration of the 30 anniversary of the charity Sarah leads.

On 28 September the charity I volunteer for, Friends of Bolivia, will celebrate its 30th anniversary with a Peña Folklorica in Wimbledon.

I’ve been going to FOB events for as long as I can remember.  My parents have been involved pretty much since the beginning and as a young girl I loved going to the parties, where I’d get to stay out way past my bedtime and basically spend all night running around with my friends.  I didn’t even mind when my parents made me dress up in a bowler hat and pollera. Then, as I grew into a typical grumpy teenager, I decided the parties were simply not cool enough for me to go to, and for a number of years I refused to go to any events. 

It was a couple of years after I graduated university that I became involved in Friends of Bolivia again.  I had started a career in fundraising when the then Chair of the committee asked me to join and help out with organising events.  The more I learned about the charity, the deeper I got involved.  It seemed incredible to me that with just a handful of volunteers Friends of Bolivia had managed to send over £300,000 to its adopted projects in Bolivia. The charity was run on a simple basis – raise as much money as possible during the year and at the end of it, divide it between the projects.  Each of these projects had been introduced to the charity by a member who had personally visited it and they ranged from care homes for elderly people, to accommodation and care for young people with special needs.

Now, a few years later, I’ve become chair of the charity’s committee and it sometimes feels like I get much more from FOB than I put back in.  Yes, it takes up a lot of time - 5 hour committee meetings are not unheard of, and there have been lengthy discussions about the best way to chop the tomatoes for a Sarza - but in return I get to practice my Spanish and keep in touch with my Bolivian heritage –something that as I grow older is becoming increasingly important to me.  Plus, it’s all for a good cause.  I’ve been able to visit a couple of the projects we support in Bolivia in recent years and let me tell you, one visit to an old people’s home where 10 nuns care night and day for nearly 100 elderly people, the majority of whom have dementia, is more than enough make all the effort worthwhile!

The Friends of Bolivia Peña Folklórica will take place on Saturday 28 September at Sacred Heart Church Hall in Wimbledon.  There’ll be a live show of Bolivian folkloric music and dance, with presentations from four different dance troupes and a live band.  Tickets cost £40 (£38 if bought by members) and include a glass of bubbly on arrival and three course dinner.  Download a booking form now.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Meet the chart-topping British filmmaker who calls Bolivia home

Award-winning London-based filmmaker Ian Pons Jewell left for Bolivia to shoot a music video. Six months on, the 28-year-old is still there, captivated by the country that provided him with the inspiration for a second music video which has gone on to be a worldwide hit and dubbed by CNN as “the coolest travel video since Coldplay’s Paradise.”
Pons Jewell is the creator of the video for Naughty Boy’s UK number one smash La-la-la, which he filmed entirely inBolivia and follows the adventures of a little boy around some of the country’s most dramatic landscapes.
The irresistibly catchy song is the fastest-selling single of 2013, and the video went viral with over 50 million Youtube views, making Pons Jewell a Bolivian celebrity interviewed for TV, newsapapers and magazines. The track was even played in the country’s parliament.
HighLives spoke to Ian from his La Paz base to get his thoughts on the city he now calls home:
HL: What were your first impressions of the city?

 I was surprised when I first arrived because I had heard about Bolivia being very poor so I imagined it to be quite a grimy city but I was blown away by the whole aesthetic- the whole thing of being surrounded by mountains, the people being so quiet and humble, certainly not the brash Latin stereotype.

HL: Do you find Bolivia to be a country welcoming to visitors?

 I must admit, arriving here was my first experience of being looked at in a certain way, because I’m different, a gringo, a white European. But after six months here I have realised I feel very much at home here. I miss London and my family, but La Paz has made me feel very welcome. But not in a superficial way-  not just people welcoming me into their shop because I might buy something.
To view the interview in full see here

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Bolivian foodie special in The Guardian, win a Peruvian cooking masterclass

Today’s Guardian has a full-page article about HighLives’ Gourmet Tour of Bolivia, which journalist Ed Stocker took a few weeks ago.

The full article (and accompanying review of Noma-linked restaurant Gustu) are online in full here so check it out. Ed gives a great account of a lot of the sights, smells and tastes of our tour.

If you are inspired by the article, contact us for more details about arranging your own trip, which can be combined with any of our other travel experiences, including visiting Peru’s more established culinary scene.

HighLives offers the Bolivia’s first-ever travel experience especially for foodies, with plenty of opportunities to taste the best of Bolivia’s native cuisine, visit top-quality producers, vibrant colourful markets and street food.

The tour showcases Bolivia’s little-known wine-growing region Tarija, which as Ed found out is also home to a booming market in fine-cured hams – a legacy of Franciscan missionaries from the 18th Century.

