Published: December 29th 2007December 18th 2007
View of La Paz
This was the view from the hotels cafe. La Paz is a mix of everything. Check out the mountains in the background to the right.
La Paz is probably the only city in the world with a setting like it. It is situated over 3,500m above sea level and sits in a canyon, it's like living in a bowl! On all sides of the valley, the slopes are covered in ramshackle houses, this is where the poorer people live and try to survive. It's hard to believe that the population of La Paz is only just over a million in the city because as you drive down the steep highway from El Alto there are people spilling onto the roads everywhere. La Paz justs feels like one big sprawling market. On Avenida 16 De Julio, one of the main streets, one minute you can be fighting your way through stalls and people sitting in the middle of the pavement begging and you then come across one of the many large banks where a security guard is standing with a rifle. We're still not sure if this made us feel safe or just scared!
The streets of La Paz are jam packed with people, stalls, cars, buses and traffic police! As you walk along the narrow pavements there are indigenous Aymara's selling handicrafts
San Pedro Prison
Front gate of the prison. Can you see the children as well as the prisoners, women and guards.
for tourists, then you come across a "Department store" on the street, which is in actual fact just hundreds of stalls selling everything and anything you can think of, from pots & pans to shoes, DVDs, food and much more.
There is also a Witches Market, actually it isn't a market at all, more like a dozen stalls selling Aymara herbal medicines, llama foetuses, love potions, dead toads, stuffed cats and lots of other treats or should I say healing remedies. We were not tempted in the slightest!
If any of you have read "Marching Powder" by Rusty Young, a true story of an Englishman caught drug trafficking in Bolivia and was sent to San Pedro Prison, you would understand the urge to visit this part of town. Just off the Plaza Sucre is Carcel de San Pedro. This prison is best described as a microcosm of Bolivian Society. There are shops, restaurants, wide screen televisions and also prisoners wives can live in the cells with their husbands! One of the most bizarre things about the prison is that prisoners must pay an entrance fee to the prison and they must also purchase their own
cells and these cells can cost about $5,000 US. The prison is divided into poor and rich sections, the former Mayor of La Paz once resided in the luxurious section. There are few guards patrolling the prison and the prisoners can bribe their way around and buy drugs (apparently the best and most pure cocaine is made in San Pedro) and even go into town for the day, with an escort of course!
A few years ago, travellers could also pay the guards for a tour and even stay the night but this doesn't happen at the moment. When we went to Plaza Sucre to take a look at the prison, it was amazing to see women and children coming and going with supplies for the prisoners. Ross took some photos of the entrance and as he did, a stallholder started shouting up to one of the windows of the prison. He made a quick get away and we were out of there fast, just incase!
Fake Hard Rock
Just down by our hotel was a Hard Rock Cafe, we thought we were in luck, we could've done with a "Pig Sandwich" that night. However, when
we got closer it was a total fake! They had copied the Hard Rock t.shirts and even the menu was pretty similar. We thought we should go in, just for fun. It was never as good as the official Hard Rock, you know the usual in South America, the descriptions of dishes are never quite like you had imagined them, but it did the trick that night.
Weird & Wonderful
La Paz is a weird and interesting city. There is alot of poverty which you never get used to, kids begging as their clothes are hanging off and old ladies trying to carry themselves plus their heavy loads on their backs up the steep narrow streets. Then in the background you see billboards advertising Coca Cola or International Banks with the shanty towns sitting on the hills just behind. Maybe we should have stayed longer to understand it a bit more but the lack of oxygen from the altitude made our decision for us, to leave as soon as we had seen the sights.
Oh and the photos will follow soon.
Gridlock in La Paz
So many vehicles on the roads of La Paz.
There are more photos below