Chinese Cars

Not sure how common Chinese cars are becoming in other countries, but I’m pretty sure there is still not a single model for sale in the US. Meanwhile in Bolivia, there are probably ten different companies offering their products for sale. There is Lifan which was assembling cars in Ethiopia. There is Chery which was rumored to start importing to the States years ago. There is JAC which proudly advertises in front of the mall here that “there are more than 1000 JACs on the road in Bolivia.” There is the catchy Great Wall which should be used to brand other products form China IMHO. But there are also strange brands that are just trying to gain a foothold: Gonow? Geeky? BYD?

Since I imported a Nissan, I don’t know too much about the car market here, but I would think these new brands will have a tough time competing with all the normal incumbents from the US, Japan, and Europe. If one of them would open an assembly plant in Bolivia (like Lifan in Ethiopia), there could be some advantage maybe? For now, my friends tell me that these brands are not much cheaper than the other players, so it seems like the budget conscious are more likely to turn to Suzuki or Hyundai. What do I know, though?

Bolivian Census 2012

Most countries seem to have a census every ten years or so in order to adjust voting districts, allocate infrastructure projects and generally make plans for the future. Naturally there can be political incentives for one outcome or another, so it seems important to have a good and independent count so the World Bank and others like to work with the local census folks to ensure it all comes together without many mishaps.

I haven’t been around for a census in years, so I’m not sure if I’ve ever been properly counted anywhere that I lived. Bolivia is going to extra lengths to make sure everyone is counted. Census Day will be a national holiday which will actually last up to three days or more in rural or remote areas. In the cities, everyone is supposed to stay home all day and presumably the police will question anyone out on the town who is not part of the count effort. I’ll be off to Machu Pichu that week, but a friend of mine who wanted to join me mid-tour had to give-up when she found that she probably wouldn’t be able to fly on Census Day.

It seems great that Bolivia is taking the count so seriously, but on the flip side we are hearing that high school students have been recruited to be census takers for the day! Later the news was that students would just assist and maybe it would be public servants from various ministries administering the actual questionnaires. I could of wish I were around just to see how it all turns-out!

Update: Apparently the count was mostly a success and nearly every door I see has an official sticker above it saying “Censused” or counted or something. As an accountant, I appreciate the proper inventory control :) Unfortunately, there seems to be some monkey business going on with the count results though. People in La Paz in particular, are complaining that the President (or his party?) lowered the results for places like La Paz where they are less popular and added a a citizens to the rolls elsewhere in order to justify moving more tax revenues to their constituents. I don’t know much about it, but people seem riles up:

La Paz Marathon!

For the first time ever, there will be an official full marathon here in Bolivia! As far as I know, there has never really been a big official marathon of any sort, especially in La Paz. There are a number of popular 10K races, a growing half marathon and even an uphill 28km challenge that started last year. It is not easy to run a marathon in La Paz thanks to the average altitude of 3600m (11,800ft) and the fact that there are no flat spots. Still, a big cement company and the mayor’s office have teamed-up to present the first ever Maraton por la Paz! Since it is absolutely free to join, there are supposedly 2500 who will start, but I predict less than half will finish.

There are tough marathons on the Great Wall and up Mt Fuji, but I am pretty sure this has to be the hardest city marathon in the world. The altitude (topping-out at 4100m or 13,450ft) alone qualifies this for the record books, but the real killer is the climbing: 500m climbing from the start up to KM14 and then descending 900m until KM39. If your legs are not destroyed by that point, you get to turn around and climb another 100m to finish. It is an awesome course and I couldn’t have designed it much better (except to finish without the last climb), but it could be a killer for many.

Can’t wait to try it out:

You Need Insurance

I am pretty sure that this would be considered bad taste in most countries, especially the US. One of the biggest insurance companies in Bolivia which insures my car here, has put up billboards in La Paz and Santa Cruz suggesting that maybe people need insurance. It shows JFK and his wife riding in the motorcade in Dallas, Texas at 12:30pm on November 22, 1963 and says, “Life is uncertain, insure yourself, PERHAPS your gonna need it.” Classy, eh?

The ad in La Paz was only up a couple weeks, so I thought maybe the company took it down after some complaints, but then I found this one in Santa Cruz almost a week later. Incidentally, the one in La Paz was replaced by a very similar ad featuring Little Red Riding Hood!

Natural Gas for Your Home

Following-on from the last post, there is another important development in natural gas here in La Paz. The government is installing natural gas ducts all over town to deliver gas to every home for the first time ever. I have an electric range and electric heat (aka no heat!) at home, but most people currently cook with propane. There are trucks that pass through town a couple times a week exchanging empty propane tanks for full ones. The trucks have a unique horn that let’s everyone know it is time to come out to the curb with empties. It is all a bit annoying sometimes, so I like the idea of piping gas directly into homes.

