Bolivian tales

Here are the stories we’ve listened to as told by the students of the Alliance Francaise in La Paz, Bolivia. They told their tales and legends in French, so what you can read here is my translation of what they said, trying to stick to the way they actually wrote the stories. Thus, don’t get offended by the strange syntax or way of speaking that you may notice: I found that important to keep it that way, so that you can see how these teenagers remembered the stories and decided to tell them.


At Lydia’s, by Rafaela, Alejandra, Daniela and Valeska

At Lydia’s (Rafaela Vasquez, Alejandra Alvayero, Daniela Rojas, Valeska de Cordenas)

Lydia was the daughter of two farmers, and was very spoilt. However, she never saw how much her parents were doing for her. She was going to the most expensive boarding school of Bolivia, she enjoyed her easy life, and had absolutely no sense of reality. When she finished her studies, she was really concerned about her reputation. She came back to her parents’, and learned to live in the real world. She went working in the country with them, and finally valued everything they did for her.

La Kantuta, by Annelise, Lilian, and Anvi

Kantuta (Annelise Choque, Lilian Zeballos, Anvi Quispe)

The Inca who ruled at the time was the most cruel and violent of all the ones who ruled the empire. Every winter, the Inca visited the sanctuary of Copacawana. One year, he took his daughter there. She was known in the whole empire for her beauty and her virtue. The young woman, who came along on this journey for the first time, saw a handsome young man sitting by the lake. Although he was low born, she immediately fell in love with him. His name was Kento, and he also immediately fell in love with her. As long as the girl was in Copacawana, they lived their love in secret, hiding it from the Inca.
One day, a messenger came giving news that they had to come back at once. The princess, hearing this, went at night to see Kento: they had to find a way to stay together. Unfortunately, she fell into a pit full of spiky bushes which stabbed her to death. With the morning dew, tiny green leaves grew on the bushes, lit up by the first rays of sun. When they discovered her body, she was lying surrounded by an unknown plant with beautiful flowers, that was called Kentu-uta pankara (“Kento’s flower house”). These flowers are green as the fields, yellow as the first sunrays, and red as the princess’s blood. Kento never got over the death of the one he loved, and this flower still exists today: it is called Kantuta. It is the national flower of Bolivia, and its flag bears the same colors.

The Fox and the Condor, by Denise, Julia, Grecia and Paula.

Le Renard et Le Condor (Denise Achata, Julia Colodro, Grecia Valdez, Paola Gutierrez)

The Fox and the Condor (Denise Achata, Julia Colodro, Grecia Valdez, Paola Gutierrez)

One day, in the forest, a fox met a Condor. He said to him: “You think you’re better, because you can fly?”
The Condor flew down and said: “Well, dear Fox, if you think you’re better than me, let’s make a bet.”
The Fox, intrigued, asked: “What kind of bet?”
The Condor, in a superior tone, answered: “We will go at the top of this mountain, and we will stay there all night, and the one who will win will eat the other one.”
The Fox, a bit scared, said: “All right, let’s go.”
Thus they went to the top of the mountain, and sat down. Later, the Fox asked the Condor: “Condor, are you still alive?” And he said: “Yes, I am still alive.”
A few hours later, the Condor asked the Fox: “Fox, are you still alive?” And he said: “Yes, I am still alive.” But his voice was weaker than before.
All night long, they asked this question to each other, and every time, the Fox’s voice sounded weaker. After a while, the Condor asked: “Fox, are you still alive?” And the Fox did not reply. The Condor asked the question many times, but the Fox did not answer anymore. At dawn, the Condor had won his bet. So he ate the Fox. Since that day, foxes are scared of condors for one day, one of them ate one of theirs.

Jaen Road, by Arnold, Fabiana, Alfonso, and Mariana

Jaen Road (or The Green Cross)

The legend says that at the time of the colonization, the ones who were hanged went on the street until they got to Murillo Square, where they walked in circle. At that time, people living near this street heard coach noises and saw ghosts. Later, they built a green cross to scare the deads’ spirits.

The Black Cat and the Devil, by Diana, Mariana, Natalia, Diana, Maria Paula and Ariel

Witches from Bolivia say that it is good to have a black cat at home. So that he wouldn’t get inside, the cat said to the Devil: “You cannot enter in my house.” And the Devil said: “Oh, please!” So the cat said to the Devil that if he wanted to get in, he had count the hairs on his tail, and tell how many there were. And when the Devil started counting, the cat kept moving his tail.
The Devil’s bridge (Diablada)

 Le Pont du Diable (Diablada)

The Devil’s Bridge (Diablada)

We are going to tell a little tale about a bridge called the Devil’s bridge. This bridge is near a city called Potosi. Potosi is a city in the south of Bolivia, and it is very rich because of its world famous silver mines in the mountain, the “Cerro Rico de Potosi”.
One day, a man wanted to go back home, but he couldn’t, because the bridge had collapsed. The man stay angry for hours, and he screamed and he cried, and then the Devil finally heard him. So he offered him to rebuild the bridge in exchange for his soul. The Devil started to build the bridge until only one brick was missing: an angel had sat down on the last brick so that the Devil could not take it, and the man was saved and did not have to give up his soul.

