The women almost exclusively wear an apron-like shirt of any colourful design, under which grows a thick mass of skirts, called a ‘pollera’ which swells at the bum and is constituted, apparently, from at least 6 metres of material. A thick plait or two falls from below a bowler hat. This hat, or ‘bombin’ or ‘borsalino’, is a symbol of wisdom. It was brought to Bolivia at the end of the 19th century by the British engineers directing the work on the train that would take the valuable minerals from the high plains of the Andes to the coast, from where they would be shipped off to the Old World.
Everyone is old, unnaturally so, with thickly crevassed faces and worn dark skin that bends and erupts with any turn of the head or change in expression. I look at the children and wonder how they will grow so old so soon.