Apparently it will be much cheaper once set-up and nobody has to change appliances to take advantage of the new system. For now it means that each neighborhood has a couple weeks when the sidewalks are torn apart while some contracted company installs the ducts, but it is a small price to pay. It reminds me of when they ran cable television lines around my town back in the late eighties or so. It seems to be billed as one of the mega projects of President Morales. If all goes well, everyone will soon have one more reason to appreciate the movement toward socialism and the infrastructure it brings:

Natural Gas Vehicles

I am not sure why, but Wikipedia says that Asia-Pacific has 6.8 million natural gas powered vehicles, Latin America has 4.2 million and the U.S. has like 0.2 million. Argentina and Brazil each have about 2 million and there are thousands here in Bolivia. As far as I know, natural gas is only transported by pipes and not by seafaring tankers or giant trucks, so natural gas may not be available in every country (?). But I am not sure why some countries who have it are using it for transport while others stick to cooking and heating.

Apparently it is really easy to convert a standard internal combustion engine to use natural gas (which is a gas) instead of gasoline or petrol (which is a liquid) because all of the ones I see on the road here were converted locally. You just need a different storage tank and some change to the fuel injection system which apparently pays-off within months thanks to the cheaper natural gas.

The other issue is the filling station infrastructure. In the US, you can’t find a natural gas filling station, so natural gas vehicles are confined to buses and taxi companies that have their own fuel pumps. Here in Bolivia, I think Gas Natural Vehicular (GNV) is just as common as gasolina or diesel. I am not sure if the government has supported this or how it developed, but it sure is convenient considering all the natural gas here in Bolivia.

Census Day

It is Census Day in Bolivia. Like in many other countries, once in ten years the country counts its people and uses the results to rebalance representatives in government, among other things. They have done a really good job of promoting the count on the radio (and Facebook and Twitter according to the photo) and making sure everyone understands its importance. The radio spot starts with the doorbell ringing at your home… very catchy.

I’m no expert on how to take a census, but there are a couple things that are a bit odd about the plan here. It is a national holiday and people are required to stay home. Apparently they are actually going to fine anyone who is found walking in the street! I already made plans to travel to Machu Pichu for the whole week and I was trying to get a friend to join me on Wednesday, but apparently it will be impossible to get a taxi to the airport to travel. Some international flights are supposed to be allowed, but nobody seems sure?!?

They are saying that in some rural areas, everything will be closed-up for as many as three days to ensure that the counters have time to make their rounds. I understand that some places are a bit remote, but it seems like they could have just hired more census takers. Instead, they seem to primarily be relying on high school students to make the rounds. It is an interesting combination of civic participation and cheap labor, but given the long list of questions about socio-economic issues, I hope these kids know what they’re doing.

Japanese Restaurants in La Paz

I spent six years of my life in Tokyo, so it was difficult for me to survive over two years in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia without a single Japanese restaurant. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there are many Japanese restaurants here in La Paz, including three that I can walk to from my house. There is also one that I can walk to from my office, but it isn’t too great. Finally, there are a few restaurants up by the tourist hostels neighborhood that offer Thai, Indian, and Japanese all under one roof. I tried one of these last night and was not too impressed with the quality or authenticity, but still it is nice to have all these choices!

There are at least five places that really have great Japanese food including sushi prepared from the local lake trout! I am no sushi expert, but trout makes a great sashimi, similar to salmon. There is also decent imported seafood like tuna, salmon, and octopus despite the distance from and lack of direct access to the sea. The only problem is that they don’t have my favorite seafood which is scallops or hotate in Japanese.

For the record, some of the good dishes that I have tried include yakizakana (of trout), shogayaki, various sashimi and sushi, and an awesome seafood nabe. I don’t usually go for the ramen or udon dishes, but there are often many choices on the menu. I don’t see much Asahi or Kirin beer, but a couple restaurants have sake on the menu. One offers sake from Brazil whereas others occasionally have something imported. Not bad!

This is one of at least five respectable Japanese restaurants in La Paz. I like the fact that it is called New Tokyo, but it has the “old” Tokyo Tower on the sign!

La Paz Bus Terminal

La Paz shares the same sad transportation fate as Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: the train line and train station have fallen into disrepair. There is talk in both countries about investing in rail transport again, but for now, the train stations in these capital cities stand only as memories of days gone by. The main bus terminal here, on the other hand, is going strong:

I used to travel all over Asia in buses, but I can hardly remember the last time I used an inter-city bus… I think it was in Ghana? Anyway, I am heading to Cuzco, Peru in a few weeks to do a hike up to Machu Pichu with a friend from the States. Thanks to the recent demise of AeroSur, there is only one little airline offering direct flights MWF to Cuzco. I decided to take a bus in and fly out via Lima. Actually, I considered driving too, but I might try that another time when I have more visitors to fill the car. Anyway, the bus journey takes around 12 hours but costs only around $20 depending on whether the bus has full- or semi-recling seats. The journey starts here on November 17:

Gardening at 3300m

I have a pretty big “garden” at my house, most of which is paved over with grass which is brown most of the year. In the corner, though, I have this little space for a vegetable garden. When I arrived last year, I asked my gardener (who comes once a week) to plants some soy beans for me. He couldn’t find the seeds on the local market, though, so we ended-up just growing a few leeks and carrots, most of which were eaten by birds.

This year, I managed to import some organic soy bean seeds and started to think about how to keep the birds away. A friend suggested that I make a simple greenhouse which would also have the benefit of keeping the plants warm during the cool mornings (3-4C lately). I found some giant pieces of plastic leftover from packing materials when I arrived here and bought a couple other supplies around town to make a little tent for my soy beans and onions. With a lot of luck, I will be eating edamame in a few months!