In celebration of our gourmet tours, I’m very excited about offering you the chance to win a cooking master class with London-based Peruvian chef Martin Morales on July 28 at his restaurant Ceviche.
Click here to apply.

Finally, if you are free this afternoon, between 5-6 pm GMT, I will give a live interview at Aculco radio and we will be talking about food in Bolivia, see here for a link to the live online streaming (the interview will be in Spanish and will be available in podcast).

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Let’s talk drinks - Singani, the spirit of the Andes

Peruvian Pisco, Mexican Tequila or Argentinian wines have become popular drinks worldwide, but Bolivia’s national tipple, Singani, is fast gaining international attention and may already be served at a bar near you.

Singani has won “best in show” for distilled spirits at the International Union des Oenologues. Distilled using the same type of method like cognac, it is made from a specific muscat type of grape grown in high altitude in Bolivia’s southern Tarija region, which give it a subtle taste and contains a higher level of antioxidants thanks to the intensity of the sunlight to which they are exposed.


Award-winning film director Steven Soderbergh couldn’t get enough Singani while filming “Che” in Bolivia: “I drink the stuff on the rocks because there's no burn and it has a very subtle, pleasant flavor, but I'm sure you can mix it.”

Yes, you can Steven. The most well-known mix is Chuflay: served on the rocks in a tall glass, a generous measure of Singani topped up with either ginger ale or lemonade and garnished with a slice of lime. Also popular is Yungueño, which mixes Singani with orange juice.


HighLives’ Gastronomic Tour to Bolivia allows visitors to taste Singani at source, touring the vineyards of Tarija and the rest of the country’s exciting gastronomic landscape.

Stay tuned for our updates over the next few days, we will have something special to share with you.

HighLives' related trips:
Gourmet Tours to Bolivia
The Andes Gourmet

Friday, 26 April 2013

How Bolivia ditched McDonald's for sheep's head soup

It’s true much of Bolivia’s cuisine probably wouldn't draw international attention. But Bolivians have a fiercely independent attitude to their food generally: it’s the only Latin American nation without a McDonalds, as shown in this film out last year that told how the company decided to leave because local people were fonder of their own fast foods:

I think it is this spirit that convinced Noma’s Claus Meyer to pick Bolivia ahead of any other country for setting up his second restaurant- Gustu- because it is similar to what the Noma-inspired Nordic food movement is striving for in northern Europe. Check out this fantastic Claus Meyer clip explaining the idea behind the movement.

Bolivia has a huge street food culture, in La Paz, for instance, you could probably munch your way through 24 hours of street food unique to the region:

Early morning: api with buñuelos: a gloopy purple maize drink with cinnamon and sugar served with hot fried pastries- sweet or savoury and often stuffed with cheese. You can find this all year round and in most cities.

Mid-morning: choclo cobs of giant white corn served with salty homemade cheese. This is seasonal from Dec- March and you will find it more in markets.

 Before lunch: salteñas- Bolivia’s ubiquitous pasties- baked and usually filled with meat, spices, potatoes, egg, olives, served at stands on every corner with a variety of spicy and colourful dips. (all year round)

Many markets have fresh fruit juice stands where you pick out fruits trucked from the Amazon region that servers will then blend and squeeze in front of you. (depending on each fruit season)

Afternoon: sandwich de chola (peasant lady’s sandwich): roasted pork and crackling served in a crusty bun with sweet-pickled vegetables and a spicy chili sauce. (all year round)

After dark: revellers delay their journey home for anticuchos: lamb’s heart kebabs skewered with a potato. All year round and normally you will find a lady selling them outside clubs and concerts.

There has even been a recent resurgence among wealthier families to go up to the poorer districts in search of places that serve sheep’s head soup (not really something I could manage myself!).

A friend of mine recently mentioned her very first impression of Bolivia was, when crossing the border from Argentina, she spotted a lady selling fresh orange juice squished in front of her - a very welcoming and refreshing introduction.

Gustu restaurant opened last Thursday (18 April). Some of their dishes seem extremely inventive and from what I have read and heard is outstandingly delicious. I can't wait to try it for myself.

Our new Gastronomic Tour of Bolivia showcases all the tastes and smells that make up the country's food and drink- culminating with a meal at Gustu. If food is a real passion, you could even combine this with our Peru Gastronomic Tour for a comprehensive gourmet adventure.

HighLives' related tours:

13-Day Bolivian Odyssey
Bolivia Gourmet Tour
The Andes Gourmet 
Discover Peru
Uyuni Salt Flat and Desert Safari

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Bolivia the unfriendliest country to travel to?

