Living it UP in La Paz...

Trip Start Oct 05, 2012
Trip End Apr 01, 2013

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Flag of Bolivia  , La Paz Department,
Wednesday, January 2, 2013 apx. 3650m, the highest seat of government in the world, and a city to which I had a fairly grim introduction - the pouring rain; passing through the slums of El Alto, the migrant city built on the upper slopes of the valley which La Paz sits in; the freezing cold of the hostel on my first night. It was with some relief that I woke up on my first morning in La Paz to see the sun shining. Leaving nothing to chance, I headed out armed with rain jacket and poncho, and also without camera and everything else of importance tucked into my trusty money belt. Like all other South American cities, the general consensus is that La Paz is dangerous and to be very careful...

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. Overall, I'd struggle to say La Paz is an attractive city but there are small areas of it which have real charm, particularly those in the traditional centre which are run down but which only adds to the character in a way. It was also possible to walk without getting much hassle. Such a change from Cusco where every minute I had been approached by someone selling paintings, artesianal goods or tours. Overall, I'd say that the general feeling I got was that for most people life is tough in La Paz, as you would expect in the capital city of the poorest country in South America. The migrant population is very visible in the centre, with most market stalls being manned by ladies in traditional dress and carrying large bundles of goods (or their children) in mantas strapped to their backs. Most people just seem to be trying to make ends meet, and there's definitely no sign of a more glitzy lifestyle in the city centre itself.

The 'touristy' area had the usual stores selling alpaca and llama goods in all shapes and sizes. There was also a Witches Market, where wizened old ladies sat beside stalls full of cures and treatments, including dried llama foetuses which are supposed to be buried under the foundations of new houses as an offering to Pachamama. This is also more common for newly married couples, making an interesting wedding present. If only I didn't have 3 more months still to travel, maybe I'd have considered taking one back as a potential present for one of the 2013 weddings. Only as a joke though - it would be worth it just to have seen the reaction when the box was opened and the hollow eyed, gnarled foetus seen!! I stumbled upon a more local market, where general clothes, toiletries and shoes were being sold, all with a very energetic soundtrack provided by many of the stalls. It required walking up a very steep street, which wasn't too much fun at such an altitude!!

I had intended to leave La Paz after a couple of days, but following the lengthy journey to get there and knowing that this may well be repeated especially during the holiday period, I decided to stay over New Year. It was a welcome relief to know I was going to be somewhere for longer than 2 days, and to be able to have some well earned down time. I'd also met some nice people in the hostel who were also planning to stay for New Year, so much better to spend it with people as well!!

One afternoon, after a very lazy day around the hostel, I ended up going to the Cholita's Wrestling with Jackie and Jo, 2 of the girls I'd met at the hostel. It was a very random decision as none of us know very much about it, and my innocent enquiry at reception was taken as a definite that we wanted to go and we found ourselves with 10 mins to get ready before the bus came to pick us up. I wouldn't normally choose to watch wrestling, but this turned out to be pure comedy more than anything as there was no blood or broken bones, and a lot of ground thumping in lieu of actual hitting and falling. Some of the wrestlers were dressed up as characters - a skeleton, Frankenstein and a golden gimp being 3 of the ones which we saw. There was also a fight between 2 women (one of whom was a dwarf) and 2 men - so politically incorrect until you realise it's all staged, especially when a token gringo stepped into the ring to 'object' at the abuse against the women, and proceeded to help beat the men!! The grand finale was a true catfight between 2 women which eventually moved out of the ring and into the area between our seats and the ring. Lots of things being thrown, some of which made it into the ringside seats. Although a popular tourist attraction, it was also packed with locals who got right into the different fights. The kids especially seemed to love it, although there were some very frightening old ladies sitting right beside us who were very vocal with their chants against some of the wrestlers!! It turns out the wrestlers are a popular touring attraction and draw crowds all over Bolivia. One added bonus for us was that the arena is up in El Alto and so we got to stop on the way back down to see dusk over La Paz. With the snow-capped mountains and the light over the valley, this was one angle that the city looked stunning from!!

When wandering around the markets, I'd seen a lot of red and yellow underwear for sale. We eventually learnt that it was a Bolivian tradition to wear the colour related to your hopes and dreams for the following year: red for love and passion, yellow for money and prosperity. It seemed fitting to adopt the local traditions, so on the morning of NYE we went to the market to buy ourselves some new undies - the colour red was only chosen because none of us could bear to think of wearing the sickly yellow colour which was our other option. For no other reason, honest...!!

A very flexible plan for NYE had emerged during our nightly visits to the bar for our free beer courtesy of Adventure Brew (our hostel). There was a rooftop BBQ being held, which turned out to be ruined by the rain and most people departed from it quite early on - especially after the crazy bolivians started letting off fireworks on the roof, neither caring who was too close or if they did stupid things like cut the fuse of before handing it to someone else to light... A big group of us - including the usual suspects of Jackie, Jo, Will and Finnoula, and Connie, a Chilean student who had arrived in our room that day - then decided to head to Wild Rover, another hostel but one renowned as a party hostel ie. great to go to to party; not so great to stay at if you want any sleep at all. It was only about 10.30pm so we were fine getting in, and a few jaegerbombs helped start the rest of the night off. It continued as such, with more drinks, lots of dancing, more dangerous fireworks thrown into the courtyard, and finally a lot of shouts of 'Feliz Año Nuevo' when the clock finally reached midnight. I also bumped into the Mexican boys from my Inca Jungle Trail, which was really nice as I hadn't seen them after Machu Picchu because I was on an earlier train back. Jo didn't feel too well and we managed to convince the bouncer that calling her a taxi was a much better idea than simply making her stand on the street and get her own. But not before we'd got the incriminating photo showing the matching red undies which we'd bought in the morning!!

We had assumed that the party would continue all night at Wild Rover, but after it shut at 2.30am we decided to head to the club they recommended - Target, I think - but found nothing more than a dodgy looking staircase guarded by a group of Bolivians and a more or less empty club. It wasn't a great advertisement and convinced us not to go in, instead we went back to Adventure Brew for 'one last drink', which did actually turn out to be only one as at around 4am we were all pretty exhausted!! All in all, a great night with some really nice people - a fantastic way to start 2013!!

There were some pretty sorry people lurking around the hostel the next day. Mine less so alcohol related, but more because the stupid cold which had been threatening to come since Cusco finally developed. It was all we could do to crawl the 10mins into the main centre and see if we could find anything open to feed the hangovers. Luckily, there is always an English pub happy to provide good fodder, and a massive amount of comfort food later (including an actual baguette, not a sweet roll!!) saw us all much happier and even able to enjoy the free nightly beer back at the hostel!!

I also managed to buy my bus ticket from La Paz - Uyuni for the following night, something which I'm glad I did as it seemed everyone had the same idea and I heard at the bus station on the 2nd January that most companies were sold out for the next 2 days!! When I arrived at the bus station, I was a bit annoyed to find that I had been bumped from the company I'd originally bought the ticket for (Panasur) onto a much worse bus (Panamericano) but atleast I had a seat and could actually leave. It was never going to be a particularly good journey anyway, as I now realise a cold at altitude is even worse than normal - proper 'woman-flu' some people would say... ;-)
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Pigwig on

NYE looks great fun Fooft - red was definately the right colour to choose ; )

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