The highest Capital City in the world... SMASH!!!

Trip Start Feb 26, 2010
Trip End Feb 26, 2011

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Thursday, December 16, 2010

Our night bus finally arrived in La Paz at 6am.  Considering the horrendous start to the journey on hellishly bumpy roads the rest had been OK and we had managed to get some sleep.  The driver brought us round a yoghurt and a packet of cereal (I tipped the cereal in to the yoghurt - was that what I was supposed to do?) and we watched out of the window as the tiny hillside houses of La Paz closed in all around us.  First impressions were that the city was far bigger than we imagined with so many people out and about, street vendors selling fruit, shoe shine boys wearing the obligatory balaclava (looking very scary) and queues of people everywhere (not sure what they are queuing up for).  We got a taxi to Loki Hostel we didn't have a reservation but knew that the place was so huge that hopefully we could find a bed for the next few days - how wrong we were.  After hanging around in reception with a big group of other people waiting for a member of staff to arrive we discovered that they only had beds in massive dorms available (not our idea of heaven) so we got on the internet there and managed to book a double room with en suite (definately getting better) at Hostel Cruz de los Andes a short taxi ride away.

We arrived after a bit of confusion from the taxi driver as to where we were going but for 10 Bolivianos we couldn't face the steep up hill walk and we were near the Witches Market so the location was great.  The hostel was lovely with trompe l'oeil murals all over the place and christmas decorations everywhere, we dumped our stuff in the room (very nice - with cable tv and en-suite) and then we were offered breakfast so filled ourselves with fruit, jam, bread, delicious butter, fresh orange juice and lots of coffee.  We blogged a bit in the room and chilled out a bit (we also got the bad news that Andrew's mum had been taken in to hospital so spoke to his dad on the phone who assured us that there was nothing we could do - so get well soon Trish we are thinking about you and send you our love).  We decided to have a look at a few tour options in the travel agents around the hostel.  There is so much to do here that we weren't sure what to do first, we got a few prices for 'The Worlds Most Dangerous Road', Rurrenabaque Pampas trips and Tiwanaka tours and then decided to waste no more time and pay to do a city tour with an English speaking guide (it seemed the sensible option as it incorporated Valle de la Luna 12 kms out of the city and the mirador (viewing point) so we could kill a few birds with one stone and save ourselves time in the bargain.

Our tour guide collected us at the hostel about an hour later and we had a private car to drive us around the city.  Our first stop was Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) where huge spires of dried mud (sounds crap but check out the pictures) have been eroded to form a stunning landscape with a beautiful mountain backdrop.  Next we were driven through one of the more salubrious neighbourhoods of La Paz where houses can cost over $300,000 US lots of them were on private estates and the shopping district was full of boutiques selling international brands.  Apparently this neighbourhood is popular with holidaying Bolivians with money to spend. Our next stop was a fantastic lookout high up on the hillside from where we had fantastic views of the whole of La Paz, the Cholqueyapu Valley and Mt Illamani looming over the horizon.  The view was breathtaking (quite literally) and the steps up there knocked a bit of the wind out of us but we recovered with an ice lolly each that cost 10p each.

Our guide then took us to Calle Jaen, the oldest street in La Paz a really narrow street full of colourful old colonial buildings that are a mixture of privately owned houses and museums.  We chose not to go in any of the museums but wandered down to the Plaza Pedro D Murillo to check out the cathedral and Palacio Legislativo and Palacio Presidencial.  The plaza was heaving with people and pigeons - everyone was feeding them and many people had them eating out of the palms of their hands.  We looked around the cathedral which was really beautiful and an oasis of calm from the crowds and heat outside.  Here they have a replica of the Virgin de Copacabana the original being at the pilgrim mecca that is Isla del Sol. 

Our last stop was the Witches Market where it is possible to buy all kinds of strange items such as curse curers, potions and the infamous Llama foetus.  On the way we came across a number of zebra's on the street helping people to cross the road - the guide told us that it was a measure brought in by the council to encourage road safety.  We were quite amazed as to how big the foetus' are some were huge.  Apparently contrary to what we had heard (that Bolivians eat these) they are used as a sacrifice to Mother Earth before building a house they are buried in the ground amongst the foundations.  The Coca Museum was on the same street so we spent an hour in there marvelling at the history of this controvertial leaf.  Some of the facts that we learned were that Coca Cola used to contain actual Cocaine but now the firm only uses the leaf to 'flavour' the drink.  Also Sigmund Freud was the first to actually try commercial Cocaine for the first time and Bolivian miners actually refuse to work without sustinance from the Coca leaf.  Wow.

We walked back to the hostel from here and decided to bite the bullet and book on to the World's Most Dangerous Road' trip for tomorrow. I was cacking myself but I agreed to do it and we booked with Gravity as Rorie had recommended them and they do have the best safety record - well you really can't put a value on life can you?  We paid about seven hundred Bolivianos each which included a buffet lunch, sandwich, dvd, photos, t-shirt, and a trip to an animal sanctuary at the end (I was only going for the animals).  We stopped at a small pizzeria on the way back to the hostel and got a medium pizza for about 2 pounds with a large bottle of Coke - yes I am addicted to the brown stuff it felt a bit wrong after the Coca museum.  We got an early night in preparation for our 64km bike ride tomorrow - a different league to the cycling on our wine tasting tour of Mendoza!

Andrew Edit - we also got to see the Bolivian National football stadium, surely on of those with the highest on earth, Bolivia had trounced some of the major South American nations (e.g. Argentina) in this ground mostly due to altitude.

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