The place of bowler hats
Trip Start Feb 28, 2010
41Trip End May 17, 2010
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Where I stayed
After a four hour drive with a breakfast of only dried up cheese rolls resting in our bellies, we were beginning to wonder where exactly La Paz in fact was. Or if it even existed for that matter. And then, after hours of ear popping and altitude climbing driving, we reached what looked like the end of the earth. The grassy knolls and cow infested excuse of a road that we had come to know and bore of, gave way to a magical highway spiralling down the a steep cliff. In front of us lay the biggest valley we´d ever seen, noisily cocooning the 2 million residents of La Paz. A sea of adobe roofs and clay walls stirred below us as blocks of flats, homes and car workshops alike cascaded down the slopes of what looked like the earth´s largest sink whole. All this was framed by snow capped mountains worthy of an episode of Heidi, and a crystal clear morning sky. We had arrived... finally.
You would think that with the amount that the Lonely Planet raves about Arthy´s Guesthouse it would be easier to find. Nevertheless, after about 3 hours of getting lost, running out of fuel on a busy street, and subsequently climbing many of the steeps slopes of La Paz on foot, we found Arthy and his guesthouse. And although the showers once again required more love and patience than a drag queen having his time-of-the-month, I must comment that Arthy´s was one of the best places we have had the pleasure of staying on our trip.
Now with all the commotion of finding Arthy and all that had been going on for the last 2 weeks, let's just say that it had been a while since Keiron´s last shave and he was starting to make a grizzly bear look like a hairless cat. And so, for fear of losing our only pair of scissors while trimming it himself, we decided to visit one of Las Paz´s finest one stop barber shops. Keiron sat down in a collapsed, very vintage barber chair and looked fearlessly at the blade heading straight towards his neck, while I took as many pictures as I could without putting my boyfriend´s life directly in danger. Twenty minutes later my camera battery was dead, but Keiron´s face felt like a baby´s bottom. This lasted about an hour, until a new beard started sprouting.
In the same area as our favourite barber was La Paz´s infamous ¨Witch´s Market¨. Eager to see what all the fuss was about, we pushed through the first screaming saleswomen only to find, minutes later, that they were the only ´witches´ to be found on the street. I cannot deny that there were interesting witchy things such as llama faetuses and cow hooves on sale, but in general the whole thing was completely overrated and not nearly as cool as the market we had driven through in Santiago de Huari a couple days beforehand. Now what were cool however, were the hundreds of Cholitas selling hardware in the streets below.
I could have found the latter fantastic for a number of reasons:
1) Anybody that knows anything about me will know that I love hardware, and that whenever I´m feeling blue, all you need do is take me to a hardware store to put a smile back on my face.
2) I love Cholitas – women (usually elderly) native to Bolivia that, rain or shine, day or night, can be found wearing their bum-enhancing petticoats, voluminous velvet skirts, brightly coloured jerseys of blankets and, most importantly, precariously perched bowler hats over their pompom decorated pigtails
and 3) I LOVE bowler hats
These fabulously adorned women could be found everywhere and selling everything you could ever dream of. You name it, from copper coil and rusted bolts, to fake flowers and dodgy looking pieces of meat, you could find a funky senior citizen selling it on a dusty sidewalk. One type of product that seemed particularly prevalent in the area in which we stayed, was birthday equipment. Before we even found a bed to sleep in La Paz we were surrounded by confetti, piñatas, paper hats and mouldy Barbie birthday cakes. I think, to Bolivians, it is very important to instil a strong partying spirit in your kids from a young age – it really is a great country.
From the moment I set eyes on them, Keiron had to fight me at every turn to stop me from asking each and every Cholita wear her skirt/hat/shawl/hair extensions were from. You can imagine the smile on my face and the frown on Keiron´s then, when we stumbled across La Paz´s chaotic, outdoor Cholita shopping mall. I nearly tripped over my tired feet as I ran towards the first hat stand in sight. The Cholita, hiding behind her mountain of bowler hats, thought that with such speed this gringo MUST be coming to rob her. After Keiron provided photographic evidence that a 30cm high bowler hat was making me look like a conehead, and proved that it was not a very practical option for a motorbiker, I decided on a dark blue, more ordinary felt hat. The Cholita did not like this at all, and insisted that by discarding my choice of a dark brown ladies bowler in exchange for an ordinary, blue, felted hat reserved particularly for the men of the area, I would be giving off the wrong signals. And she was right – moments after wearing my hat for the first time I was accosted with disapproving stares all rounds. I didn´t care though, it is a really nice hat. Who cares if the whole of Bolivia thinks I´m a man because of it.