Thursday, June 24, 2010
Pictures from El Alto, Bolivia
El Alto is a Aymara city perched at the rim of the canyon in which the world's highest capital, La Paz, is nestled. So El Alto, at 13,615 feet, is higher than La Paz. It is also poorer, confirming the trend I'd noticed in Andean Peru and in Lima: material wealth diminishes with elevation. The gated communities and the fancy stores are at the lowest points of La Paz. Complexion also changes with the drop in elevation: from Aymara dark brown to Spanish white. Evo, whom I mentioned in my last post, is a hero in El Alto, but the billboards celebrating his election victory disappear as you descend.
Despite the naked brick buildings and the generally unsanitary conditions, El Alto is full of entrepreneurial energy. The city market is full of every imaginable commodity -- second hand cars, cattle, clothes -- and sprawls over dozens of blocks. Some of the prosperity shows in El Alto: the wealthier Aymaras have offices with glass facades on their originally naked brick buildings.