Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The City of Tupiza

[13 March 2017]
Tupiza Central Plaza

Tupiza is a relatively small town located in a north to south oriented valley. It is bounded on the east and west by very distinctive mountains. They are beautiful red-rock mountains, and are very beautiful.

East side of Tupiza valley.

West side of Tupiza valley.
Population wise, various sources (one of them being the Spanish Wikipedia site, another the English version) indicate that there were 44,000 inhabitants in 2009 and 25,000 in 2012. I don’t know that it really shrank that much in those years, or if they are using different political boundaries. I suspect that the higher number includes the whole municipal area, possibly extending well outside the valley itself.
Rio Tupiza - medium full. It's usually much drier than this.

 More telling, though, is the geography. One site indicates that the area of the town itself is 10 km2, with 7.5 km2 being land, and 2.5 km2 being water. The latter number is misleading, though, since the very prominent “Rio Tupiza” coursing through the middle of town (see the map) is most often nearly completely dry. After a significant rainstorm, it fills in partially, and the locals say that there are times that it is full from bank to bank. We haven’t seen that, yet.

To get a feel for the size of the main portion of town, take a look at the map (taken from Google Maps) below. The straight-line distance from Rama America, north of the river, to Rama Tupiza, in the downtown area, is barely more than one mile. So far, we have been as far north as the Centro de Salud San Antonio (one of the missionaries got bit by a dog and we accompanied him there to start his series of rabies shots) just north of Rama America, to the Mercado Campesino to the south. East to west, we’ve been as far west as the Tobogán El Molle (a big concrete slide for kids to play on) to Rama Tupiza. That is a distance of less than 500 meters, or about 1500 feet – a third of a mile. So, our stomping grounds here in Tupiza amount to about 1/3 of a square mile, or 8/10 km2. Or, put in perspective or our American Fork 12th Ward – about 1½ times the size of the entire ward area. Not very big. Depending on the weather, the status of the roads (very muddy after a storm), and how we feel, it is not a very long walk to walk from where we live north of the river down to church at the Rama Tupiza building. (Our apartment is noted on the map as “Tupiza Home”near the blue dot – about a quarter mile to the Rama America.)

Tupiza came into existence, again as reported by the Spanish Wikipedia site, in the late 1500’s. There are mining activities in the mountains around Tupiza, and agricultural activities in the valley and surrounding areas. There are plenty of fruits and vegetables, with some coming from Argentina as well.

We are only about an hour and a half from the Argentine border. There is one branch there, Villazón, that we will go and visit soon. There is another branch in Quiriza, again about an hour from Tupiza, but more to the west. These four branches, two in Tupiza, the one in Quiriza, and the one in Villazón are the extent of our responsibilities for now. When the new Mission President comes in June, that may change, but it gives us a nice area to work in for now.

Church History

The branch in Quiriza is one of the earliest in Bolivia. Missionaries came from Argentina to work there at the request of a member from Quiriza who had been baptized (as I have heard it) in Argentina. He wanted to share the gospel with his family and neighbors, and was the impetus for the building of the first LDS Chapel in Bolivia. Elder Richard G. Scott was the Mission President in the Argentine mission when this happened. He accompanied some missionaries to Quiriza. There are numerous accounts of a miracle associated with the placing of the main roof beam. When they went to place it, they found that it was too short – it wouldn’t fit. The members went to bed after praying for a miracle, and when they went to fit the beam the next day, it fit.

The branch in Quiriza has about 70 members to this day, and they are still very faithful.
When I was here in Bolivia as a missionary in 1975 and 1976, there was one branch in Tupiza. I don’t know how big it was, how active, etc., but I’m trying to find accounts of that time. Over the years, there have been branches opened and closed here, leaving two branches now – the Tupiza and the America branches. There are many members of record, but some have moved away, and the records need to be sent after them. Many young people go to Cochabamba to school, others go to Cochabamba due to jobs, the economy, etc. Attendance here at the Tupiza branch is about 100 to 120 each Sunday.

The chapels here in Tupiza are very nice. I don’t know in what year they were constructed, but they are the same general style as those in Cochabamba. Very functional, very nice. The Tupiza branch has a nice electric piano for accompanying meetings, which I very much enjoy playing.

Tupiza Branch Chapel


We don’t have any supermarkets, like IC Norte in Cochabamba, but we have managed to find most of what we need with a bit (sometimes a lot) of searching. We ask lots of questions, and the general answer is to go to the Mercado Negro or the Mecado Central Tupiza in the map. It’s a little past halfway between where we live and the Tupiza branch chapel, and it sits right between the two main north-south streets that we traverse. The bus we take, when we’re being lazy – route 1, goes right past it. We’ve found blankets, material for curtains, our oven, microwave, blender, a shaver, fans, dishes, cane sugar, honey, cocoa, flour, sugar, shower head, extension cords, scissors, hammer, screwdrivers, tape, hangers, floor squeegee, mirror, towels, tablecloths, shower curtain (OK, a sheet of plastic), printer paper, sheets for the bed, cleaning rags, shampoo, etc. Pretty much anything you can think of is there, much like La Cancha in Cochabamba, but much smaller.

We go to the Mercado Campesino for fruits and vegetables on Thursdays, and Mercado La Paz on other days of the week. The bananas here aren’t as good as those in Cochabamba, but are still pretty good. We’ve found everything except good cilantro, pretty much.

As you go down the two main shopping streets, especially (Rgto. Chichas and Santa Cruz), every building seems to be a store front for something. There are panaderias, PIL milk outlets, various “Friales” that basically sell everything from candy to soda pop to crackers, etc. There are mueblerias (furniture stores), ferreterías (hardware stores), peluquerias (barbershops), electronic stores, and lots of places selling all kinds of DVD’s – suspiciously devoid of original packaging, and apparently burned in someone’s back room. There are tiendas selling meat, fruits, vegetables, paper products, etc. If you ask around and are persistent, you can find what you are looking for. Today, we finally found good chocolate to bake into chocolate chip cookies!


Tupiza has many, many pizza restaurants. We’ve eaten at one, and the pizza was very good. We haven’t eaten at any other locations, but the missionaries have a list of places they like. Eventually we’ll give some of them a try.

We do like, and trust, the rotisserie chickens we’ve gotten (pollo al spiedo). As Molly indicated, we get about one every week, eat some of the meat for dinner, carve the rest off the bones and save it, and then cook what’s left down with some vegetables to make a tasty broth that she makes soup from through the week.


The streets in the center of town are mostly paved, but many are of the hexagonal concrete block variety. The water seeps between the blocks, and there are many places where the surface is very uneven. It’s interesting to ride in the little moto-taxis, and see the maneuvers they use to avoid the worst spots.

Closer to where we live, the pavement takes various forms, and non-forms. In the main street, it appears that the street was once a cobblestone street that they covered with a thin layer of asphalt. With all the recent storms, there are many, many, deep pot holes, and the buses, moto-taxis, vehicles of every sort have to drive very slowly to avoid ruining their suspensions.

In front of our apartment, the street is paved, but usually covered in layers of dirt and dust, because every vehicle that comes down it brings the mud from the main thouroughfare. In the picture below, you can’t really tell that our street is paved, except you don’t see ruts and pot holes.

Our street - Thomás Frias.

Calle Tumusla - typical street in Tupiza.

Out away from the central area, the streets may be mostly just dirt or gravel. Sidewalks everywhere are uneven, non-standard, sometimes crumbling, sometimes non-existent. You have to take care walking everywhere, because sometimes, you are forced to walk in the street.

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