Trip Start Jan 17, 2013
Trip End Aug 12, 2013

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Flag of Bolivia  , La Paz Department,
Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Bolivia is a poor country, presumably the poorest of South America. That makes that I am right in my comfort zone: a haircut is €0.90, a two course meal (chicken soup and rice with beef) is €1, three pairs of socks €1, a bed in a dormitory €5, a 9-hour night bus €3.30, 660ml of beer €2 and finally a custom made leather jacket €55. I also managed to get drunk from just €0.33 by playing a drinking game with a drink popular with miners that has 96% alcohol.

It also has its backside: many people have ridiculous self-made jobs just to be able to survive. In terms of poverty I have seen things that could be like a street scene in India or Bangladesh. But like it is with most developing countries, I think that the people are very friendly and hard working, more than back home. Also the food is better, it is all around, cheap and locally prepared by old women. Sometimes when I walked the streets at night during heavy traffic, especially in Santa Cruz, it felt as if I was back in India. After having travelled for so much, I got addicted to trying all the food there is to buy, that is: only street food. I don't like eating in restaurants because they are anti-social places, expensive, and in general not as good as on the street. Moreover, eating in restaurants takes more time and I would rather spend that time hanging out with people or experience the country's vibe on the streets. For some reason, most western people falsely assume that whenever there are four walls and a ceiling missing around a kitchen, it means that eating food from it is dangerous for your stomach. I really don't understand this link, but it is programmed in our brains as we come from a Western society where we think that whatever we do is the best way. I have been very happy in my travels trying out most of the world's cuisine and I really love it. Without my streetfood that would not have happened.

Nuestra Seņora de La Paz
La Paz is officially the highest (administrative) capital in the world, sitting in between 4058 and 3100 meters halfway the north western end of Bolivia. It is a huge terracota city built on steep slopes allowing for many spectacular viewpoints. At night it gets really cold and some people struggle with the lack of oxygen. It is however one of my favorite places ever (together with Hong Kong and La Habana), the city just has it all: it is safe, easily navigatable, it has awesome surroundings, with crazily big open-air markets the shopping is one of the best, cheapest and easiest I have ever experienced, there are great party hostels like the Wild Rover and Loki, and since it is a big place (900.000 people), tourism only puts a small dent in the city's day-to-day business. Thanks to all of this I spent 7 days in that place, which is unique in my travels. I cannot remember all the nights I spent in the bar of the hostel but I know they were good, as I could tell from the bill I had to pay in the end.   

La Paz at work
People in Bolivia are poor, someone on the streets earns less than 150 euro a month; a technician with an education gets around 400 euro. While walking around in La Paz during the dark, you get to see many awkward things: children (completely by their own) are kind of dancing to a song being repeated from a small old portable stereo device hoping to get some money. On every little space available in some streets, old woman try to sell whatever they can sell, however no one is really buying things as there is way too much competition. Taking photos of these usually grumpy ladies will definitely lead to problems as they will demand for money. It did not make my job easy as I never pay for shots but I managed to get some things recorded with my camera in the way it should be. Here are some shots I took during the week, due to the very basic layout options a lot of good photos I have not been able to put in the text, just scroll to the bottom to look at all of them:

Lucha Libre
While you visit La Paz, you gotta make sure you're there on a Sunday to witness the Lucha Libre (=show wrestling) in nearby El Alto. It is in this show where you can see La Paz's biggest eye-catcher, its Cholita ladies, kicking the shit out of each other (fake of course).

I know you are thinking: what the heck is a Cholita? Well, Cholita women are indigenous to La Paz and dress in a distinct colourful way by wearing multilayered skirts and bowler hats with two braided hair pieces hanging on the back. Some call them thick-skinned, I call them extremely obese, they have swollen ankles and the tiniest feet you've ever seen. I did see some Cholitas with a normal physic but that just didn't look right, they are supposed to be fat. It has been very hard for me to photograph the Cholitas since they don't want to (shyness is one of their characteristics). It is for this reason why coming to the Lucha Libre was so good, since I could capture some of them without any problems. 

The show pretty much is like any other show wrestling performance, apart from the fact that in this one there is a strong focus upon the tourists, which seem to make half of the 300-people audience and have to sit front row. Occasionally some of the wrestlers threw themselves on the first row, which was quite shocking because 2 petite American girls don't stand a chance when a 100kg wrestler literally comes flying into them. But it made the show really entertaining. Also one highlight was when two crazy guys from my hostel joined the show for 5 minutes. I reckon these guys did not do less than any of those crazy guys you all know from Jackass or Dirty Sanchez.

What is left?
There are two things left I have to tell you about what I have done more, which are:

  • I cycled the Death Road, a crazy 3-hour downhill road on the edge of a mountain, which is so dangerous that it was closed down 4 years ago to big lorries as the risk that they fall of the cliff is to great. It is the same road where Top Gear shot part of its Bolivia special and where multiple tourist get hurt. One Dutch guy that I met a week before fell of the road the day before I went, he plummited 10 meters and broke his back in two different places. He survived but he is still in hospital. Pictures of this trip are coming soon...
  • I went to one of the highest cities in the world, Potosi, which sits at a nominal 4090 meters. In this place you can visit a working mine, to see how the locals struggle to earn a pay by mining for silver and some other minerals. It was quite brutal, especially because I went in with my full camera equipment under primitive circumstances, but for this one too: you have to wait for the pictures...
Why did I not include these two things yet in my blog? It is because I am writing to you now from an Internet cafe in Santa Cruz because tomorrow I have to catch a flight from the nearby airport back to Amsterdam. My plan is to go home for a day and then move on to the last bit of my trip: Morocco. It means my 8-weeks Spanish chapter in my trip around the world, ends soon. I feel good about my time here, I made it unscaved, despite all the many risks I have been exposed to while being on the road in this continent. I learned a new language and met some really nice people, including David and George, two guys whom I have been traveling with since Colombia and Maritza, a girl from Peru who teached me a lot of Spanish. 

For now, hope I survive my flight and see you guys soon. My final rating for South America will be my next blog post so stay tuned!
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