La Paz in three days
We arrived in La Paz from Santiago at 4pm after a stopover in Iquique, it was so nice to travel with Jess and Daniel that we met in Santiago and then again in Valparaiso. At arrival the views from the plane of La Paz were pretty spectacular. We were all a bit worried about the altitude sickness, but it didn’t hit us straight away. We decided to have a burger together to celebrate our arrival in Bolivia, and then we shared a taxi downtown to our b&b and their hostel. There are many horror stories about taxis in La Paz, we checked many websites and saw that only taxis “with a bubble on the top” are safe. As we got out of the airport I was disappointed to find out that the “bubble” is just a banner on top of the car with a phone number, it’s even better if they have on the front a sticker that says radio taxi. The ones to avoid are the ones with a sticker that says taxi but nothing on the roof of the car. Anyway we agreed the price before getting on, and got there easily enough after a few windy roads going downhill since the airport is in El Alto, the higher city which is 4,200 metres above sea level while La Paz is 3,600 metres. They are both around the same size, 1.5 million inhabitants in each, for a total of 3 million if you consider both together since they are so close together. By the time we checked in our place called A La Maison it was about 7pm, and we were destroyed, I started feeling the altitude badly, and had a horrible headache but after drinking some coca tea I got a bit better and managed to go to sleep. Our room is huge, with kitchen and tv, a bit cold and it smells of petrol for some reasons. Also the plug of the fire started burning, and the smell of petrol got mixed with plastic melting…a pleasure for the sense of smell!
We had breakfast in our huge but cold room at 8am to be ready at 9am, we get fresh bread delivered at our door every morning, and in the fridge there is juice, butter and jam and fruits on the table. Very nice touch considering it saves us spending money. We started our day tour at 9am with Banjo tours, a city tour of La Paz that also included the Moon Valley. Our tour guide Sergio was nice, very knowledgeable and good fun, we learnt lots about La Paz, the San Pedro prison, the corruption but also the fact that the city is getting better economy wise. San Pedro prison was interesting, made famous by the book Marching Powder which talks about the production of cocaine within the prison, and the prison system, there are entire families living there, and each prisoner needs to pay a fee to secure himself a cell otherwise they have to sleep in the yard outside. I have just started reading the book, that Jess recommended to me and I will add it when I post my recommended reads for each country at the end of the trip! The Moon Valley was an interesting landscape but not as incredible as I was expecting.
After the moon valley we got back to the centre and the the main square was a bit scary since there was a lot of police around it, and you had to pass through some gates to enter it which didn’t fill us with confidence. We later learnt that it was due to some demonstrations, disabled people were camping and protesting in front of the government building since they are asking more money from them. Walking around didn’t feel as unsafe as everyone was saying it would be, it’s so interesting to look around especially the outfits of the cholitas, the indigenous ladies that wear braided hair, bowler hats and multilayered skirts in the ring as many as 7 or 8. In the indigenous culture the larger the hips the most attractive the woman, as this means they will be more fertile. We took a few local mini buses, which was an interesting experience, everyone shouts at them to stop, they open the doors and jump on, then they shout when they want to get out, and give the money to the driver at the end. We tried food in a local market where only locals were eating, and four cholitas were cooking. I was so scared we would get food poisoning, again after all the horror stories we heard, but luckily we survived. After lunch we took the red cable car to El Alto, where we visited the witches market which was a very surreal experience.
Interestingly this Saturday there was a parade going on which only happens once a year called la Fiesta del Gran Poder, a celebration paying homage to El Señor del Gran Poder or Jesus Christ. The festival features thousands of dancers parading down the sprawling streets of La Paz, shaking their colourful costumes as the locals cheer and get drunk around it all day and night, which was great to see, despite the big queues to try and go passed the main road.
We also saw it from the top in the cable car. When we got to the witches market we learnt a lot about the weird tradition of offerings in Bolivia, is where the witches sell offers that must be burnt to help something happen. Most of La Paz when Bolivia was conquered by the Spanish became catholic (hence the Jesus Christ parade), but of course a lot of the indigenous traditions and beliefs still remain very much today.
The most shocking thing that the witches burn is a dried lama, white for positive requests such as curing illnesses or helping daughters or sons pass university or get a good job, and black for negative ones such as cursing others. After that we got the yellow cable car down back to our place. Brucey got a migraine unfortunately which meant we stayed in the rest of the night, we went to the supermarket and I made a pasta after which we watched Blade Runner in our room, as we can borrow dvds and watch them which was another nice treat from A La Maison.
After a good lie in and breakfast, we met with Jess at 12pm in Sagarnaga to go shopping. Daniel went to ride the death road today, so we tried to help Jess not get too worried throughout the day. We had a few things to buy, mainly warm layers to survive the cold walks that we have coming up. We walked around the streets of Sagarnaga, tried a few shops to get an idea of prices and ended up buying the cheapest we could find, we are now ready for the cold with hats, gloves, and alpaca socks, and thermals which looked particularly good on Bruce, see photo below for the magic dancer. We had an average but decent lunch at Cafe Mundo, where we had chocolate milkshakes that must have had a couple of kilos of sugar in each and were almost undrinkable! Brucey even tried Lama burger. From his face it didn’t look hugely tasty. After lunch we kept wondering around, Jess started to feel a bit the altitude sickness but luckily we found a pharmacy and she could take the Sorochi pills. We sat in the square for a bit in the sunshine, looking at people falling off a building (absailing) in front of us. After that we walked Jess to her hostel where we had a beer in the bar before heading back. We finished the pasta we had left, finished planning Argentina (the last country!) and getting our stuff together to prepare for the upcoming 20 days in a row of tours, and of one nighters. Tomorrow we start our 5 days tour to Uyuni salt flats via Sajama National Park and on the day after we get back to La Paz on Saturday we start our 14 days Machu Pichu tour from La Paz to Lima.