Published: June 1st 2007June 1st 2007
Views of La Paz from the lookout
After about 12 hours in transit after flights being cancelled and my route changed, I finally arrived into La Paz, Bolivia. I was meant to arrive at 3am in the morning but instead arrived 7 hours later and I was happy that it was daylight as I got a great view when coming into land. I had intended on catching a taxi to get to town but once I got there I found out I could catch a mini bus for all of 80c, so I thought that IÂ´d just throw myself into it. As I was sitting in the van waiting a person sat down beside me and as I turned around I saw a lady dressed in a big full skirt, shirt, a crazy little top hat and wore hear long dark hair in plaits - I had to do a double take as I felt like I had stepped back in time and it was completely different to any other place I had been so far. I felt excited about seeing Bolivia and thought that this was going to be the start of what was to come. The La Paz airport is situated on top of a
Flight from Chile
Flying over the north of Chile on the way to La Paz at sunrise
crater near a town called El Alto. This town is not touristy at all and is where a lot of the locals live, it also happens to be the fastest growing city in South America. This was my first look at Bolivia and I could see that I am seeing the real Sth America here. We drive through the town and then start the decend down into the crater and towards the madness that is La Paz.
From the information that I have the population of La Paz is 1.5 million and is situated in the a very large crater and surrounded by snow capped mountians. Sometimes it feels like that all of those people are right in the centre of town at the one time. This place is madness, but I believe in some strange way that it is organised - in a Bolivian sort of way. I have spent over 2 weeks in La Paz on and off while being in Bolivia and I absolutely love the place. There is so much to write about I am not sure exactly where to start.
When I first arrived I did have a few days where I struggled
Arriving in La Paz. The town is El Alto situated on top of the crater with Mt Illimani in the background
with altitude sickness. La Paz is at 3660m above sea level and as I flew in from Sao Paolo which is at sea level, it took me a while to adjust. I did feel sick for the first couple of days but after a good night sleep it seemed to sort me out mostly. Saying that though I have spent my whole time here feeling like I am completely unfit and unhealthy as walking around at altitude literally takes your breath away. As La Paz is situated in a crater there is always hills to walk up and there always seems to be little old ladies passing you as you are breathing like you have smoked 30 cigerettes in a day for the past 10 years. This is not helped by the large amounts of pollution that get blown into your face from passing cars, buses and minibusÂ´. My first week I just walked around town taking in everything that was going on. There is not really any 'touristyÂ´things to do in La Paz, but it is not necessary as the city is full of things to watch, mainly the people. I have never seen so many markets in all
The Zebra at the zebra crossing!
my life and letÂ´s just say that I have definately had fun exploring. Shopping here for clothes and all other things Sth American is great and from what I hear the best around. ItÂ´s dirt cheap and lots of it. You can basically buy whatever you need from the side of the road, either in small shops or from people literally just set up on the side of the road. When I say anything I mean anything.....fruit and veg, padlocks, meat, material, clothes, dog leashes, tools, toilet paper, bread, toilets, sporting goods, you can get keys cut, and clothes mended....and the list goes on. The funny thing is that everything is grouped together. There is streets of electrical goods, streets of fruit & veg, streets of tools etc...you get what I mean. ItÂ´s really hard to see how anyone makes any money as they are selling exactly what the next person is. Along with all the goods you could ever think of there is also a place called the Witches Market. Here you can buy all sorts of potions for anything and usually hanging out the front is dead baby llamas, llama foetus and birds that must somehow go in
Shoe shine boys...they wear balaclavas as it´s looked down on to be one
the potions. Women usually work in these shops and I am fascinated by how it all works but unfortunately my spanish is not good enough to ask too many questions. They have places called the Comador, which is basically where you can go to eat lunch or dinner and get fresh juices and fruit salads - Again there are many stalls but everyone selling the same thing. I have a beautiful fresh juice everyday nearly and go back to the same lady who is lovely. Whatever fruit you want mixed together with a little water and you get 2 glasses full for all of 50c. I have also braved the food comador and have had great experiences and no bad belly. As I donÂ´t want to eat the meat here I have had problems explaining to the ladies that I would like vegetarian. They understand that I donÂ´t want meat but they really donÂ´t get it as everyone eats meat here. The first stall I went to they told me that they couldnÂ´t do a meal with no meat. I explained that I would have everything else and pay the same but they flatly refused to do it. I moved
San Pedro prison
on laughing as its ridiculous and found another stall that would cook with no meat. To eat your meal you sit around a small table with anyone else that might be there to eat as well and just next to you the ladies are cooking the food. The lady that served me the first night was carrying her 1 month baby on her back wrapped up in blanket and tied around her shoulders. The women work hard here and it seems that there is no time to sit around and just look after a baby. She did at some point put the baby down on the same bench that I was sitting on and I was paranoid that I might tip the baby off. The first night that I ate there none of the women would really look at me in the eye, I am sure that they thought I was some kinda weird gringo (tourist). After a few nights of eating there they were much friendlier and smiley. I try to eat as often as I can in these places as not only are they very cheap I love having the experience and getting out of the tourist bubble.
