Loving La Paz

Trip Start Jun 23, 2011
Trip End Aug 30, 2011

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Bowel shaking earthquakes
of doubt and remorse
assail him, impale him
with monster truck force

               -Cake, "The Distance"

The night bus from Uyuni to La Paz was like nothing that we have ever experienced before or ever hope to again. We got back to the bus station and were dismayed to find that they had already packed our bags, which meant that we wouldn't be able to get out the additional clothes that we planned to in order to withstand the nighttime cold on the bus, or the sleeping pills, which have always been our best friend on night buses. So we were going to have to do without.

We got on the bus to find that it wasn’t cold (yet) and they provided us with decent sized blankets, unlike the Argentine buses we had ridden. So far, so good. But then we started driving.

As soon as we left Uyuni, which took about 2 minutes – as I said Uyuni is tiny and in the middle of nowhere – we were on the same kind of winding mountain roads we had driven on before in our jeeps, only now we were in the back of a bus.

I’ve never truly understood the words “bone shaking” before, but this ride was truly bone shaking. It felt as if every one of my 206 bones were being shaken about independently of all of the other 205 bones, crashing into each other and rattling about within my body as this bus shook and rattled half way across Bolivia. There really aren’t words to describe it. The sound was like nothing you’ve ever heard before. If you were on a city bus and it made one tenth as much racket as this bus was making, the bus driver would stop, put on his emergency flashers, and call for a new bus, because something must be cataclysmically wrong with a bus that could make that much noise. One tenth!

After about an hour, the bus also got cold. The windows had no proper seal (no wonder with all the shaking going on), and cold wind came right in along the edges of the bus. We huddled together for warmth under our inadequate blankets and thought warm thoughts of Rio beaches past and Costa Rican beaches to come.

Also, when you leave Uyuni on a night bus, it is dark. You haven’t know true dark until you’re in the middle of nowhere Bolivia on the loudest, most bone shaking bus ever. You can’t see anything, but you know what the roads are like from your previous days trekking in the Toyota during the day, so it is absolutely terrifying when you feel the driver slam on the breaks. You definitely think that you are about to plunge over the side of a cliff, and if you look on the bright side, you think “At least the fire from the explosion of the bus’s gas tank will provide some heat and some light. And my bones will stop shaking against one another.”

But we made it to La Paz in one (not very well rested) piece. We had emailed a few hotels there for reservations, and one of them actually came to the bus station at 6:30 in the morning to pick us up, so we hoped in a cab with him. We got to the hotel, had a fantastic hot shower – the first one in over 3 days – and took a nice long nap.

After that we headed out to explore La Paz. Our hotel was right in the middle of the market section of town, so the streets were buzzing with activity – women with little stalls or tables that seemed to sell just about anything you could desire. We just walked around and looked at it all. We got some popcorn that was popped in front of us in a big pot of oil over a propane fire. It was a big bag that cost 1 Boliviano (about 15 cents) – a lot better deal than the movie theater in NYC. And it was delicious. We had Indian food for lunch. It was the first time we had seen anything but “touristic menus” (A menu that has basically everything from Italian to hamburgers to – especially – pizza. But none of it tastes anything like it would at home. While travelling, I definitely like to have food that reminds me of home, but this is not it. I’d rather taste local food than poor facsimiles of generic food from the rest of the world.) in Bolivia, so we jumped on it, and it was great.

After that we met up with Karen and Jake, our friends from the Salar tour, and headed out to a pub recommended by the Rough Guide to watch the Copa America semi-final. We also finally got to try Fernett & Cola, which our Spanish teacher in Argentina told us was the third favorite drink in Argentina, behind beer and wine. For whatever reason we didn’t get to try it until we’d left Argentina. Neither of us really liked it. Fernett is this herbal liquor. I’m not sure why every country seems to have this locally popular sickly thick herbal liquor that reminds me of Jager, but Switzerland, Iceland, and now Argentina, at a minimum, all have it. Tastes kind of gross if you ask me, but everyone in those countries likes it, so maybe I’m wrong.

The next day we changed to a new hotel – the Hostal Republica, which was a lot nicer than our first place. It was in a huge house with two courtyards that used to belong to one of the presidents of Bolivia. It was a nice place. We explored La Paz some more and booked our tickets to Copacabana for the next day.

La Paz was a cool city – set in a valley with mountains on all sides, huge snow-covered ones overlooking parts of the mountain. It did not feel like any city I’ve been in before, and it didn’t feel like the US – not just that it didn’t have McDonalds and KFC’s all over the place like all other big cities, but the vibe was very different from other places. It’s hard to describe exactly what I mean, but we liked it.
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