La Paz:Dried Llama Fetuses & Screaming Down a Road
Trip Start Aug 09, 2007
47Trip End Jul 29, 2008
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We set out Thursday afternoon to visit the Folkloric Museum that featured a lot of weaving (like the one in Sucre) but also had some amazing rooms dedicated to the dress and accessories of the indigenous of the area including elaborate and colourful feather headdresses, bow and arrows, we saw how the woman created huge pieces of pottery and baked it (really not as easy as I thought...!) - but best of all was this incredible room featuring the masks that the indigenous use for their festivals
Following this, we went to the Mueum of Musical Instruments and this place was awesome, all hands on too!! We saw flutes made of llama bones, guitars made from armadillos,saxophones of bamboo, pan flutes bigger than grown men, guitars with 5 arms, drums made of a turtles shell and body, and all the while there was an awesome jam session going on below with traditional instruments. Very cool.
The whole area that these museums were located in were very artsy, laid back, and featured a make-your-own suit district as well where you could go from store to store for custom made suits, vests, leather shoes, and more. And all for cheaaaaaapp!! Seeing my opportunity for fun shoes to fit my stompy feet, I asked for a custom pair of heels to which my reply was `Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!! No no no!!` they only make up to a 39 or something there, my size was unheard of. Friggen false advertising.
The next day was awesome. We woke up early, found the greatest restaurant ever for breakfast and then took off to start our walking tour of the Coca Museum, the Witches Market and the Black Market. First stop was the Coca Museum which was amazing. Apparently the indigenous of Bolivia have had a legend passed down over hundreds and hundreds of years relating to the Coca leaf...The legend goes that their God had given these people the coca leaf to put to their mouths when they felt tired or hungry or sad
The indigenous have used the coca leaf for centuries as an anesthetic for surgeries (while we were knocking each other out or drinking till we passed out), they also exchange it as gifts, use it in their ceremonies, and use it during social events - much they way we use alcohol. However, when the Spanish came to convert the people to Catholicism, the Catholic church viewed the coca leaf as a hurdle to their desired conversion...that is until the Spanish informed the Church about the powers of the leaf. As the Spanish were interested in using the Bolivians to mine as much silver as possible from Potosi , they were very interested in using the coca leaf to their advantage as chewing the leaf dilates the lungs allowing for increased oxygen consumption, it reduces appetite andcreates a feeling of well-being, all this allowing the miners to work continuously for up to 16 hours per day without breaks. When the Church learned of how this leaf could benefit them, they decided that the leaf was not to be banned after all, but to be controlled by the Spanish and sold to the miners with an additional 10% tax heading directly to the Church
So, as the leaf was studied and us white folk (finally) learned of the anesthetic properties of the cocaine alkaloid, other research was done to show that the coca leaf was responsible for the apparent retardation of Bolivians. Well, despite that this is untrue, this was enough for the Geneva convention to launch war on the coca leaf, banning the production and export of the leaf with only one exception - the Coca-Cola company. In 1961, this ruling was modified to permit an exclusive club to import and/or use the coca leaves and this club includes virtually all Western Countries but excludes Bolivia and Peru, the two primary growers. To this day, the US government remains the largest importer of pure coca leaves -separate from the unknown amount the Coca-Cola company imports (there is no cocaine in Coke, but, they do use the coca leaf for ´flavoring´) - and yet they are the ones blaming the Bolivians for their cocaine problems...?!?!?
We then saw how cocaine is created in workshops. First 400kg of coca leaves are stomped and crushed, then bathed in gasoline, to which hydrochloric acid and potassium permanganate are added - among various other chemicals - from which 1kg of paste is made
After our enlightening experience, we went upstairs to this wicked cafe that served coca cookies, coca beer, coffee and just about anything else you wanted to eat. It was like a very tame version of Amsterdam - so much to sample!! I think that maybe the cocaine got to my head, because after this we made our way to the Downhill Madness store that sells mountain biking trips down the World`s Most Dangerous Road - which I swore I would not do based on how stupid I would feel if I fell off and died - but 10 minutes inside this store, I was convinced that this was something that was gonna rock my world and down went my name for Monday leaving me 2 full days to wonder why the hell I did that...