Views of La Paz from the lookout
There is also only so many nights in a row that you can eat rice, eggs, salad and fried potato. Everywhere in town there are shoe shine boys. Obviously their job is to shoe shine, which they will do for you for 1 Boliviano (20c). They will be wearing something to cover their faces, either a bandanna or more likely a balaclava, as it is looked down upon to have that job. Most of them are probably trying to put themselves through school and I canÂ´t really see why it should be looked down upon at all.
The town is full hard working women and it seems to me that they work a lot harder than the men. Whether itÂ´s because the women are out selling things and in the public eye and the men do other jobs out of sight I donÂ´t know, but the women are hard and they seem invincable. It is not unusual to see women who appear to be in their 60Â´s carrying large items on their backs, and no one offers them any help. They could be a lot younger than they look as the weather is harsh here and their skin looks
Witches market...full of potions and dead baby llamas
worn. They have no backpacks to carry things but use material tied around their shoulders to carry the items. This includes anything from babies and young children, food, material or whatever they are selling on the streets. They seem to be reasonable uncommunicative and it takes a bit to get a smile from one of them at times. I have found that once you have dealings with them more than once than they can be very friendly. I think because they work so hard and such long hours that they canÂ´t be bothered with the niceities sometimes. I am blown away by their tenacity and their strength and it seems that they do all sorts of work here from selling to working on construction sites. Whatever they do they seem to just get on with it and donÂ´t seem to be lazying about.
Added to the craziness of La Paz is the roads and the countless mini buses and taxis that service it. The minibuses go to certain areas of the city and cost 1 boliviano (about 20c) for each trip. They have signs on the front saying where they are going and also a person touting customers that
Lady dressed in the local dress
stands in the back. The touter yells out where the bus is going and still to this day I am convinced that they are saying something completely different to what is written on the front. I only gained enough confidence to catch one after about 10 days here and again it gave me a great experience of La Paz. They love their horns here and they are constantly tooting them to let you know they are coming, to see if you want a lift, to tell the car in front that they are there, to get another vehicle out of the way. I think it seems to work reasonably affectively but itÂ´s bloody annoying after a while. To help with all this madness they have zebra crossings...yes I mean real zebra crossings to help people cross the road safely and to keep the traffic moving. It put a smile on my face the first time I saw this...they have people dressed up in zebra costumes and others with jackets with zebra patterns on them. Their job is to look after pedestrian traffic, stop cars from driving in the intersection when they shouldnÂ´t and also to keep all the minibus and
One of many protests that are common in La Paz
taxis moving through the intersection. They even pull ropes across the road to physically stop cars and people. The beauty of this place is that if you want something or need something there is generally someone there who is trying to sell it to you. It makes it really easy and there is normally no need to look to hard. You just wander into the bus station and people will come to you and ask where you are going...then you just chose which one.
