La Paz - crazy city at nearly 4km altitude...

Trip Start Apr 12, 2011
Trip End Apr 01, 2012

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Friday, July 8, 2011

We arrive into La Paz early in the morning and it doesn't seem half as hectic as expected as we drive to our hostel. We’re booked into Wild Rover as it claims to have the highest Irish owned bar and hostel – reputation as a bit of a party hostel but as we’ve had a quiet time recently, we’re sure we can handle it.  Turns out to be a very big hostel but pretty well run and we end up booking in for four nights.  Our first day in La Paz isn’t very productive as by the time we venture out, the city is chaotic with traffic everywhere, the fumes are pretty strong and due to the altitude we can’t walk very far without a break.  Despite this initial impression, La Paz does grow on us and we do enjoy the time here.  Mainly by trying the many, many restaurants and bars.  For our first night we head to a British owned Indian restaurant called 'The Star of India’ in search of a good curry.  Although the poppadoms and naan bread aren’t quite as expected, the curries are good and Jonny even turns his dish half local by trying the Llama Tikka Masala.

Next day, more exploring of La Paz is to be done.  We start with main square which has the cathedral and government buildings on it.  Plenty of people seem to like hanging around the square and there are families of Bolivians posing stoney faced in front of the buildings.  This square seems all so civilised compared to what we faced next – the markets on a Saturday.  One thing to know is that Bolivia is into their markets in a big way, especially in La Paz.  And so instead of shops, everything is available from market stalls.  These market stalls are even organised by streets -  for example there is the food section, electrics, camping, clothes etc. Endless stalls on the streets of La Paz.  This would be busy enough with people except the cars are still going up and down these roads, taxis are pulling up filled with heavy loads like carpets, men are pushing carts up and down the streets and the cholitas (traditional dressed women and possibly the hardiest women I have seen) are carrying their loads up and down the streets in the colourful blankets tied to their backs.  In one word – chaos, in another word – carnage.  At the same time while being pushed about and trying to avoid being run over by a car or run down by a cholita, there is a really good buzz to this part of the city and it’s interesting to see everyone go about their daily work.  At one point we come across a parade behind two men who are covered in flowers and people are throwing fireworks in the air, led by a full brass band – no idea what it was about but that added to the chaos.  After that experience we hide in a cafe for a while to recover from our walk.  Next onto the Witches Market which is where you can buy llama foetuses (which are considered lucky in Bolivia) to be buried under the construction of a new house for luck and various other unidentifiable charms...

Saturday night and we head to an asian restaurant called Wagamamas, not the UK version.  We’re trying to satisfy all possible food cravings while we can hence the distinct asian theme to our food choice.  Another very good meal and then to a German bar for some drinks.  The one thing with La Paz is that you struggle to find any good Bolivian restaurants as the middle class Bolivians want to go out for international food and so there is plenty of choice of international bars and restaurants.  We then decide to try out our notorious hostel bar – we don’t last for long as its rammed full of people and seems to attract groups so we slip out quietly after one drink – we might be getting old but I’m having problems dealing with the gap year kids – I’m trying to resist shaking some sense into them, they’re only young and I probably would have been just as annoying at that age, wow now I am old.

Sunday morning and we learn yet another thing about La Paz – there is always something going on.  We get onto the main street to discover it’s the mayor’s festival and so there is lots of stalls and dance displays – including belly dancing!?  The street food looks good and so we even try that out – ignoring all guide book recommendations and we survive that experience fine, it was even pretty tasty.  Next stop is the free World Press Exhibition, as it just happens to be in La Paz just now.  Some very moving photos from the last 12 months including volcanic eruptions, violence in Africa, India and Pakistan, Irish gypsies and one of Cholitas free fighting – its apparently a big tourist thing in La Paz.  We didn’t go but I don’t doubt that these women could put on a good show and against men as well – they are definitely the bosses of the family.  Sunday afternoon and it’s Bolivia’s last chance to make it into the quarter finals of the Copa America.  Now it’s not likely but they have managed to score a goal this year (and that was against arch rivals Argentina) so anything is possible.  Unfortunately they lose 2-0 and watching the game is even more frustrating than watching Scotland playing – they seem to lack any speed or motivation.  Bolivia may be a little too laid back for football.  For dinner we head to Mongos which is known as a late night bar but its food had been recommended to us.  We both get very good dinners – Jonny has Cordon Bleu and I go mexican.  Most importantly it has open wood burning fires which are very welcome on a chilly evening in La Paz.

Monday morning and we get to pick up our camera from the camera repair shop – hence why there has been few photos of La Paz.  Apparently our camera was a ‘bag of dust’ but all fixed now we head up to one of the city’s viewpoints.  Hopefully the photos just how bizarre La Paz looks, all built on the basin and the houses sprawling up the hill side over the top of the hill where La Paz becomes El Alto. For our final afternoon in La Paz and we go to the Coca museum which is interesting if not a little too pro Coca leaves. And we’re pretty sure Coca Cola does not appreciate its’ name being plastered over the exhibitions.  However the museum does make some interesting points – coca has been used for hundreds of years without problems while it’s the western world that has problems with cocaine.  And I agree to some degree, there is no way that coca leaves should be taken from the local people as its part of their culture but Bolivia will have to deal with the illegal market as at the moment they appear to just be ignoring it.    

Back to Mongos for dinner again, Jonny has the same as last time while I go for the local dish, trout from Lake Titicaca.  On our way back to the hostel, our taxi driver exclaims that there is no petrol.  Thinking that he is wanting more money, we ignore him.  Probably should have listened to him...
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