Partying in La Paz/chilling in Sorata

Trip Start Feb 21, 2006
Trip End Sep 11, 2006

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Thursday, May 25, 2006

After returning from the jungle we were planning on spending as little time as possible in La Paz, but as is often the way with cities we ended up getting stuck there for a week, lured in by shopping, numerous gringo bars, crazy Bolivian nightclubs complete with oxygen bars and a Wailers concert. We stayed in San Pedro, a nice area slightly removed from the chaos of the "gringo ghetto", and famous for itīs prison right on the main square. Dave and I have both read about the prison in Marching Powder (a really good book if anyone wants to read it) - the prison is so corrupt that prisoners have to pay for their own cells; if they have money they can bribe the guards to do pretty much anything they like; some prisoners have their wives and children actually living with them in the prison and there are shops, restaurants and apparently even a cocaine laboratory inside. We walked past the prison every day and it was so interesting to sneak looks inside to the visitorīs room and to contemplate what else was going on inside.

La Paz is an incredible city; it doesnīt have much fantastic architecture and isnīt that clean, but it is so interesting. Viewed from above it is in a magnificent setting in a barren valley surrounded by snow capped mountains. A river runs through the middle of if which once contained gold but now is a stinking stream of sewerage and chemical run-off, which sadly doesnīt stop the poorest inhabitants of the city using it for washing and cooking. The footpaths are crowded with market stalls selling everything you can imagine - crappy electronic goods, touristy alpaca hats, delicious empanadas and dried llama foetuses used for making offerings to Pachamama, or Mother Earth. Itīs a great place to go shopping as everything is much cheaper than in the rest of South America and the post office is full of queues of gringos sending home boxes full of stuff. The traffic is crazy - the buses are old American school buses and are painted up in bright colours with prayers for safety printed in big sparkley letters across the windscreen, and there are also mini-vans which drive around with their side doors open and someone hanging out yelling out their destinations in a constant, irritating babble.

We did manage to get out of the city for a day to see the pre-Inca ruins at Tihuanacu, although unfortunately they have been so looted by the Spanish and local farmers that archeologists havenīt been able to establish much about them.

On our final night we went to see the Wailers play in the open air theatre - there was something very surreal about dancing to reggae outside in the freezing cold night air, surrounded by gringos in all their altiplano-hippie gear (woolly hats with ear flaps, a few ponchoes and lots of llamas) - but the band were fantastic and it was a really good night.

After a week in the city we headed for Sorata, a chilled out town in the foothills near La Paz which is well known for its trekking and lovely climate. Itīs not until you come down from the heights of La Paz that you really start to comprehend the sheer size of the mountains - some of the peaks are over 6,000m tall and the road wound its way along the side of dramatic valleys so deep you could hardly see the bottom. In an effort to get fit for the upcoming Inca Trail we did a day walk to a cave and swam in the murkey water at the bottom - quite scary as it was almost completely dark and the back of the cave and we could only speculate as to what was at the bottom of the lagoon! We also spent a bit of time chilling out on our sunny balcony, drinking vino fino tinto and enjoying not having to wear our fleeces and beanies everywhere.
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