To add an element of crowdfunding to this blog, I promised a postcard from South America to every contributor. Only when the first donations came in, I realized how hard it has become in 2016 to find postcards.
Only 10 years ago, you could purchase postcards at every airport, every train station, many small kiosks and often at the Post Office. And not only in larger cities, but in the smallest villages too. Now it has become an ordeal to find postcards even in huge cities or at famous tourist destinations. In Bolivia, I couldn’t find any at the UNESCO World Heritage sites El Fuerte and at the Jesuit church in San José de Chiquitas. When I asked for them at the museum in San José, I received a pitiful smile, like someone who has been living a few decades beyond his expiry date.
I know that everyone takes their own photos now, but you cannot print those and you cannot write on them. Oh, you just post your photos on Facebook? But that doesn’t have the same romantic effect like something written by hand, washed out by the rain, and arriving weeks later. And the exotic stamps which always reveal an interesting titbit about the country of dispatch! You aren’t interested in any of that? What a boring new world.
So fears were raised that I had made promises which I couldn’t keep and that the contracts would need to be rescinded due to the impossibility of performance. I made a last attempt in Cochabamba in Bolivia. I bothered shop after shop, to no avail. Museums? Nothing. Churches and monasteries? Nothing. My last stop was the tourist information at Plaza Colón. No postcards either. But a gentleman there gave me some hope: “The stationery shop in the arcades of Plaza 14 de Septiembre still has postcards. I believe so, at least.”
I found the shop, but saw no postcards between all the writing blocks, maps and gift-wrapping paper. Already completely disillusioned, I dared to ask with my last energy: “Do you maybe have postcards with photos of Cochabamba?” “Yes,” was the reply of the shop-owner who was alone in his store, “but they are already a little bit older.” I wouldn’t mind that at all, I explained jubilantly.
He climbed onto a wooden ladder and pulled out a small, brown box behind an old TV set on a lopsided wooden shelf. It was obvious that nobody had asked for postcards in years. When he opened the box, I caught sight of a time which I myself had not witnessed. The postcards were more than “a little bit older”.
This for example is the postcard showing the airport in Cochabamba.
“That airline doesn’t exist anymore,” he explained with regret and asked me if I knew the type of aircraft. The backside of the card unfortunately reveals no information on this, nor on the year the photograph was taken. I don’t know much about planes and only later research turned out that this was probably a Lockheed L-188 Electra. It was last produced in 1961, but it may of course have been operating far beyond that.
The postcards were all from the same time, I estimate it to be the 1960s, definitely not later than the 1970s. The uncle of the shop-owner had taken the photos and his nephew couldn’t imagine how happy I was that he had held on to the unsaleable merchandise over the decades.
This is La Paz:
This is Copacabana at Lake Titicaca.
He had many more cards, mainly with details of Cochabamba. We sifted through the whole box and I recognized some of the churches or the Palacio Portales of the Patiño Foundation, when a young man entered the shop and asked if they sell tinta. “What kind of ink?” the shop-owner asked. “For a printer cartridge.” Almost insulted, the stationery dealer said dismissively: “No, we don’t have things like that. You need to go to La Cancha market.” The whole shop hasn’t let gone of the past yet, but it’s good to know where I can refill my inkwell.
Speaking of La Cancha, of course there is a postcard of the market too.
But I wouldn’t have recognized that anymore. Now there are buildings everywhere and due to Cochabamba’s southward expansion, the market is now in the center of the city. Only the kind of products and the style of the cholitas have hardly changed.
I guess I don’t even need to mention that these postcards are the last of their kind and that they will soon yield sky-high prices at auctions. Get yours now!