Virtual Fortune Teller Experience – Travelling to Bolivia Without Leaving Home

Virtual-Fortune-Teller-Experience-Travelling-to-Bolivia-Without-Leaving-title

Updated on April 15th, 2021

While we can’t travel, sometimes you just need a fix of something different to break the monotony of lockdown! A few weeks ago, I went on a tour of Bolivia… from my living room. It was such a fantastic experience I wanted to share. If you fancy learning more about the fascinating culture of South America, feel like you have travelled when you can’t leave home & have a virtual fortune teller experience then read on!”

Where?

Me – at home in the UK

My tour – El Alto in Bolivia

Why?

We are now in our 3rd lockdown in the UK, travel outside our local area is currently against the law. Overseas travel is a way of life for me & I have now been at home for a year. I am climbing the walls! Therefore, when I received a message from my lovely tour guide in Bolivia telling me she had started doing virtual tours, my interest was piqued.

Virtual Fortune Teller Experience – Travelling to Bolivia Without Leaving Her company, Intrepid have just launched Urban Adventures Online Experiences. Julia was offering a tour of her hometown & a visit to see an Amauta for a sacred Andean ceremony of live coca leaf reading. I will explain more about the role of the Amauta later, but she is basically a shaman or fortune teller & her gifts are much revered in Bolivia.

For me, it sounded like a fun & fascinating experience & a great opportunity to see Bolivia again. In addition, Julia’s livelihood has been severely impacted by COVID. Her last tour was in February 2020 & it looks unlikely that tourism in Bolivia will pick up within the next year. While we can’t travel it seemed a small way to support the industry I love & specifically Julia.

My first instinct was to sign myself up, but then I thought, wouldn’t it be great to do it with a few friends?

So last week, me & 3 friends went to Bolivia for the evening, while sitting in our living rooms & had a reading with a virtual fortune teller. I enjoyed the experience so much I decided to share in case you would like to take the opportunity to do it too!”

Trinkets from the Witches Market in La Paz, BoliviaAndean Culture & Religion

Although 95% of the Bolivian population are catholic, this sits side by side with a strong indigenous Andean culture. They believe in natural gods which date back to pre-Inca times. The most important The Witches Market, calle de las Brujas, La paz, Boliviafigure is Pachamama, or Mother Earth & they make offerings to Pachamama to get her blessing with any big decision. In response, she sends abundant crops, luck & distributes wealth. Llama foetuses are regularly used & still buried under new constructions as an offering to Pachamama.

The Amauta – our virtual fortune teller

The blessings can only be sought by an Amauta (a shaman figure) who are held in great regard in Bolivia. When I visited in 2017, I discovered that when sick, the first port of call is to visit an Amauta for a natural remedy. Second comes the doctor & finally if all else fails, the hospital.

Virtual Fortune Teller Experience – Travelling to Bolivia Without Leaving To become an Amauta is to be chosen by Pachamama, via a lightning strike. Another route is to be born a twin (this was the case for our virtual fortune teller, Gladys). If neither occurs & a person (male or female) feels in their heart that they want to help people, they go to consult the older Amauta’s in the mountains. The elders will inform them if it is their path. If they say no, then they need to look for another way to help people.

Coca Leaf Ceremony

The coca leaf is incredibly important for Bolivian culture & Mama Coca is one of the most important gods. Coca leaves have been used by the people of the Andes for over 5000 years. Amazingly, they were found in the tombs of the pharaohs in Egypt, indicating contact had been made by the two civilisations & sent as a gift.

Since ancient times, the coca leaves have been used as a messenger to communicate with the Gods, but only wise people are able to do this. Hence why you visit an Amauta for a reading.

The coca leaf is thought to have the power to guide, to heal and to channel Andean spirits. An Amauta is someone who interprets the leaves to reveal a person’s destiny.”

Suewherewhywhat Mirador Killi, in La Paz, BoliviaThese coca leaf ceremonies are traditionally used by the Andean people to guide them in various aspects of their lives, including love, health, work and family. The Amauta invokes the spirit of the plant as well as the person who is having the reading, to uncover answers to their questions.

If you love the sound of the tour & would like to book it for yourself then follow this link for your personal tour.

The other side of coca

SueWhereWhyWhat at the Sol De Manana Geyser in BoliviaThe coca leaves are also used across the Andean region to chew. They are particularly useful to farmers & miners to stave off hunger & tiredness. I tried chewing coca leaves & experienced a numbing sensation in my cheek as it took effect. Coca in its less raw form is used extensively in tea & sweets as it is effective at combatting the effects of the altitude.

However, there is another side to the coca leaf, in the production of cocaine. Since 1971, the UN tried to ban the use of the leaf around the world. Within 10 years they had succeeded across most of South America & it is illegal to grow anywhere except Bolivia & Peru.

In these countries, Mama Coca is so entrenched in the culture & belief system that it was deemed impossible to banish. For example, the medicinal properties are used in tea to stave off stomach ache & 2 leaves applied to the temples is a great cure for a headache.”

