Sin city... La paz
Trip Start Oct 12, 2010
65Trip End Jun 15, 2011
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The biggest city in Bolivia, the highest capital in the world (3500m). Amazing nightlife and interesting day attractions, if you manage to wake up before noon due to all the parties...
I stayed at an amazing hostel called ¨Loki¨. Mostly populized by europeans, some australians and canadians and just a bunch of Israelis. Loki has clean rooms, great design, hot showers (wonderful) and clean toilets with toilet paper and even soap (rare in bolivia). Loki´s kitchen is fairly decent and every night there´s a celebration going on at the bar until about 1:00, then they try to kick you out to one of the clubs in the area. The best part about it is that you don´t hear the music from the bar in the rooms and it´s all very comfortable for the average backpacker.
What can you do in La paz in just 4 days?...
I´ll try to give you a taste of it.
Daytime - Shopping, shopping and more shopping... Witches market, San pedro prison from the inside.
First of all - La paz is famous for its colorful markets which offers very cheap souvenirs, gifts and everything you can possibly imagine (clothes, food, medicine etc).
One of the most interesting area is the Witch market, there you can buy a llama fetus which is supposed to bring you luck, Coca leaves and good luck charms of all kinds. Most of the stores offer clothes made of Alpaca wool (or so they claim) and tons of authentic and less authentic souvenirs to take home (or better yet - send home via mail).
The food is not bad at all (depends on where you go to), and as always - freshly squeezed juice and shakes make it all much better :)
Prices are cheap, people are eager to sell and it´s very easy to find your way around the city by walking. The only problem is the altitude... Dizzyness, short breath, strange stomach, lack of energy, lack of appetite... all of these are symptoms of altitude sickness. You can either take pills, chew coca leaves (supposed to work) or just get used to it. Either way - you´re not going for jogging or excercise in the near few days...
San pedro prison - one of the most unusual experiences I´ve ever had.
Here´s the story...
17 gringos are in the Plaza next to San pedeo prison. They split up into groups of 4-5 people. Some are walking, others are sitting on benches. They all wait for a woman to approach them and secretly invite them into prison for a tour.
Yes, this is exactly how it goes.
San pedro prison in La Paz is very famous. It has about 7/8 sections, and the most famous and unusual fact about this prison is that it´s being run by the prisoners. It´s like a small city - they have their administration, their rules and everything costs money. The only thing that´s free there are the toilet and the shower. Want a cell/room? buy or rent one. can´t afford it? sleep on the floor of the church.
Apparently, they have tours in San Pedro prison. Those tours are not completely legal but are being done with approval of the guards (which earn a lot of money from the visits). It costs 400 Bols just to get into jail, and 50 more for a tour (if you´re in the millionairs section) or 100 for a tour in general population (costs more due to security).
My group was lucky enough to be brought to the millionair´s section, as there was a problem on the other side. So i´ll tell you a bit about the visit in San Pedro´s millionair´s section.
To continue off where I last stopped - A woman approached us after about 30 minutes of loitering around, and just said - Please follow the others. We saw that another woman lead some of our friends so we all went along. We surrounded the building and arrived at a metal door (General pupulation), which was locked. After a few minutes of waiting there, the woman said that there are problems so we must go to another entrance (Millionair´s section). On the way there we went pass a few cops and as soon as we did - she started running and begged us to hurry. We reached another metal door which was open for us, and we all entered a large room filled with 6-7 cops.
In this room we had to write down our names, leave cameras there and we all got a number written on our wrist. Then they opened a huge barred door and let us into what seemed like a schoolyard, and locked us in (and themselves out). Welcome to San pedro.
We were a large group, so they split us into 2. My group followed a european guy called Stephan who was our guide, and a Mexican fellow called Jose popped to visit once in a while. We were led into a ¨cell¨ which looked like a small apartment. It had a kitchen, a big round table, a section with a big bed, bathroom and shower. On the bed we saw a little dog, and on the walls there were kids drawings and plastic animals. Sitting around the table - Stephan began telling us the story of his life, and the story of San Pedro.
Stephan was born in Germany, but left to Holland when he was a teenager. It has been his life dream to become a drug dealer and in Amsterdam - it´s fairly easy. He practiced drug dealing successfuly for 35 years, until one day he was in desperate need of money and was offered to become a drug trafficer. Unfortunately for him he agreed and the police caught him at the airport in Bolivia with 8Kg of Cocain. Lucky for him - it was in Bolivia so he could choose to go to San Pedro - the most unusual prison in the world.
¨It costs 500USD to get to the millionair´s section, and every thing here is more expensive¨ he says. It´s much cheaper in general population, but they are much more crouded and desperate there. In this section there are 130 people, in general population - over 1000. There are no uniform - you buy your own clothes. You can work there washing clothes, floors, building furniture and whatever else you can do. You don´t earn much but if you have no money outside you really have to...
The cells/rooms have no bars and are locked from the INSIDE - to protect you from thieves. There is no lockdown, counting occurs once a day and there are parties every thursday (sometimes with live music). There are 3 visit days a week, and people are allowed to have pets, girlfriends and family living with them (The guy who owns the room we were in is called Oscar. he´s there with his wife, 2 kids and a dog called princess).
