TIME Travel

This Hotel is Completely Made of Salt

It's located in Bolivia, in the middle of the world's largest salt flat

Ice hoteliers aren’t the only entrepreneurs at risk of having their property melt. In a cool new video interview for National Geographic, the manager of Luna Salada, a Bolivian hotel made entirely out of salt, explains how a rainy season can destroy bricks that must be changed out. But that’s the price you pay when you choose to build your hotel out of seasoning. The destination, which is located in the middle of the world’s largest salt flat, is carrying on a local tradition of salt construction. In addition to the actual walls of the hotel, all the furniture is built out of salt—everything from the chairs in the restaurant to the desks to the bed (they do give you a mattress though).

If you’re thinking about going, you should know that it’s a trip best suited for the adventurous traveler. Get there via a long train from La Paz or a long and bumpy bus ride. Although, if you like the idea of sleeping on a salt bed, a bus ride on unpaved roads probably doesn’t phase you.

You can check out the impressive and complex things the Luna Salada manages to do with salt below and reserve rooms (from $135) here.

This article originally appeared on FWx.com.

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A Devoted Sean Penn Helps U.S. Man Recover From Bolivia Ordeal

Jacob Ostreicher
Jacob Ostreicher poses for a photo in Los Angeles on Dec. 15, 2014 Damian Dovarganes—AP

Penn became convinced Ostreicher had been unjustly imprisoned since mid-2011 so corrupt authorities could drain the assets of the $25 million rice-farming operation in which he was a minor investor

(LIMA, PERU) — It began with an attempt to salvage an ill-fated investment in Bolivian rice farms, devolved into a Third World prison nightmare and climaxed with an escape engineered with the help of actor Sean Penn.

But, so far, there has been no Hollywood ending for Jacob Ostreicher.

In the year since he was spirited out of Bolivia, the 55-year-old has struggled to rebuild a life upended by corrupt officials who tried to extort Ostreicher and had him imprisoned without charge while bleeding the rice venture dry.

The ordeal shredded the Brooklyn man’s marriage, drained his bank account and nearly stole his sanity.

“Certain days I don’t function,” Ostreicher told The Associated Press in a series of phone conversations, his first media interview since his rescue. “It’s hard to start a new life.”

The former flooring business owner lives alone in Los Angeles and says he’s still trying to find a new line of work. He says he is not living off charity, never has, but has gotten huge emotional support from family, the Jewish community and a few of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

None have done more than Penn.

In late 2012, the Oscar-winning actor flew to Bolivia to investigate Ostreicher’s case at the urging of actor Mark Wahlberg.

Ostreicher, who is an Orthodox Jew, had the attention of the Aleph Institute, a foundation that helps incarcerated Jews. The Florida-based group asked Wahlberg to reach out to Penn, who is widely known for his Haiti relief efforts and closeness to leftist Latin American leaders.

Penn became convinced Ostreicher had been unjustly imprisoned since mid-2011 so corrupt authorities could drain the assets of the $25 million rice-farming operation in which he was a minor investor. Though he was accused of money-laundering, no evidence was ever presented.

Penn was self-effacing when asked about his odd-couple friendship with Ostreicher and why he decided to help. “What can I say? He was likable,”

When Penn asked Bolivian President Evo Morales to intercede, Penn got a tepid response.

So he exposed the extortion ring, sparking a scandal that eventually would see 14 Bolivian officials jailed — the ring’s No. 2 figure entered a guilty plea last week — while others fled the country.

Penn then got Ostreicher moved to a medical clinic. The New Yorker had withered to 107 pounds from a liquids-only hunger strike to protest his imprisonment. Penn leveraged his Venezuelan connections — he was close to the late President Hugo Chavez — to get armed Venezuelan security guards assigned to protect him, fearing he’d be targeted for exposing the extortion ring.

Even though he had endured more than 30 court hearings, Ostreicher continued to insist he wanted to clear his name in Bolivia.

Penn told him to let it go.

“He held me down with both hands and looked at me and said, ‘I am going to get you home,'” Ostreicher recalled.

But all Penn could accomplish was to get Ostreicher’s confinement in the maximum-security prison exchanged for house arrest.

Then, in late 2013, Ostreicher arrived from South America on a commercial flight from Peru to Los Angeles International Airport, where Penn was waiting in the jetway to receive him.

“He is fully responsible, Sean, for saving my life,” Ostreicher said. “He is much more than a friend.”

Neither Penn nor Ostreicher would discuss the secretive escape in any detail, although Ostreicher said his older brother, Aron, paid for it and that he endured a nerve-wracking flight to La Paz from the eastern city of Santa Cruz sitting near Bolivia’s chief of police praying he wouldn’t be recognized. He said he wore a disguise.

Bolivia claimed the escape was orchestrated by the CIA, which Ostreicher denies. He would say only that it involved “professionals” whom he declined to identify.

During his years in Bolivia, Ostreicher’s marriage fell apart, with his wife staying in New York. Penn took him in and, for a few weeks, Ostreicher said, he did little more than stay rolled up in a fetal position on the couch.

“I literally was crying to Sean that I want to go back to Bolivia,” he told the AP.

