Tag Archives: drink

Why you should skip the tourist bar and head straight for a peña instead


Trad play

After a night out in a pretty nondescript club where the only thing unusual was a stabbing on the dance floor, I was more than happy to sample something a little more… more typically Bolivian, I guess.

My friend Max suggested a peña. ‘It’s a place for traditional music’, he said. Did I fancy it? Sure! Of course! Something different, something local. Finally.

Me and a little posse of travellers made our way along a side street in La Paz and down some stairs into the belly of a building where musicians sang and played woodwind and percussion whilst groups of friends clustered around tables, chatting, drinking and welcoming in a Friday night.


Candlelit moodiness and music

Ojo de Agua didn’t fit with Frommer’s comments about peñas tending to be very touristy. We were pretty much the only tourists in there, and it was obvious. So we split up and mixed and merged.

By candlelight I drank te con te, a hot alcoholic drink, and chatted and danced with locals. Pan pipes, accelerating beats and spinning around and around after too many shots of warm, alcoholic tea made me deliciously dizzy.

As the music wound down, we all climbed back up and out of this high ceilinged, lightly populated dance hall and back into the cold, cold chill of La Paz. Early evening fumes had lifted and the streets were surprisingly quiet for a city on the brink of a wild weekend.

The evening finished further away from the centre in a softly lit bar bursting with Bolivians and the smell of cigarette smoke and rising heat from a huddled collective of bodies. People bent in to hear near whispers, orders were murmured at the bar. A man perched on a stool crooned away, finishing songs with a dramatic burst of strummed chords, claps and whoops exploding after the final slap.

I may have missed out on the salt flats eco rave but this low-key night out was a cosy little moment in the great city of La Paz and a lovely little reintroduction to a social drink and dance after far too long on antibiotics.

As the only tourists in both places, it was also a teeny taste of the real La Paz.


Filed under bolivia, culture, dancing, food & drink, music, south america

Another country with an alcohol problem?

I didn’t realise that alcohol played such a part in Ecuadorian culture. My own experiences tell a different story, for example the Quito party where dancing was the focus and alcohol was secondary. But maybe my impressions are more to do with the small amount of experiences that I’ve been exposed to, rather than a broader view of the national trends and pastimes.

On my travels I’ve often been met with ‘What? You don’t want another beer? – but you’re English!’, referencing the stereotype of Brits’ obsession with booze. Are the Ecuadorians really on a path to the same reputation?

There are surely many sides to this debate but for President Abdalá Bucaram Ortiz to introduce alcohol laws in 1996 that included Sundays being dry days, there clearly must be some basis for concern. In 2010 there was a revival of these restrictions, and then, following multiple deaths from contaminated local wine in 2011, there was a three day alcohol ban. During past elections, the Ecuadorian government has insisted on an alcohol ban so that people vote with a clear head. Not altogether a stupid idea, although somewhat authoritarian.

These restrictions have caused some frustrations, including among businesses who argue that fewer people visit their premises on a Sunday. Less sympathy goes out to the gringos who complain that they can’t party quite so easily. Please don’t get discouraged from visiting Ecuador just because you can’t get pissed every day.

So, it’s Sunday. The shops and restaurants have shut up early and people have retreated to the quiet of their own homes. I wonder how much of a tactical move this dry day is to ensure that the start of the working week is hangover free. ‘If you’re around later and want to come to a rave’, says a Baños café owner to me one Sunday, ‘then you’re welcome along’.

Clearly, alcohol restrictions only have so much of an impact.

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Filed under culture, ecuador, food & drink, health, south america