I arrived in La Paz one week before my birthday with the aim of finding some friends to help me celebrate. I had been told about this Hostel that was run by some Irish lads and that it was the place to be. I had been pretty well behaved so far in Sth America so I felt that it was time to have a few nights out. That night I ran into an Irish guy that I had met in Buenos Aires and it was perfect as he already knew half the hostel. By the end of the night I had made many friends and lined them all up to help me celebrate my birthday
Street markets...selling fruit and veg and anything else you want
the following week....my plan was all coming together. I did have a few friends that I had met previously that were possibly going to make it to La Paz in time but I didnÂ´t want to be standing around by myself on my birthday if they didnÂ´t make it. Over the week I met heaps of great people and the staff at the hostel were so lovely and heaps of fun to hang with. I was lucky enough to share a room with five crazy Irish girls who were so much fun over the week. I couldnÂ´t have thought of better people to share a room with, as they loved to have fun and party but they also looked after me when I had some Bolivian belly going on. By the time my birthday came around I was wishing that I had not been so vocal about fact that it was my birthday. Everyone seemed to think that I needed to get absolutely totalled and that they were all going to make sure that it happened. Included in this were the two managers of the hostel, Osgar and Dawe, who kept winding me up all week about what they were
La Paz - Loki Hostel - B´day
Loki hostel tradition includes wearing hats on your birthday....this is the first one for the night
going to do. I was concerned as one of the traditions at the hostel on a birthday is to get kisses from the opposite sex, the total is to be the same as your age. I told the managers that I was concerned that there would not be enough males in the room for my age and that this might cause some embarrassment. Anyway the night came around and I was stoked as Dave & Laura, a couple from England that I had met in Chile, had arrived that day and were keen to party with me. My idea was to take it easy and have a good night minus a hangover in the morning. True to their word the managers attempted to squash my plan by bringing me a constant supply of vodka & lemonade. Along with that the tradition, apparantly, is to wear silly hats or head gear if itÂ´s your birthday. Not too much of a problem for me as I love dress up parties, but some of them were quite hidious. I was doing alright until Dave & Laura brought out a cake and made everyone sing my happy birthday while I had to stand up
La Paz - Loki Hostel - B´day
Loki hostel tradition also includes getting kisses from the opposite sex on your birthday. One for each year, they just made all the boys kiss me to avoid the embarrassment of running out half way through
in front of everyone like a tool. After that the kissing tradition started and Osgar the manager was very lovely and instead of getting me to tell everyone my age he just made all the boys come and give me a kiss. As a result I think I kissed about 50 males that night as it was friday and busy. The night went on and on and on....I did manage to get home just before sunrise feeling that year older!!!! That night I ran into a friend that I had meet through Marcus about 2 years earlier. Kelly had come to our New Years Eve party in Brisbane with her boyfriend and we had spent about 5 days together hanging out. When I was out that night she was dancing on the same dance floor as me. I thought that I recognised her too much to not know her so went up and asked. We spent a lot of the next 5 days together hanging out, riding the death road and partying. Also arriving after my birthday were my friends Emily and Ben, of course we had to have more celebrations so I felt like my time in La Paz
La Paz - Loki Hostel - B´day
Dave & Laura who I met on the Navimag boat arrived the morning of my birthday and were great in helping me celebrate. Me obviously in another Loki hat. Thanks Dave & Laura for cake and great night!!!
was definately a party time by the time I finally got out of there - so you could be safe to say that my mission of finding friends and partying was completed.
The day after my birthday there was one of the biggest festivals of the year in La Paz. We had been told that it would be madness and that there would be loads of drunk Bolivians everywhere. True to the rumours La Paz seemed to shut down for the day and be overtaken with the fiesta. The whole main road was closed off and along it ran stands for people to sit on. The parade ran for a couple of kilometres through the city and ended at a park, the parade also went for around 12 hours - yes that is not a spelling mistake - 12 bloody hours!!!! As we were feeling a little fragile we went out for some food and then thought that this was an opportunity that we did not want to miss. We headed down to the parade, passing many very drunk Bolivians at 3pm, to find ourselves a seat on the stands. Many of them were full but a few were
La Paz - Loki Hostel - B´day
Two of the mad Irish girls I had the pleasure of sharing a room with
empty but on closer inspection we found that they would not have met any kind of construction standards at all. Finally we found one that we thought looked steady enough, to get up and over the stand we had to use a rickety old ladder and just hope for the best. The parade was crazy with dance group after dance group coming down the road dancing and singing. They were completely decked out in costumes, my favourite thing was their funky cowboy boots that had symbols on the side that made noises as they danced. The crowd was getting into it as well and people were walking along selling Cuba Libre, rum & coke, out of what I would describe as gerry cans. As per usual you could buy whatever you wanted from vendors walking along and they were also feeding the performers beer and different alcohol as they passed. I loved the vibe and the whole Bolivian style that came with it. After a while we decide to head off and instead of trusting the dodgy ladder at the back we took the road instead and ended up dancing our way down the road with all the performers.....ahh Sth
Me and Kelly....I ran into Kelly unexpectantly on my birthday night. It has been nearly 2 years since we last saw each other
America!!!! Unfortunately I donÂ´t have any photos to show you of this as they have been lost in a computer somewhere.