“Sean sat with me for hours, sometimes sitting with me all night, rubbing my back,” he would later recount at a dinner honoring Penn.

The actor enlisted his own family and friends in the healing.

“I told Sean I’d like to find a person who had it all and lost it all to give me a reason that I should wake up every morning,” said Ostreicher.

Penn introduced him to Robert Downey Jr.

Downey, who hit bottom in the 1990s when drug addiction troubles landed him in jail for a year, counseled Ostreicher, then sent him clothing “literally in the tens of thousands of dollars” — Gucci suits, sweaters, sneakers, underwear, a Harry Winston watch.

Penn, meanwhile, was at Ostreicher’s side for some of his most trying moments.

When his daughter, Gitty, flew with her husband and their five children from New Jersey for a February reunion, Ostreicher was terrified, he said.

He tried to find excuses to avoid the meeting, telling Penn he didn’t have the proper clothing.

“I need a white shirt. I need a black suit. I need a certain hat. And Sean jumped into his car and brought me back six hats.”

“He said, ‘One of them has got to be the right one.'”

When they arrived for the reunion, the kids didn’t want to come to him.

“They didn’t recognize me, the old, sick man I became,” he said.

He began telling the kids about the “very strong man” who sneaked him out of Bolivia. “You want to meet this man?” Ostreicher asked. Then, he pointed to Penn.

“I told Sean, ‘Show the kids your biceps.'”

“Sean literally went down on his knees, unbuttoned his shirt and flexed his muscles for my grandchildren so they should come closer to me. And this is how they started coming to me.”

Asked about the incident, Penn paused briefly.

“Jacob has a way,” he said, “of putting someone on the spot.”

___

Associated Press writer Carlos Valdez in La Paz, Bolivia, contributed to this report.

TIME Bolivia

Quick Count: Bolivia’s Morales Coasts to 3rd Term

BOLIVIA-ELECTION-MORALES
Bolivian President and candidate for re-election Evo Morales votes in Villa 14, Chapare, Bolivia, on Oct. 12, 2014 Aizar Raldes—AFP/Getty Images

Morales has capitalized on his everyman image while his Movement Toward Socialism party has consolidated control over state institutions

(LA PAZ, Bolivia) — Evo Morales easily won an unprecedented third term as Bolivia’s president Sunday on the strength of the economic and political stability brought by his government, according to an unofficial quick count of the vote.

Morales, a native Aymara from Bolivia’s poor, wind-swept Andean plateau, received 59.5 percent of the vote against 25.3 percent for cement magnate Samuel Doria Medina, the top vote-getter among four challengers, according to a quick count of 84 percent of the voting booths by the Ipsos company for ATB television.

If confirmed by partial official results expected after midnight local time Sunday (0400 GMT), it would give Morales an outright victory without the need for a second round of voting.

As the unofficial results were announced, Morales’ supporters ran out into the streets to celebrate the win.

While known internationally for his anti-imperialist and socialist rhetoric, the 55-year-old coca growers’ union leader is widely popular at home for a pragmatic economic stewardship that spread Bolivia’s natural gas and mineral wealth among the masses.

A boom in commodities prices increased export revenues nine-fold and the country has accumulated $15.5 billion in international reserves. Economic growth has averaged 5 percent annually, well above the regional average.

A half a million people have put poverty behind them since Bolivia’s first indigenous president first took office in 2006, with per capital gross national income up from $1,000 that year to $2,550 in 2013, according to the World Bank.

Public works projects abound, including a satellite designed to deliver Internet to rural schools, a fertilizer plant and La Paz’s gleaming new cable car system. His newest promise: to light up La Paz with nuclear power.

“I voted for Evo Morales because he doesn’t forget the elderly,” said Maria Virginia Velasquez, a 70-year-old widow. Universal old-age pensions — Velasquez gets $36 a month — are among the benefits instituted by Morales that have boosted his popularity.

Morales had sought Sunday to improve on his previous best showing — 64 percent in 2009 — and to maintain a two-thirds control of Bolivia’s Senate and assembly. That would let him change the constitution, which restricts presidents to two 5-year terms, so he can run again.

He has not said whether he would seek a fourth term, only that he would “respect the constitution.” He did say in a TV interview last week, however, that he didn’t believe people over the age of 60 should be president.

A court ruled last year that Morales could run for a third term because his first preceded a constitutional rewrite. All seats are up for grabs in the 36-member Senate and 130-member lower house.

Morales’ critics say he spent tens of millions in government money on his campaign, giving him an unfair advantage. And press freedom advocates accuse him of gradually silencing critical media by letting government allies buy them out, a formula also employed by the ruling heirs in Venezuela of the late Hugo Chavez.

Morales didn’t attend the campaign’s lone presidential debate and state TV didn’t broadcast it.

“There is no functional opposition, left, right or otherwise,” said Jim Shultz, executive director of the left-leaning Democracy Center based in Bolivia and San Francisco.

Morales has capitalized on his everyman image while his Movement Toward Socialism party has consolidated control over state institutions. He long ago crushed and splintered the opposition, nationalized key utilities and renegotiating natural gas contracts to give the government a bigger share of profits.

