After continuous Easter processions throughout an empty La
Paz – the Easter weekend affords most Bolivians their only days off all year –
nearly all businesses were closed, the market folks left their market stalls
uninhabited and the streets were strangely vacant. It made for an eerie feeling in the crumbling city. We walked around, gazing at the beautiful intricate colonial facades, wondering how long it had been since Bolivia had some glory days.
The whole thing reminded me of last year's trip to Portugal – where in Porto I had seen the beautiful buildings of the downtown abandoned: left to the pigeons. In La Paz, not a huge city as cities go – just over a couple of million when counted with the city next door, the pigeons hadn’t taken over too many of the whole buildings, but instead, often just the top couple of floors. Overall the city looked shabby and stressed: sad homeless families living on the streets amidst many many mental health types.
We wandered around the witches market – which ironically was right outside our door. Here, indigenous women sit stalls brimming with ancient potion products: Llama foetuses in every size and stage of development were widely featured, as were creepy whole frogs and lots of fresh and dried herbs, stone emulates for any problem and readymade combos of herbs, candies and weird stuff for the busy types who don’t have the time to put together their own mixtures.
Interesting were the primary consumers in the market. It seemed it was mostly locals – other indigenous types. From our hotel window, I watched a couple of young professional guys walk by a couple of gypsies, carrying their newborn babies in slings over their shoulders, The initial encounter was subtle and gentle – a few coins passed between hands and that eventually progressed to each gypsy sitting on the street curb with each guy – reading their palms, holding their thighs, passing some flowering herbs over their pockets and hands, a bunch of rituals that lasted at least 10 minutes. I watched from the window above, unseen by the participants. Pretty cool to watch west meet east or something like that – I am sure both of these guys was on their way to some catholic procession but swung by the witches market to get something else covered.
We saw a lot of these little moments in La Paz – the empty
streets, especially after the chaos of the Thursday before Good Friday, allowed
us to have a peak into individual moments rather than just the overwhelming
feeling of the masses.
In the witches market I ran into a couple of other friends from Ecuador – an American and a Brit – they told us they had just been hired in a Mexican Restaurant in a town a few hours away. Jos and I had just booked a night bus to Sucre (13 hours) which was going to be tight as Jos had only a few days left on her holiday.
These girls made this town (Coroico) sound so appealing, we returned to the travel agent, cancelled our night bus and figured out how to get to Coroico. Josie had come down with a cold and was still suffering from altitude sickness – really heavy pressure on her chest and against her eye sockets. La Paz is the highest capital city in the world. Most of it is in a little bowl – kind of like a stone cauldron – very beautiful, but very high – around 3700 meters downtown and 4000 meters along the ridge. Nonetheless, the altitude sickness and the cold were starting to weigh Jos down. A short trip to the edge of the jungle seemed like the way to go and we had seen as much of La Paz as we could given that 90% of it was closed for the holiday.
I was lucky to have avoided the cold and cough as well as any symptoms or problems with the altitude. Horseshoes!!!!