We then took a walk through the infamous Witch`s Market of La Paz. This market spreads over several city blocks and is made up of old ladies at their street-side stall selling coca leaves, coca tea, ohhhhh and what else...oh yah , dried baby llamas and llama fetuses, dried frogs with their eyes replaced by shiny pearls, amulets for anything you want, and so much more. Butyah , they literally have these llama fetuses stacked one on top of the other rising up half a meter and stinking up a whole lot more
Saturday was mostly spent trying to do things that all failed. First we went to buy Nik a Diablo mask. The masks in La Paz are all located on this brighly coloured street that carries elaborate costumes, boots, masks, and other paraphernalia for Carnaval. After asking around, we were pointed to this mask making workshop where we could see this man`s fantastic work on the walls. After a small deposit, he promised us our very own custom-made Diablo by Tuesday...sweeeet . Next we tried to visit the home of a famous Bolivian sculpture...which is closed Saturdays despite what our book says (Thanks AGAIN Lonely Planet)....So we went to thearchaeological museum which was also closed....So we finally ended up at a really cool Contemporary Art Museum and then walked over to see a recreation of the most important Tiwanaku ruin in Bolivia, featuring their main relic of `The Sun Gate`. The Tiwanaku`s were pre-Incan descendants and one of the ancient Andean cultures, their name meaning `Sons of the Sun`
Sunday, however, was awesome. We took it pretty easy for the morning and then met up with our Belgian friends to head to the Luuuuuuuuucha Libre!!!!!! What, you may ask, is Lucha Libre?? It`s wrestling baby!! And it was awesome!! All us tourists loaded ourselves into a big tour bus and drove up to one of the pooreset areas in La Paz called El Alto where at their multi-sports complex, they feature amateur wrestling every Sunday. The building was tiny but packed with locals of all sorts - sweet old ladies, cute little kids, and everyone in between. We were warned on our ride up to El Alto that we would all be sitting in the front rows and could therefore expect to have absolutely anything thrown on us, from pop torotten fruit to actual wrestlers. Soooooo stoked!! So we slip into our seats and the show begins. The first wrestler was a Spiderman look-alike who was getting pummeled by the other wrestler and the ref too - it was such a soap opera!! Everyone boos the bad guy and cheers the good guy and screams when the ref tries to secretly attack the good guy. As the night progressed, things just got better. A Sargent came out in full military garb and was calling all us tourists `Ash-holes!! You`re all Ash-holes!!` to which we`d boo him and - following the locals lead - throw whatever we had at him, pop, empty bottles, snacks, the lady next to us threw her apple-core haha. They also had this wicked guy dressed in a Skeleton suit that had his own theme music (a refreshing change from Eye of the Tiger on repeat!!) and this hilaaaarious skeleton dance. We saw a couple of these 3 person fights until it turned into an all out brawl between 6 people and chairs were being thrown and people tossed into the tourists and the ground was soaked with pop by this time - it was awesome
The morning of the World's Most Dangerous Road (WMDR) we met at the Downhill Madness Store at 8am. From there we got our helmets, gloves, pants and vest we then packed into 3 vans and headed up to the start of the road at La Cumbre. In total there were 24 riders that were going down the WMDR. The ride took a little longer than 45min and then we were at the gathering point at La Cumbre (4700m elevation), we then got our bikes tested them out, pulled some wheelies and then headed down the first stretch of the 64km long road. The first section they call ´super fast asphalt´ which is 30km of paved road before the official WMDR.