Our guest blogger Melanie Stern shares her experience as a journalist in Bolivia after reading that Bolivia was ranked, by the World Economic Forum's recent Travel and Tourism Competitiveness report, as one of the unfriendliest countries in the world.


I spent about three months in Bolivia in the summer of 2007, living with a family in Cochabamba, working at the newspaper Los Tiempos, volunteering in Chapare and travelling widely across the country's road network. I could not recommend Bolivia more warmly to anyone who wants a unique holiday in a very friendly place. I didn't speak much Spanish when I arrived in Bolivia, but everywhere I went people were willing to help me out, patiently listening to my attempts to communicate, being very curious about why I was in Bolivia, and engaging with me all the time. I usually felt safe wherever I was, and Bolivian people always warned me off the places a single white female was better avoiding. This survey focuses on the infrastructure countries offer to tourism firms and tourists, and finds Bolivia lacking, in its 'Americas' section, in which it includes the USA as a country, and unsurprisingly, the USA is top in that section of the study.

It is true that if you go to Bolivia expecting infrastructure such as motorways, service stations, broadband internet and top flight hotels, you're picked the wrong country for your trip. Bolivia is emerging strongly from a long history of postcolonialism and neoliberal economics, and its infrastructure, while definitely adequate for the needs of keen travellers versus all-inclusive tour operator holiday-makers, is not shiny top-of-the-range. But part of the fun of experiencing a nation in Bolivia's phase of development is negotiating a new culture, of which its infrastructure is one part, and can be readily navigated by anyone with common sense.

I found internet cafes everywhere, so I could upload my travel photos to Facebook as I went; I could jump on a bus from one side of the country to the other at almost any time; I did miss having a very hot shower on a daily basis, but I got used to showering in lukewarm water quickly enough to get to the local bakery for my morning saltena. Sandals Resorts it is not. And I hope it never is.

Like any other nation, Bolivians want to know about the visitors that travel so far to see their home, and they are open to you if you are open to them. That includes Americans. The people you meet on a trip leave an indelible mark on your experience of a new place, so if they are unfriendly or unhelpful, you'll always think of that place as not a good place even if it was beautiful or exciting in other ways. In Bolivia I had the experience of beauty, excitement, exoticism, cosmopolitanism, tradition, art, amazing food, education, and this was all conveyed at its best through the people I met and made lifelong friends with. I left Bolivia with more friends and cultural awareness than I entered. I wonder if the people who compiled this study have ever been to Bolivia, let alone met a Bolivian. And in any case, the statistics they supply diverge from their conclusion: they show that tourist numbers have been steadily rising. In my experience of travelling across Latin America, it is Bolivia that stands out as the friendliest country by far.


If you want to read more about Melanie's experience in Bolivia we have listed some below:

Why did McDonald’s fail in Bolivia? Blame the salteña

Curfews and culture: staying with a host family in Bolivia

Jaguars and paintbrushes: a volunteering weekend in Bolivia’s Chapare

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Introducing our gourmet tour of Bolivia and dine at Noma’s owner’s new restaurant

This week saw the launch of no ordinary restaurant in Bolivia’s La Paz.

The founder of Copenhagen’s Noma, voted the world’s best restaurant for the past three years, has chosen the city as the home of his second venture, Gustu.

To coincide with this, HighLives has launched our gourmet tour of Bolivia- a seven-day journey taking in the best of the country’s produce that ends with a 15-course dinner at Gustu.
(Both Gustu and our tour were mentioned in today’s Guardian)

I’ve never been to Noma- with hefty prices, just 40 seats and a waiting list stretching years I don’t think many people have- but I’m very excited that the owner has chosen my home country for his next venture, which looks like it could lead to wonderful benefits for visitors and local people alike.

Gustu promises to deliver pioneering menus with 100% Bolivian ingredients with the aim of encouraging Bolivians to rediscover their own rich food culture. There is a cookery school to train local young chefs from poor backgrounds and plough earnings back to a non-profit foundation.

I think HighLives’ new tour gives a flavour of the region’s best produce and cooking. The country is full of vibrant markets, tasty street food and fresh, seasonal produce.

The tour takes in the wine-growing region of Tarija, where Gustus has built its cellar including the gin-like spirit Singani. It also includes Uyuni’s salt flats and the plains where super-grain quinoa has been harvested as a staple for hundreds of years.

It rounds off in La Paz, where vibrant markets burst with fresh produce and interesting snacks are cooked and sold on virtually every street corner. I sometimes really miss my mid-morning saltena- kind of a pasty sold with lots of dips and spicy toppings- and the fresh fruit juice stands. I have searched London's specialist shops for chuno- a freeze dried potato that produces a really unique flavour that tastes a lot better than it sounds! (I will be posting more soon about these tasty treats).

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