Potosi’s Bridge, by Angel, Hugo and Edwards (another take at the Devil’s bridge)

Once upon a time, there was a boy who was a miner. One day like another, he decided to go to the Cerro Rico to work, but found himself in a dangerous and hazardous situation. He got lost and could not find his way, when he met the Devil, “El Tio”. He thought he would die, but h thought about his family and found the way to the mine where he found a big pile of gold. Then he lived happy with his family.

The legend of the potato, or Wiracocha, by Pablo, Maria Cristina, Bruno and Adriana


Wiracocha 2


In the Altiplano, there was a rich city that had been invaded for 15 years. A young man called Choque climbed up a mountain and met a white condor, called Wiracocha. He gave grains to Choque, which his people had to eat. They were potato roots. The invaders ate the poisoned fruit and Choque’s people vanquished them.

(To understand the story better, you can read a more complete version here > Click!)

Third Presentation in La Paz

Session 1 :
When : Wednesday, 26th September 2012
Where : Alliance française, La Paz, Bolivia
Level : 1e et 2ème années de français
Pupils : 28
Lenght : 1h30
Telling the story of : Dedalos and the labyrinth
Stories told by the teenagers : 8

Session 2 :
When : Thursday, 27th September 2012
Where : Alliance française, La Paz, Bolivia
Level : 3e et 4e années de français
Pupils : between 15 and 20
Lenght : 1h30
Telling the story of : the foundation of Rome
Stories told by the teenagers : 6

On the last days of September, we realized two mythological presentations at the Alliance Francaise in La Paz, Bolivia. The first group was constituted of teenager students between 13 and 16 years old beginning their studies in French, while the second one included students between 13-14 years old with four years of french studies already done.

Although we were not used to deal with teenagers, both groups were very participative, and we collected many interesting traditional stories of Bolivia, mostly told in french, and sometimes finished in spanish. For the first one, it was a bit difficult at first to tell the story with simpler words, especially for the most complicated parts of the myth of Dedalus, trying to get them more clearly articulated, stopping from time to time to check if they had understood the main plot of the drama. Fortunately, the beautiful fresque painted by Janyce helped a lot in figuring the main parts off, and we had previously written down on the board the names of the characters, so that it would be easier to associate the sounds with their complicated french orthography.

The teenagers were all very shy, and wouldn’t talk easily at first, or ask questions about the story : yet, once involved in their own story to tell, they tried their best to speak in french, some of them with the help of their teacher, some others using the board to illustrate chosen scenes. One of the girl told us a beautiful moral story about bearing pain and sufferance of life, as they tell it in her family, while others told us about the legends of some streets of La Paz, Potosi or Oruro.

Later on, talking with the teachers about this experience, we received a lot of useful pieces of advice to apply in the future, especially for beginners in French : stopping from time to time and asking what’s going on for the storytelling, making smaller groups of two or three so they can discuss the meaning of the story heard before they speak out loud, trying to articulate and talk very slow in French… we shall keep them in memory for sure!

The second group, the next day, was even shier at first, but the teenagers got very interested by the story of the foundation of Rome : who was right, Remus or Romulus? Why did Romulus kill Remus? They diligently copied the genealogy of the alban kings that Janyce had written on the board, then began to ask little questions about Rome, the she-wolf, the shepherds Faustulus and Acca Larentia, if there were still Monsters in France… They seemed to understand well the story, and then began to work in little groups to tell their own legends. And this time we didn’t forget to add a significant conclusion, asking them to answer to some questions : why do we tell stories? what’s the use of legends? why do we have different versions of the same story?

One group even chose to tell a greek myth, the tragic yet beautiful story of Orpheus and Eurydice… surprising!

The teenagers were sometimes shy, sometimes funny, polite or distant, at first difficult to approach : however, their participation really enjoyed us and helped us in collecting traditional Bolivian myths!

For the drawings and a first transcription of the stories told by the teenagers af La Paz (in French), please look here. Enjoy!

Life on Mars

The bus trip out of Cordoba was fair enough, and we woke up after twelve hours of road at the feet of the mountains, in Salta la Linda. It is a very nice city, with pink-colored churches full of ornamental flowers and ribbons all over the facade, little colonial houses, and oh joy, a lot of sun! Lots of pilgrims too, and folk bands, had come for the weekend to celebrate the patrons of the city, El Señor y la Virgen del Milagro.

At first we got to the wrong hostel, because there were three of them called “La Linda” o “de la Linda”, but soon we managed to find the right one and meet again our crazy German guy known in San Ignacio. We climbed up the 1070 stairs (yes, I counted them while I was panting on the Highway to Hell, or should I say Stairway to Heaven?) of the main mountain of the city, where we could see a beautiful panorama of all the surroundings at twilight, and had a lot of fun in the evening with Mickael and Domitille, in calle Balcara, the bar and concert street of the city, eating empanadas de llama, humitas and tamales while listening to peña, the local music.