You can get anything you want in San Pedro - if you have money. You can buy better food, clothes, bigger cell and even beer from the guards, who (for an expencive price) will pop out of jail, run to the nearest store and get you ice cold beer. You can buy all kinds of drugs through the ¨Hole in the wall¨- between this section and population (It´s a small hole but for big stuff - they just through it over the wall). "Population has 3 kitchens for making cocain and their stuff is pure" Stephan explained as he offered us to buy some. We all declined politely, but were eager to have the cold beer, so Jose went off and paid some guards to fetch us what we wanted.
We spent 3 hours (!) with Stephan discussing life as a drug dealer and habits in prison. The richest guy there has a room with 3 floors, a jaccuzy and a sauna. The section is divided like that:
* About 40% murderers, including the guy that rents Stephan his 2MX2M cell for 100$ a month (really expensive for Bolivia). Actually he was very nice to us. just a bit over 20 and managed to stab his girlfriend to death and then set her on fire. Another murderer was the nice man in the orange shirt who waved at us, he murdered his wife with 52 (!) stabs.
* About 40% drug dealers, including Jose who said that he had australian friends coming over to party and he gave them so much cocain that they decided to draw the map of Australia with it. They then proceeded to draw all the roads there but he stopped them... Another drug dealer is a famous general in the Bolivian military and some well known figures of the government...
* The rest are mostly rapists, the most hated creatures in prison (actually they usually don´t survive in ¨population¨ more than 3 weeks). In the millionair´s section there´s a university professor who raped and murdered his nephew, and another person (member of the church) who raped and murdered his little step daughter.
Another famous prisoner is an ex-president of Bolivia... only ruled for a few days and was caught for embezzlment.
So as you see - interesting people live in San Pedro, but their way of life there is much more interesting. Jose, for instance, managed to get an internet connection and is among the top teams in the world in the online game ¨World of warcraft¨. He gave us his Facebook details and invited us all to be his virtual friends.
Our money (for the tours) go mostly for the guards, but the rest of it goes to improving the life of the prisoners - like renovating, expanding the section and even building a sauna which should be available to everyone in the section (for a price).
I wish I could remember half of the stories I heard there. There was the time that Stephan caught one of Oscar kids in the shoulder and told him not to kick the cat, and a person who hates him told to Oscar that Stephan was strangling his kids. It ended up with Oscar beating Stephan up and they were thrown into a different section for half a day. Had they stayed there overnight they would have been robbed and left naked to bleed to death there (bad section). There was the time where people from population wanted to take over the millionair´s sectiona and threw heavy rocks over the wall, trying to hit people on the other side. There were rumors that they were going to invade in over night above the wall, so prisoners were arming themselves with knives, bats, guns, explosives and whatever they could get. Luckily it didn´t happen (yet).
Well, I wrote alot about San Pedro just because it was a very interesting experience - an unusual prison indeed. Hopefully none of you will ever end up in jail, but if you do (and if you have money) - San Pedro is the least ¨Jail like¨ jail that exists.
Nightlife - Restaurants, Loki nights, Routa 36 cocain bar.
If you had fun during the day, just wait for the night... I´ve tried some places for dinner, one of the best is La Cueva - A great mexican restaurant in the city center. We´ve become friends with the manager Marcelo and went out with him one evening. He took us to nice clubs, and at the end - as per our request - to a place called Routa 36.
For those of you who are not familiar with the situation in Bolivia, Cocain is definately not legal. However you can get it off the streets (just ask a taxi driver) or go to the infamous cocain bar - Routa 36. The place changes address all the time because of police raids, but if you manage to get there you might be surprised to see a normal looking bar/club. Don´t let that fool you... right after you order the drinks they simply ask ¨How many grams?¨ and then you can buy cocain by the gram to be consumed there. I didn´t try it, but friends of mine said that it was nice, but still - the first and last time.
Anyway - If this is what you´re looking for - try to find this evasive place (although I heard that they mix it with stuff so it might not be so wise to try it there for the first time).
Loki nights are awesome... Alcohol is good (in Bolivian standard), the music is great, the food is wondefrul and the people are awesome. I´ve been drinking there every night, but it cost me the valuable morning which always seemed to begin around 12:00 for me (and for a lot of other people). I´ve also learned a valuable lesson - ¨Never drink with Irish people¨. Well, it might also be ¨Always drink with Irish people¨ - depends on the desired resault.
On my last night there we had a carnival party (Yes, costumes and stuff, although there weren´t that many). At this party, around midnight, the staff had 100 glasses on the bar, on top of them - 100 shot glasses and they made a ¨Bloodbomb train¨.
So, I´ll be back, La paz. around March/April - to cover what I missed there... Mountain climbing, tours to the Rorenabaque jungle, Death road (which I can´t do unfortunately as I can´t ride a bike), lots of shopping and lots of drinking...
From La Paz I took a bus to Cochabamba and another back to Villa Tunari.
Tomorrow (16.11) I´ll start working with Sonko - my puma!
Wish me luck...