Published: May 25th 2009May 25th 2009
View of La Paz
Awesome view of the city that appears suddenly when you crest the rim of the giant crater that La Paz lies in
Hi! I´m now in La Paz, Bolivia on the second leg of my trip through South America. I´m here with my friend Lauren, whom I met up with in Cusco after we returned from Machu Picchu. Sadly, Allison and Lisa are not with us, because Lisa had her purse stolen almost as soon as we arrived in Cusco and can´t travel until she gets her passport replaced. Everything got taken - passport, wallet, camera, etc. We were sitting at a sidewalk café, and none of us saw the bag get taken. It just sucks that petty thievery like that exists, expecially when it happens to you! It made our one afternoon in Cusco considerably less pleasant than anticipated, because it was spent cancelling credit cards, debit cards, filing police reports, calling embassies, and all the other tasks necessary to protect her from identity theft. The "polizia turistica" who are responsible for such incidents weren´t much help at all, and seemed to blame us for the theft more than anyone else. A guy at an internet café told us that the same thing happened to a girl he knew, and the police actually spent time collecting evidence that the bag was LOST
In the Witches' Market near our hostel. People buy these and bury them under their new houses and stores in order to guarantee good fortune
rather than stolen in order to keep the crime statistics down! I guess it´s a pretty common event in Cusco, so if you travel there, keep a hand on your bag at all times. And keep a photocopy of your passport in your purse, not your passport itself!
Anyway, that kind of spoiled our afternoon in Cusco, but I did get to see some of the sights and grand plazas while running from one police station to the next. Ali and Lisa decided to stay in Cusco (they didn´really have a choice) and Lauren and I flew to La Paz yesterday morning. I really didn´t know much about La Paz, but it´s a very vibrant city that sits in a crater-like canyon on the altiplano of Bolivia. It´s in the far west of the country, and at 12,000 ft. it´s the highest capital city in the world. (Although the title of capital is actually disputed between La Paz and Sucre, another city southeast of here). It´s by far the largest city in Bolivia, though, and it´s very hilly. Kind of like a cross between San Francisco (so I´m told) and maybe Sevilla in Spain (because it´s so sunny all
the time), with the craziness of Istanbul. Street markets are everywhere, and old women in traditional dress sit next to their stalls and sell empanadas, fruit, bread, candy, fish, meat, fruit juices, etc. to passersby. You can buy virtually anything from these vendors. The streets are crowded with people, and the steep cobblestone roads sometimes make for treacherous walking if you´re not wearing the right shoes. But the people are very friendly, and we haven´t had a single negative experience. (Except for when a guard at the Brazilian Embassy yelled at us not to take pictures!) Maybe the only bad thing is the air quality, because the narrow streets are packed with taxis and buses and combis (privately-owned minibuses used for public transport).
The combis are really different from anything I´ve ever seen, although they´re very common in South America. We saw them in Lima. Basically, they follow a set route, and a person sits at the sliding door yelling the route destinations to people on the street as it drives along. If someone hails it, the van pulls over, the person hops in, everyone slides over to make room, and away it goes. You pay sometime during the
ride, and a typical fare is 2 Bls - the equivalent of about 30 cents. That might get you what is effectively a 25 minutes taxi ride, just with a bunch of strangers who share your cab with you. People jump in and out all the time, and people from all social classes rub shoulders while squished together in the combi. It´s actually kind of cool once you get used to them. Since Lauren speaks Spanish really well we´ve been taking them, but I don´t know if I´d have the confidence to take one myself. I might end up in the wrong direction altogether!
Yesterday being Sunday, it was a big market day, so we spent a few hours walking around near our hostal and checking out the street scene. Lunch was bread and fruit smoothies, and I think we spent about 6 Bolivianos apiece on it - less than a dollar! Everything is really cheap here, including our hostal. It´s $10 a night per person, which is actually expensive for La Paz but cheap everywhere else! 1 dollar 0 7 Bolivianos, so you can go a long way with a little money here. We´re staying at the Hostal
In one of the nicer colonial areas of La Paz
Maya on Calle Sagarnaga, right near Calle Lanares, one of the main alleys for artisanal crafts. It´s a fun area. One thing that we´ve noticed about the La Paz is that each road has a common mercantile theme - some roads have haircutting shops, some have automotive parts, others pawn shops, others mirror shops, or furniture, or hardware...no matter what it is, all of the shops are inevitably grouped together. Same for the street markets. We kind of wonder why the idea of supply & demand hasn´t penetrated La Paz´s culture yet, but perhaps it relates to the days when all shopping was done in markets and people compared goods across neighboring stalls. That´s my theory, anyway. Or maybe it´s just for ease of shopping - you know exactly where to go, depending on what you need! In any cae, we walked around a lot yesterday, and then caught a combi down to San Miguel in the Zona Sur (ritzy suburbs down below the center city). There we walked around some more and found a nice Middle Eastern place for dinner. Dinner was $4 - and good - I can´t believe how cheap stuff is here! We had a really
cool discussion with a fellow American, a Foreign Service officer who´s been posted to Iraq, Dubai, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Beijing - all the global hotspots! It was good to exercise some of the IR I learned in college while we discussed the political situations in those countries, and fascinating to get an inside glimpse of life in the foreign service. (I think Lauren´s hooked!) San Miguel was nice to see because it´s a snapshot of wealthy Bolivia, even though that itself is an aberration - Bolivia is an incredibly poor country in terms of GDP per capita.) Culturally, though, it´s very rich, and today we spent some time in the Museo de Etnografia y Folklore and the Museo de los Instumentos Musicales (not sure if I´m spelling them right) learning about the different tribal styles of weaving, ceramics, musical instruments, etc. It´s also a rich country geographically: La Paz sits on a high plateau, but other parts of the country are tropical (in the north and northeast) while others are farming lowlands (the east, towards Santa Cruz) and still others are otherworldly salt flats in the southwest. The Cordillera Blanca rise above Lago Titicaca in the west, where we´re going tomorrow,
and there is another mountain range as well. So for a relatively small country, Bolivia sure has a lot to see! I wish I could stay longer. We´re going to Copacabana on Lake Titicaca tomorrow morning (3 hour bus ride), and we´ll spend a couple days there and on the Isla del Sol before we split up to go our separate ways. I fly to Brazil from La Paz, and Lauren is going to rejoin Ali and Lisa in Lima before they head home. I can´t wait for Lake Titicaca, though, so I´m in no rush to leave! I think I´ll have to come back someday to visit the salt flats, the old colonial silver mine in Potosí, and maybe the jungle up in Bení. So many cool things! As a first introduction to Bolivia, this has been a great start so far. Hasta pronto!
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