The other event that we decided to have a look at was the wrestling that happens every Sunday in the town on top of the crater, El Alto. We were told it was women wrestling, which interested us as the women here are very reserved but also built like staffies so we thought it could be interesting. We arrived at the stadium to be greeted with a tourist price and also a local price. Apparantly we would get special treatment and that is why we got charged more. On the sign that was stuck right next to the pay window it informed us of this and then it made a special note that Israeli nationals were not to try and get the ticket for less. This made us laugh a little as the Israelis are renowned here for haggling for lower prices on everything. We thought it was quite funny and very upfront that they would make a specific note about it. The funniest part though was once we approached the window to pay we found an Israeli
guy haggling for the price. I couldnÂ´t help myself and had to point out the sign to him that was less than a foot from his eyes. Anyway we entered into the stadium and couldnÂ´t believe our eyes. We were expecting professional wrestling but what we got was a Bolivian style WWF competition. True to their word we did get looked after and managed to get seats ring side. We then spent the next 4 hours watching some of the funniest stuff I have seen in a while. All the wrestlers had costumes on, they had a character that they played, there were dodgy refs, lots of props involved from plastic chairs, metal tins, pipes, flour, fake blood and jelly, some great high flying moves, lots of crashing onto the ring, the good old hit your opponent and slam your foot move was used a lot and the crowd loved it all. The crowd varied from all different ages and both men and women, all of which were getting quite vocal about what they wanted the wrestlers to be doing. Along with that they threw oranges, peel, water and then anything else they could find. There were both men and
women wrestlers but the women were a lot harder than the men and put on a great show. A couple of the women were dressed in their traditional dress, big full skirt, plaits and shirt, and then others had their own characters. By far the most popular wrestlers though were the women dressed in the traditional gear. They were also not afraid, they were jumping from the top ropes and getting their opponents head locked with their legs and then flipping them over. We were sure that some of it really had to hurt. After 4 hours we had seen enough but were stoked that we had seen yet another side of Bolivian culture and it did have to rate as one of the most suprising and entertaining.
During my time in La Paz I have seen many protests for a number of different things. They are a common sight and they will just walk down the middle of the main road and stop traffic. Suprisingly the motorists just accept it and wait till itÂ´s all finished or take a different route. It has always been a common sight here but at the moment the government is re-writing the
constitution and so every man and his dog is protesting for every cause thinkable. It is obviously a massive job and there are a lot of members of the society in a town called Sucre to discuss all the different issues that Bolivia has and to decide how the constitution should be written. The new President is an Indigenos man so his government is trying to make the country a lot fairer and look after the large amount of people that live in poverty. Most people here seem to think it is a much better government than the last one, as the president if local. It is all great in theory I just hope that it all works out and that the people here learn their rights and can then live a better life. They are not long off finishing the writing of the constitution so only time will tell if it is effective or not.
Well I think that is enough about La Paz, I could go on for a long time as this place is constantly active. In summary though this is what I observed: the people are very short (I am some kinda of freak here),
LA PAZ - WRESTLING
The women wrestlers....what we had come to see
they are shy & reserved, hard working, polite and respectful. A large amount of women dress in the traditional dress, there are many shoe shine boys wearing balaclavas, mostly women but some men carrying huge loads on their backs, market stalls galore, the witches market, crazy motorist with minibus, taxis, cars and big old colourful buses, walking up hills and getting puffed after about 2 mins, breathing in litres of pollution and exhaust fumes, blue sunny skies, cold nights and surronding snow capped mountians, zebra crossings, a lot of people working long hard hours to make not a lot of money, cake shops everywhere which have long queues on the weekends..they love their sweets here. There is many more memories but I am sure that you are all getting a little bored right now. I have already stayed over my visa by 8 days, apparantly this is alright going by an immigration officer who said that it would cost me less to just pay per day at the border rather than extend my visa, I hope that he is right!!!! Gotta love this country....I will be sad to say goodbye to it.
There are more photos below