From the extreme nature to the striking differences in culture and politics, photographer Kevin Faingnaert digs into the mysterious contrasts of Bolivia.
From the high-altitude plains and its springy moss, peaty streams and wild spiky bushes to the scenic surrounding snow capped Altiplanos to the fertile lush-green wilderness of the Amazon rainforest, Bolivia’s landscapes seem to attract the most adventurous of travellers. Throughout the once thriving nation lie both densely populated urban areas and the pristine plains of untouched land where uncontacted Aboriginal groups still roam today.
“It was the rugged extreme that drew me to Bolivia,” photographer Kevin Faingnaert tells LYFSTYL. “Bolivia, from the Amazons to the Andes mountains, offers an infinite scale of landscapes, climates, flora and fauna: high mountain chains, the endless plains of the Altiplano, the Amazons with muddy rivers and tropical valleys, the mesmerizing salt flats, high altitude coloured lagoons crowded with flamingos and the highest navigable lake in the world.”
Once you find your way off the well-trodden gringo trail of La Paz, Sucre, Potosi and the Uyuni salt flats, it turns out that Bolivia isn’t really set up for tourism. A land of former riches and present poverty, Bolivia is a country that by its very nature plays host to endless contrasts and extremes in any and every way. “In nature and politics, poor and rich,” Faingnaert observes.
Sixteenth and seventeenth century gold and silver mines in Peru were exploited by Spanish explorers, bringing back unbelievable amounts of riches for the Monarchy. In Spain, the common phrase “worth a Peru” once meant the highest possible praise, whereas the nation is now plagued by numerous issues relating to poverty and human rights.
The physical differences are also enough to keep you on your toes. “The height and temperature differences are very big,” Faingnaert says. “La Paz, for example, rests 3,660 meters above sea level and it was freezing cold when I was there. I came from the Amazons which is around sea level and has a tropical warm climate.” It means you have to get used to the height and temperature at all times, which takes some time, but it’s these extremes that make Bolivia all the great for the daring and adventurous.
Outside of the topographical makeup and extreme landscapes, Faingnaert was fascinated by the charming cultural traditions. “The first thing that will strike you when visiting Bolivia are the cholita women with their bowler hats,” he mentions. “They are everywhere, and most of the women wear them perched atop their long black braids.”
Faingnaert’s travels eventually took him to the tranquil town of Tupiza, which emenated a far-west cowboy vibe. “It’s this kind of tradition and sense of pride which I hadn’t felt anywhere else and which intrigued about Bolivian culture. It is definitely the most traditional country in South America,” he confidently states.
“The hope was simply to watch, listen, and record life in the balmy desert, the lush forest, the highest altitudes and vibrant cities,” Faingnaert admits. “I hoped to combine vast natural wonders with portraits and tiny flashes of everyday life. It’s my love letter to Bolivia.”