Published: May 5th 2012May 5th 2012
Crazy La Paz
We arrived on a bus heading through really run down towns first, before skirting the valley to see the massive city of La Paz covering the whole valley... Immense! We were instantly confronted with the sheer numbers of people here - and its altitude!
We decided on Wild Rover hostel (Irish run party hostels, chosen by irish friend Darren) and we all managed to get a room for the night... It really was a party place, we were surrounded by 18 year olds on their gap years but it was good fun all the same. We were advised by the hostel to be very careful over the next few days as it was labour day and there were hundreds of protests in the city. With protests come armed police who indiscriminately fire tear gas into the crowds! Nice! So we stayed in the bar with Darren and Louisa the kiwi. Another couple of kiwi boys came over from their hostel to meet us and we played drinking games and partied until the early hours. We have to tell you about the Cocaine culture here.... It is everywhere, so if you like your coke (not the fizzy drinking kind) then La Paz is the place for you! There is a bar called route 36 which moves locations throughout the city, to avoid the Narcotic police where you have cocaine offered to you on plates on the bar... This place is protected by the paid police from the drugs, so needless to say, the drug is everywhere, allegedly produced by the inmates from San Pedro jail! I will point out that we refrained from such craziness - booze will suffice thanks! We learnt of a story of an englishman called Thomas Mc Fadden who got arrested and sent to the jail, we are now reading the book - Marching Powder which gives a real insight into the jail in La Paz where money rules everything and buys you everything, including your cell. Shame it couldnt buy us a swimming pool, butler and wine on tap.
Next day we trundled around La Paz fearing for our lives at times and trying to avoid being flemmed on.. YUK. It was just crazy, hectic, smelly and hot but exciting all the same. That night we went to a fantastic tourist haunt called the Steakhouse with Louisa and Darren which was just lovely... Juicy, yummy steak meal and wine for a tenner... Cant go wrong. We fancied an early night after our partying of the previous night! OLD! However, we ended up going back to the wild rover bar and staying up until wee hours again... Gotta be done.
Next day, we went to the markets of La Paz and saw some strange things in the so called witches market including lots of dried Llama foetuses!! Random and rank. We went through the food market and clothes market and amazed ourselves at the number of rip-off clothes there were on sale, not that they were that much cheaper though!
We went past San Pedro jail too and then headed back to the hostel to get the bus where we experienced our very own sample of Bolivian, Lawless corruption!!! The bus was a bit minging but we were fine.. We were half hour late leaving the terminal which was annoying for a 12 hour bus ride to Sucre! Literally as we left the terminal, the driver stopped the bus and waited for 15 minutes to pick up random locals who were paying him cash in hand for a ride... Fair play we thought, earning a few extra quid. Then we set off only to stop half hour later for another hour, whilst the driver collected lots of bags of corn which he was paid cash to transport! We were now extremely late and a few of the locals who we met, started screaming and shouting at the driver about this corruption and how we have paid to get to Sucre for 6am, not 9am which it turned out to be! God knows what else these dudes were up to, but it happens all the time here in lovely, lawless La Paz!
A world away from La paz, very quiet, Colonial and pretty... Also quite boring so we stayed for just a day. trundled around, ate some more yum food then got bus to Potosi, en route to Uyuni for the Salt Flats...
We arrived at Koala Den which actually is alright! Hot showers, heaters in room... it is freezing here at night and this is the highest city in the world dont you know at 4100m. We had a yummy meat fondue last night at a local place called La Casona. Yum yum yum although Tracy nearly burnt her eye out with spitting bits of oil! Next day, we went on a tour to the Potosi mines which are mined for silver... Potosi used to be the richest city in south america with "pavements made of silver" but that all ran out... Now they mine for tiny bits of silver and minerals. We had a shock coming with this tour... Scary as hell and shocking at the same time... the conditions are awful, no health and safety, dynamite being used by the miners constantly, the constant threat of cave ins and some workers working up to 24 hours a day... the life expectancy of a Potosi miner is just 55. We donned the miners gear, headlamps and helmets and entered the mines. Instantly, it was a freaky place to be. We had to use bandanas to cover our noses and mouths from the toxic dust. We ventured deeper into the mine, we had to crawl through the tinest of spaces and clamber through tunnels which were supported by bits of wood... It started off quite cool but as we entered deeper into the mine, it was like a sauna. We passed several miners who just chewed coca leaves all day, didnt eat or sleep and had to lug 40 tons of rock out per day for a mere 100 bolivianos which is quite good money for Bolivia. We heard a distant explosion of dynamite and the guide paused to hear of any fall out, but that was nothing compared to the next one we heard.... we were passing through a group of miners and no less than 10 feet away, dynamite exploded...We nearly shit our pants!! We could feel the force of the blast on our chests, which was quite a scary experience! It is so hard to describe the conditions in the mines. After another hour of walking through the tunnels of doom, we eventually saw daylight in the distance, what a relief! An interesting experience, if not shocking and dangerous... one never to be repeated!
Tomorrow, we are off to Uyuni, which is the start of our salt flats tour. We will upload phots as soon as we can, we have some amazing photos and its such a shame that we cant show you them yet!
Make sure you keep us updated on what you guys are up to....sorry to hear about all of the rain! Ha ha, not!
Enjoy the bank holiday weekend!