I’ve hinted at this heavily in other blog posts, but it bears exploring: For the duration of this trip (four weeks), I’ve returned to my Midwestern meat-and-potato roots. Being a vegetarian in Bolivia, one of the original meat-and-potato regions, seemed like a not-very-fun, not-very-feasible, and not-very-nutritious idea. Having been here for a week, I can see that the host families I’m staying with would need ample notice of my dietary preference, and I would miss out on trying charque de llama (kind of like llama jerky), cordero (lamb), and sheep’s feet (the tiny bit I tasted didn’t go over well with my taste buds).
I became a vegetarian for environmental reasons in the first place. Not because I hate eating meat, but because of the hugely wasteful, polluting, and unsafe industrial meat production in the United States. I didn’t want to add to extra hormones in cattle, extra greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, extra manure/pesticides/synthetic fertilizers in watersheds, or extra cholesterol in my heart. A healthier me and a healthier planet are two side-effects I’ll accept if it means giving up a burger. I don’t have a problem with eating sustainably raised meat now and again (which means outside of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs), which brings us back to Bolivia. CAFOs haven’t exactly hit Bolivia yet (and I hope they never do), so I don’t have reservations about a brief return to my previously carnivorous ways.
Because I’m at the mercy of other people for every meal on this trip, my vegetarian diet in this country would mainly consist of bread, rice, and a variety of potatoes. (Oh and some cheese.) Now, Bolivia is chock-full of quinoa, a delightful grain and a complete protein, but I haven’t even had the chance to sample it here yet. The veggies I’ve encountered thus far, when cooked, have mainly been of the frozen variety and served chilled. I eat them all, but they get a nose wrinkle from me.
However, I’m going to take this opportunity to love on salteñas, small pockets of a special dough filled with yummy meats and veggies and juices and spices. Not unlike empanadas, though they have those here as well. Other tasty foods: maraqueta, the traditional Bolivian bread often (for me, always) served at breakfast and at plenty of other meals or tea as well; the pacay (cotton candy fruit); and fresh regional cheeses. The beer here is mostly pilsners, which make me long for the microbrews of the Pacific Northwest. But the mate de coca, an herbal tea derived from the unrefined leaves of the coca plant, has been a nice way to warm up (and ward off altitude sickness) on the Altiplano. Don’t worry, mate de coca isn’t the gateway drug to snorting crack off of a llama’s nose. I haven’t found that one yet.
What I have found, however, is singani, the national drink of Bolivia, which is a strong liquor derived from maize. The Rotarians in Oruro took our group out to Karaoke last night and poured us several glasses of singani and Sprite. Pretty good, in my opinion. My Karaoke skills? Not so good, in my (and probably others’) opinion. I did manage to belt out some Notre Dame/Backer favorites, such as “Africa” (Toto), “The Final Countdown” (Europe), and “Livin’ on a Prayer” (Bon Jovi). It turns out that when you have to sing Karaoke by yourself, it’s much trickier than doing it with a group in a bar that’s too loud to hear the words anyway. But still fun … after all, how often do I get to sing 80s songs in English at a Bolivian bar?
Not as often as Coke or Pepsi are served at meals here, which is quite a lot. I’ve been sticking to fruit juices, tea, beer, and bottled or boiled water. Water is a big deal down here, both access to any water and access to water that is safe to drink. Which is why it is such a big deal that, for example, Illimani, the triple-peaked, be-glaciered mountain overlooking La Paz, recently lost two of its glaciers. The water that used to be stored there like a reservoir would now be like money in a bank that failed. Ouch.
(Again, photos to come when I get faster internet, which I hope I will have in Cochabamba, the next city on our tour, and the site of a world conference on climate change this week. I’ll be hitting it up either two or three days — wheee!)