Dicing with death
Trip Start Feb 06, 2011
20Trip End Jul 24, 2011
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Where I stayed
La Paz is the capital of Bolivia and the highest in the world at 3660m but after Potosi this wasn’t a problem. The city is set in a wide canyon, with the business district and richer suburbs at the lower levels, and the poorer districts clinging to the sides higher up. We were based in a great location in the old town so were close to most of the sights, albeit via lots of steep winding streets.
We started on the tourist mecca of Sagárnaga Street and checked out the Witches’ market that stocks everything needed for traditional shaman medicine, the highlight of which was dried llama foetuses. We also had a look at the main square, full of the government buildings all in a colonial style, also housing the cathedral. Anna and I also made a visit to San Pedro square to see the notorious prison made famous by the book 'Marching Powder’ (a highly recommended read, although you can wait for the rumoured film, starring Brad Pitt). The prison is highly unconventional, where due to the lack of guards inside it has its own society, where inmateshave to buy their cells, run shops and restaurants for income, enforce their own rules, and reputedly manufacture the highest quality cocaine in the world. Some even used to run unofficial tours, bribing the guards to let in tourists, but because of some high profile inmates a crackdown has meant they aren’t possible now. Probably for the best as although we were fascinated by the book we most likely wouldn’t have been brave enough to venture inside!
The day after we summoned our courage to experience one of La Paz’s premiere attractions – cycling down the Yungas road, aka the world’s most dangerous road. It winds its way perilously through the Andes and in the past hundreds vehicles have gone over the edge leading to thousands of deaths, but in all honesty since traffic now travels on a newly built bypass it maybe doesn’t deserve the title anymore
James’ observations on Bolivia
All Bolivian bus drivers are presumably insomniacs, as no buses arrive to their destinations at a reasonable time. For example an 8 hour journey won’t leave at 2pm, it will depart at 9pm and arrive 5am.
Bolivia has lots of police, guarding banks with pump action shotguns, checking your tickets in museums, or just hanging about looking bored in city squares. Approximately 1 in 3 Bolivians is in the police.
Bolivians haven’t quite grasped doing things differently to their competitors to capture that niche in the market. For example a line of roadside stalls will all have exactly the same menu,or of the 8+ buses to depart from Potosi to La Paz every day (8hr journey) they all leave between 8pm and 9pm.
Bolivia has an incredible number of photocopying shops, most with state of the art equipment. I can only presume Bolivian bureaucracy requires a ridiculous number of copies of important documents. Approximately 1 in 3 Bolivians owns a photocopying shop.
Bolivia is overrun with packs of dogs. I don’t know if they are wild or pets that get bored of sitting around inside but they are everywhere. At least they seem to understand the danger of roads and check for traffic before crossing. Approximately 1 in 3 Bolivians is a member of a dog pack…