So, now you have a bit of background, let’s move on to the tour…

Virtual Fortune Teller Experience – Travelling to Bolivia Without Leaving Home
El Alto Cable Car

We started the tour with Julia in her home city of El Alto, the world capital of the Aymará people. El Alto is only 8kms from La Paz & used to be one of the poorest cities in Bolivia. The city is growing very fast, at a rate of 10% per year & is currently home to 1.3 million people. El Alto sits at over 4000m, one of the highest cities in the world. We took the cable car 3 stops to start our journey.

The cable car ride was only 10 minutes, but it gave us an opportunity to see how & where the local people live. The buildings are full of both colour & character. You can use any design for your home in El Alto, hence we passed one which was decorated with an enormous ‘Ironman’ mask. Apparently elsewhere in the city, there is an obsession with ‘Transformers’!

El Alto Market

Every Thursday & Sunday, El Alto hosts one of the largest markets in the whole of South America. Prior to the pandemic, one day here could involve US$1.5 million changing hands. People come from across Bolivia & Peru to get their retail therapy & will happily spend 2 or 3 hours browsing the wares on offer. You can literally find anything, from a needle to a tractor & there is no order to where anything is located!

On our short walk the stalls included car tyres, mouse poison, food, rubber boots, car parts, sunhats, fruit, natural medicine, cell phones, fresh fish & a stall with scales to weigh yourself on. It was fascinating!”

Introducing the Cholitas

The ladies in traditional dress in Bolivia are named cholitas. One thing I loved about my time in South America was how obvious they make it whether a person is single or married. For the cholitas, pleats in their skirts mean that they are taken. The angle of your hat is also a tell-tale sign. The bowler hats themselves were originally brought over from London in the 1870s. Traditionally in the UK, they were worn by men, but in Bolivia, they embraced the fashion for the ladies. The most sought after make is by Borsellino from Italy & some of the cholitas can spend as much as US$500 on acquiring one. However, sensibly on market day, they mostly leave them at home & wear a sunhat to avoid having such a prized possession stolen in the busy market.

Offerings to Pachamama

Finally, we arrived at the area where the Amauta’s conduct their business. Before we went in for the reading itself, Julia showed us the numerous offerings which were being prepared to burn for Pachamama. The trays included sugar in the shapes of llamas & sacred animals, the ubiquitous coca leaves, incense, alcohol, herbs & paper goods. What is offered will depend on the luck which is required. She also gave us some insight into the other belief systems which dominate the Andean region.

Virtual Fortune Teller Experience – Travelling to Bolivia Without Leaving Virtual Fortune teller – meeting our Amauta

Finally, we met Gladys, our Amauta & virtual fortune teller in her booth. Julia acted as our interpreter. We got the choice to have a reading as a group or individually & we chose the latter. All Gladys needed from us was our name, nationality & whether we were single or married.

We opted to have a general reading first & then asked a specific question each. This allowed the coca leaves to tell us what they felt was important & then for us to also shape our reading.

As I had arranged the tour, I was up first. Gladys threw the leaves on the table & sprinkled them with alcohol. She made a prayer in Aymará to ask permission from Mama Coca for the reading.

The Reading

I won’t go into all the details of my coca leaf reading however she opened with a line about the fact that I had a partner but am no longer with them. Anyone who has read much of my blog will know about my journey as a result of losing my husband 6 years ago. When she said this, I took a sharp intake of breath. My friends on the tour have been by my side all the way.

When Gladys mentioned this, I think we all had a newfound respect & slightly different attitude about what we were going to get from the experience.”

As the readings progressed through us all, they turned out to be incredibly insightful. One of the girls asked whether her career would be successful in the field she has chosen. Gladys was very positive & the next day she received an offer for a job application she had made.

I am not a religious person, but I am open-minded & with a healthy scepticism, humour & fascination for these types of activities. However, I don’t think any of us would deny how much fun the whole experience was & that Gladys clearly does have a gift, even from the other side of the world!

Julia took some photos for us & passed on our immense thanks to Gladys for our virtual fortune teller session. As she left, there was a long queue waiting to employ Gladys & her gifts for themselves.

Practicalities
  • The tour lasts for around an hour although ours was closer to 90 minutes. The readings would no doubt be longer & more in-depth if you take the tour alone. For all 4 of us, each reading was around 5 minutes.
  • The best days for the tour are Thursday & Sunday as these are market days in El Alto.
  • Tours can start at 9.30am, 11.30am or 2pm. However, this is Bolivian time, so check the time zone conversion carefully before you book.
  • The tour can be in either English or Spanish.
  • Calle Jaen in La Paz, BoliviaBring your curiosity & an open mind. Develop questions around love, health, work & family before you start the tour.
  • There is a maximum of 4 people per call via Zoom or Google Meet. Make sure you have a strong internet connection & ideally use a laptop instead of your phone. You can all dial in from different locations & devices.
  • Use the opportunity of the cable car & market tour to learn about the culture of the country.
  • There is no limit on your time with Gladys, but you may need to join a queue as her services are very popular!
  • You will be sent a photo as a souvenir after the tour.
  • Prices start from US$18.75, depending on the number of people involved. You can also purchase the tour as a gift.