His image-makers have built a cult of personality around him. Stadiums, markets, schools, state enterprises and even a village bear Morales’ name. In the center of the capital, crews are building a second presidential palace, a 20-story center complete with a heliport.

Yet Morales has alienated environmentalists and many former indigenous allies by promoting mining and a planned jungle highway through an indigenous reserve.

And despite Bolivia’s economic advancements, it is still among South America’s poorest countries. Nearly one in five Bolivians lives on less than a dollar a day.

Many analysts think Bolivia depends too much on natural resources and is especially susceptible to the current easing in commodities demand from China.

“Evo’s balancing act will be increasingly tough to maintain,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue think tank. “Although Evo has proven to be a resourceful and resilient politician, who knows his country well, it would be surprising if the next five years go as swimmingly as the last five.”

Morales’ dreams of converting its lithium reserves into battery factories have yet to be realized, as are plans to create a major iron foundry.

The underground cocaine economy gets credit for part of the economic boom. Peru’s former drug czar, Ricardo Soberon, estimates its annual revenues at $2.3 billion, equal to about 7 percent of gross domestic product.

Morales promotes coca’s traditional uses and claims zero tolerance for cocaine.

The United States deems Bolivia uncooperative in the war on drugs and has halted trade preferences and cut all counter-narcotics aid. Morales expelled the U.S. ambassador and Drug Enforcement Administration in 2008, accusing them of inciting the opposition.

Last year he threw out the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Ronald Velasquez, a 38-year-old computer specialist, said he voted for Morales because he didn’t trust any of the other candidates. He said he trusts Morales but the president “is surrounded by bad associates.”

“He has had a lot of problems in his government with corruption and influence-peddling,” Velasquez said.

Macario Chambi, a 54-year-old street vendor, said he would not vote for Morales, whose ruling clique he believes is getting rich off the economic bonanza without instituting the type of reforms that will actually create wealth.

“He thinks we’re all sheep, that we don’t realize that they want to buy us with cheap sweets.”

___

Associated Press writers Paola Flores contributed from La Paz and Frank Bajak from Lima, Peru.

TIME Bolivia

Bolivia to Allow Children to Legally Work at Just 10 Years Old

Views From the Capitol As Bolivian Central Bank President Sees 5.5% GDP Growth This Year
Bolivia is set to reduce the child labor minimum wage to 10 years old. Noah Friedman-Rudovsky/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Supporters of a new bill say it will help reduce poverty, but human-rights activists aren't convinced

Bolivian lawmakers have approved new legislation that allows children as young as 10 years old to enter the workforce.

While the minimum age for child workers was previously 14 with no exceptions, the new bill is more flexible and allows children to start “working for others from age 12, which is allowed by international conventions, and self-employment from age 10,” said Senator Adolfo Mendoza, co-sponsor of the bill, reports AFP.

He emphasized that both the child and a parent or guardian must first voluntarily consent to the work and then seek permission from the public ombudsman.

Critics of the previous law argue that children younger than 14 years old must work to help support their families in the impoverished South American country.

Deputy Javier Zavaleta, co-sponsor of the bill, said he hoped it would help eradicate extreme poverty in the landlocked nation. “Extreme poverty is one of the causes, not the main one, of child labor,” he told AFP. “So our goal is to eliminate child labor by 2020. While it is ambitious, it is possible.”

But human-rights activists disagree.

Jo Becker, children’s-rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, called on Bolivian politicians to abandon the bill in early 2014. “Child labor perpetuates the cycle of poverty,” she said.

“Poor families often send their children to work out of desperation, but these children miss out on schooling and are more likely to end up in a lifetime of low-wage work,” she added. “The Bolivian government should invest in policies and programs to end child labor, not support it.”

The bill has now been sent to Bolivian President Evo Morales and is expected to be signed into law.

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TIME Bolivia

Bolivian Mayor Caught On Camera Groping Woman

The clip, which was was broadcast on Bolivian television, is just the latest in a series of incidents showing the mayor making unwanted advances on women

The mayor of Bolivia’s largest city was caught on camera groping and kissing women – again.

Percy Fernandez, the Mayor of Santa Cruz, is seen in a new video placing his hand on the thigh of Mercedes Guzman, a journalist from a local television channel.

But this is not the first time that the mayor, recently called by President Evo Morales “the best mayor in Bolivia,” was caught making unwanted advances on women. At least two other instances of his sexual harassment were caught on camera in the past. Two years ago, footage showed him twice touching the bottom of his female City Council president, and in 2010 he forced a kiss upon a female engineer while inspecting a bridge.

“[We consider this] an expression of violence against all Bolivian women, especially because the mayor’s actions have happened before,” said Marcela Revollo, a Bolivian lawmaker.

After increasing public outcry, the 75-year-old mayor sent a video to Santa Cruz media in which he apologized to the journalist for the incident.

“I’m worried that I might’ve disrespected you while you were performing your duties. I apologize again to you and your dignified family,” Fernandez says on the video.

But opposition lawmaker Revollo said that the apology was not enough. She has filed a complaint accusing Fernandez of sexual harassment, sexual violence and discrimination.

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