Then we left again for Tilcara, where we had a little trek of two hours in the mountains to see the huge Garganta del Diablo (the devil can make really impressive things, uh?), hidden in a desert of cacti swept by a cold cruel wind, and jumped over the rocks of a little river to reach it. We had to speed up a bit as night was already falling, but it was easier to walk with the wind in our backs and Queen singing up on Janyce’s iPhone.

That night, a mystery happened : while the clients of our hippie-like hostel were all gone to a concert bar around midnight, and while I was using the computer just at the entry of the hall, someone got in and stole the television! I heard nothing, nor saw anything suspect (a man with a telly in his arms passing by and saying goodnight , maybe?). Weird. Batman must have needed the tv for the night.

Next day we climbed up the Pukara (always escorted by dogs), the fortress of the Aymara, made of little houses and lots of prickly cacti, visited a botanical garden with twenty different species of cactus (Janyce was in heaven) and a strange volcanic stone, called “La Piedra Campana” : when you hit it with another stone or the knuckles of your hand, it tolls like a bell! In the evening we took another bus to Purmamarca, to see the beautiful Cerro de los Sietes Colores in the twilight : amazing! Purple, pink, yellow, dark green, pale green, rusty red, blue cobalt, all those shades were twinkling from the canyon covered up with blue-green sand, yellow-dried flowers and white cacti. Overwhelmed by such beauty, we decided to build a little tumulus to the Pachamama, to express our thankfulness. It was like exploring another planet, Mars maybe, with its huge red hills made of clay and stones, looking like giant termite-colonies.

From Tilcara we moved again to Humahuaca, where they were celebrating the local patroness, like in Salta, the Virgen de Candelaria. We deliberately went to Iruya, a little pueblo at 70 km afar from Humahuaca, lost between the highest mountains of andine Argentina. Seems like nothing, eh? The trip took us three hours, because only the first 20 km where on asphalted road, the remaining 50 km were spent bouncing and bouncing over the rocks, turning again and again round wonderful mountains inhabited by spare indios, llamas and wild vicuñas. The village itself wasn’t impressive, the road taken was rather the main aim and discovery of the whole expedition.

This is how we spent our last days in Argentina, climbing and jumping over rainbow mountains, and of course, eating humitas y empanadas.

Bolivia was already calling us, so we took another bus to La Quiaca, where we had to walk a bit and cross by feet the bolivian frontier (yeah, that’s it, baby), to get into Villazón. The acre smell of coca leaves floating in the streets caught our throat and nose.There we took a private taxi with a very funny English couple towards Tupiza, far nicer than Villazón, and almost feared not getting to our final destination, since the driver kept driving in the middle of the road, if not in the other way, avoiding at the last moment the buses coming in front of him. And he was as scared as us, apparently.

To change a bit, we decided to go walking in the surrounding mountains, through the desert, to see the Puerta del Diablo and Canyon del Inca : we went without a guide. All we had to do, according to Alfonso, was following the traces of the horses. What a challenge! Tiring, but completely worth it! And we could eat the best Bolivian tomatoes, empanadas de pollo (also called salteñas or tucumanas) and sweetest pineapple ever, under a tree hidden in a cave after climbing the Canyon del Inca, where our voices kept echoing (ouch, my ass! Beware of that rock, OK, you can climb there, thump! oh no my bag! The tomatoes are still alive?). Janyce got her first war scar while crossing a treachery bush full of thorns, and had an overdose of sun, cured with a good night of deep sleep and a liter of Sprite.

And then we decided to rest a bit, doing like tourists and going on an organized journey to the Salar de Uyuni with our English couple met in Villazón. We stopped at Atocha, then slept at the Salt Hotel of Colchani, very simple and frugal (just beds with seven blankets on it, in and out of electric power, I won’t describe the toilets). We woke up at five in the morning to contemplate the dawn on the Salar (just in time to see the Milky Way and its billion of stars disappear slowly, letting pink shades shine on the top of the faraway volcanoes covered with snow), and finally climbed up the Isla del Pescado, with its funny cacti enlightened by unreal beams. Back to Uyuni, where we left our kind but shy guides and our funny Manchesterians, we got to Potosî, the highest city in the world, and then Sucre. Very neat, white and with nice gardens. We came just in time for Spring Day (also Love and Peace and Student’s Day) and could enjoy the festive atmosphere in the streets and listen to a folk concert the Culture House. In Sucre too, Janyce attended to her fist mass in the Cathedral of Sucre, and we decided to write a song to understand better the bolivian spirit (with our faithful ukulele Jimi, and now our beautiful charanguito ABBA).

And now we’re are we? But in La Paz, preparing our next mythological intervention with children at the Alliance Française!

Hasta luego !