I would recommend recording the session if you can. I had asked permission ahead of time & although I was unable to video it (due to my lack of technical expertise), I recorded the audio on my phone.”

Pink Flamingoes, Laguna Canapa, BoliviaDon’t fancy the virtual fortune teller?

If you like the idea of travelling even when you can’t & learning about another culture then Urban Adventures offer a number of other virtual experiences. It is also a great way of supporting the industry at a time when they are struggling. If you don’t fancy learning about your future, then how about a cookery class in Vietnam, Morocco or Australia. Then there is sake tasting in Japan or yoga in Delhi. Maybe you would prefer virtual ice swimming in Helsinki?

I thoroughly enjoyed my virtual fortune teller visit & would recommend the experience to anyone. Grab a few friends, maybe a glass of wine, your laptop & keep your mind open. You never know what you might learn!

Llamas grazing by a river outside la Paz, BoliviaInterested to see more?

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Virtual Fortune Teller Experience – Travelling to Bolivia Without Leaving Home

12 Comments

  1. We were so sorry we missed Bolivia on our visit to South America in 2020. I may need to look into this virtual experience. We too in Canada just entered our third lock down. How great that your tour guide reached out to share this with you. I love all the different sites that you visited on your virtual tour. Although I must admit to being skeptical about coca fortune telling.

    1. Thank you, Linda & I’m sorry that you had to miss Bolivia as it is such a fascinating country! I get that you may be sceptical about the coca leaf reading but it is something that the locals really do believe in. A big dose of scepticism & tongue in cheek are definitely required though. I think you’d really enjoy the tour though. You can then decide if Bolivia is for you next time around. Sue x

  2. I’ve stopped counting lockdowns – I’m in an eternal jail, it’s such confusion and mess here in Germany. Hence, I admire your spirit to enjoy virtual travel and encounters. I’m not ver good at compromising and feel like fooling myself as I don’t get the ‘real thing’. Yet, your post is touching, interesting….and also inspiring; maybe I will compromise, after all 🙂

    1. Thank you, Renata & I wasn’t so keen on the virtual travel ideas either. However, I enjoyed this because I was with my friends who had never been anywhere like this before. I think I got more out of it by seeing their responses. And of course, it also gave me my fix…& my fortune. Great way to spend a Thursday evening! Sue x

  3. What an interesting way to distract yourself from lockdown for a couple of hours! Such a great idea! It is so frustrating and disheartening not to be able to travel internationally at the moment and I cannot wait for the day when we can. Thankfully we have had a bit of reprieve for a couple of months from hard lockdown, and we’ve made the most of it to travel locally but we are waiting with bated breath for our 3rd wave as winter approaches.

    1. Thank you Alma & fingers crossed for you in the 3rd wave. I feel as frustrated as you sound. Who knows when I’ll make it out there again. Glad you have been able to travel locally. Things are starting to open up here as of tomorrow. I hope we don’t turn back again after this. Fingers crossed for us all! Sue x

  4. What a fun and unique way to travel during lockdown! I’m here in the UK too and just about driving myself crazy! I’m glad that the restrictions have started to ease so we can at least start getting out and about a little bit more.

    I’ve done a few virtual tours during lockdown but they have all been pre-recorded, rather than a live experience. What a great way to get an authentic tour without leaving your home! It’s such a great idea! Thanks for sharing your experience!

    1. Thank you Hannah & it was definitely better than a recorded tour & so much fun to share with my friends. I’m feeling positive about how things are moving forward in the UK. Fingers crossed it continues in that direction. Sue x

  5. Fascinating post Sue. I loved our time in Bolivia, but we didn’t go to an Amauta. That would have been fun. Maybe I’ll do the virtual tour, and then have a reading done.
    This sentence had my feminist flag flapping – “One thing I loved about my time in South America was how obvious they make it whether a person is single or married.” Why is it always the women who have to display if they’re available or not? What do Andean men do to say if they’re taken or not – probably nothing. So Chauvenistic. It’s the same the world over and throughout history. It’s only recently that western men have started wearing wedding rings. Sorry. Enough ranting. I loved the chollitas, and delved quite a bit into their culture, so unique and proud. And this whole tour sounds really interesting. Also I’m a huge fan of Intrepid.

    1. Thank you, Alison & I didn’t mean to cause offence with my comments around the marital status of the women. I do find it fascinating that in this part of the world they feel the need to make things so public. I believe there are ways that the men also show their status, I seem to remember that on Taquile Island on Lake Titicaca, it is more about the men & their hats & sashes. But I do agree. When I was in Peru, we visited a women’s weaving project & there they had hats – brim down if they were married, up if single. We posed for a photo & I found it actually quite upsetting to have to say. It was the first time I had to “declare” myself as single after losing my husband. I could have chosen not to obviously but I was surprised how conflicted I felt.

  6. Sue, this was so much fun to read! I can certainly relate that not traveling really sucks, but this virtual tour looks like a good alternative in the meantime. And Bolivia looks like a fascinating coutnry to visit–hope to get there someday.

    1. Thank you, Wendy & I hope you do. It is a fascinating country & this was a great way to experience…while we can’t.

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