In the fist 3-5km we tested our suspension and brakes and also the speed that we wanted to go at. During the whole ride there is a guide at the front of the pack for safety, but, in some instances (at the beginning) we were riding our brakes because the guide was taking extra precautions. In the first 20 minutes we ran into some political problems. The WMDR is traveled by at least 3 tour groups a day with 15-24 people in each tour group. So after about 5km we rode into a road block where the locals had strewn all sorts of rocks along the road for about 100m. The locals were protesting to the Bolivian government that their little village wanted electricity; naturally the government wasn't listening so they decided to put rocks on the road
The WMDR as of 2006 really does not have huge transports or a lot of traffic because a second safer, paved road was opened from La Cumbre to Coroico. I think the new road was partially paid for by Bolivian road fees (24Bs - $3.50 CDN) from tourists riding down the gravel WMDR. This road has been labelled this because of statistics; it was at one point the road that had the most fatalities in one year and for many years no other road had close to the number of deaths on the WMDR. The road it self is very skinny, only about 3m wide is not paved and really only wide enough for 1 car to travel at one time. If 2 cars approached one other on the road the car coming down the hill had to reverse to the next clearing that was wide enough for both to pass. This usually only occurred every 500m, so naturally a car or truck or even tour bus would have to reverse up to 500m
We drove downhill along the pavement, probably reaching speeds of 60-70km/h which still was not at 100% speed because the guide kept control of the front of the pack. After 30km we reached the official beginning of the WMDR. From here we had a quick downhill and then the only uphill along the road. The uphill was fairly humorous, most people did not make the uphill without at least getting off and pushing their bikes up. From here we went down, down, down all the way, stopping every 30min for riders to catch up. We descended through very beautiful scenery lush forests, waterfalls, amazing cliffs and very skinny washed out roads.
The last stretch of the road was called the ´race portion´ which was one of the best parts because you could go as fast as you wanted
After another downhill leg, driving through 2 big streams we ended up at the bottom of the hill. There we chatted with the other people on our groups, had some beers and then had a group photo. We then headed in the cars up the hill to a hostel/hotel which had showers, a pool and then a lunch buffet (yummy).
After 1hr or so we piled back into the micros and then headed back up the WMDR in a micro. Downhill on a bike not so bad, UPHILL IN A MICRO MUCH WORSE
Tuesday came and after a much deserved sleep in, Nik and I went to pick up his awaited mask...but ohhhhhhh wait, not ready you say?? Tomorrow?? I`m slightly annoyed as we`d actually like to leave La Paz at some point soon (ie-Wednesday) but whatever, I`m chill. It`s cool. We piss away another day in a great city, book ourselves into a Tiwanaku tour for Wednesday and decide that we won`t see the jungle afterall - too much money for a non-priority for us. We figure we`ll see it when we visit Brazil in the future. OK, so now Wednesday comes and we go to the ruins (below) and back to the mask-man and what`s this?? Not painted??Riiight ...So he tells us an hour (when the post closes) which is ridiculous as it won`t even be dry by then, so yet *another* day is required. Now Sarah Angry. Thursday morning we get to his place bright and early and Thank God it`s done, we throw it in a box and fly to the post office and yet, what are these chains all over the doors?? A friggen strike! Cross the street to DHL, $270US?? Yah, no. We checked in Copacabana as well, and while not on strike like in La Paz, they only send off items under 1kg....hahaha So now we are stuck with a giant mask in a giant box but, it`s all good. It`s a pretty cool mask and we were able to send if off in Peru for cheap, so no biggie.
On Wednesday we headed off to a UNESCO ruin site of a pre-Inca type of people called the Tiwanaku
The Tiwanaku´s were as we were told a predecessor of the Incas. They had similar traditions, but, they did not do human or animal sacrifices
We made the best of Thursday and hit up Evo`s office. We put on our finest pro-Evo T-shirts and went to the Presidential Palace. We were hooked up with a tour - along with about 6 other teenagers from La Paz - through to his conference rooms, sat in his big chairs, saw the first map of Bolivia, and a sword used by Sucre in the battle for independence against Spain. Very cool, though we did feel pretty dorky with our shirts - that is until we got our awesome photo inside the palace.
So that was that, we hit a bus and headed for Copacabana on the shores of Lake Titicaca that afternoon and we were glad for the rest and friendliness of La Paz but also glad to move on
Thanks for sticking with such a long one - hugs and kisses, Us.