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Published: August 10th 2008
Leaving our monkey life behind we headed to the bright lights and busy traffic of La Paz. This involved a couple of bus journies back to Cochabamba and then onwards to the city itself, but we are well used to such lengths of time on buses and amazingly our bus to La Paz happended to be our best yet, it was full 'cama', which means the seats go fully horizontal, a great help when trying to catch up on some much needed hours of sleep after all our hard work!
We arrived with our friends Carolyn and Tom but as we were in different hostels we went our separate ways, though we were to meet up a few times over the next week.
La Paz is one of the most striking cities we have visited in South America. It lies in the valley of the imposing Mount Illimani (6402m) and spills out of the basin up into the mountainside. Buildings cling to the side of the canyon all around the city. La Paz sits at an altitude of around 3600m, so it was certainly breathless work just walking around the streets, many of which are hilly. It is a
The Sun Gate
A giant calander at Tiahuanaco
disconcerting feeling to only be strolling along at a snail's pace, yet to have your heart pounding in your chest as if you have just run a marathon! Nevertheless, there is plenty to see if you can stand still to catch your breath, with markets and ancient colonial churches and buildings. Another thing about La Paz was its traffic and frenetic busy streets, its name (La Paz - Peace) is not very fitting!
The first thing we thought we should try was a wee trip to the famous Witches´ Market, this is a bustling area of tight knit streets along which there are all manner of unusual stalls and shops selling everything from herbal tea to llama feotuses, which are used in ancient rituals. There were of course the ever present artesania shops as well, selling wonderful hand made wall hangings, clothes and trinkets all from the altiplano areas of Bolivia. We happily busied ourselves wondering around admiring the sights. Karen bought an alpaca wool poncho and Tony even thought about purchasing a cheap guitar from the many traditional music shops, as he had enjoyed playing again back at Inti Wara Yassi, but common sense prevailed, and he decided
Chola ladies at the market
it would be impractical to travel with!
One of our most interesting days was spent with a visit to the Coca Museum, here we learnt all about the history and the use of the coca plant by the people here for thousands of years. We also learnt of the many uses for this plant, such as alleviating altitude sickness and staving off hunger or tiredness. There was a wealth of information from medical studies to the life of the coca growers to the use of the plant by companies such as Coca Cola! The dark side of the plant was also explained very well, with the drug industry described and denounced. Coca is totally legal in Bolivia and Peru, because the leaf itself does no harm to you, as we have mentioned it can be of great benefit and is not considered a drug. It is only the western hunger for cocaine that turns the plant into an evil drug. For the indigenous people the coca plant is of tremendous spiritual and historical significance and is seen as a gift from the gods. It is a disgrace that countries like the USA spend billions of dollars striving to ban
Face in the Wall
It is thought these faces may be that of other cultures or past leaders of the Tiahuanaco people
and outlaw coca crops here.
We also hooked back up with Tom and Carolyn for a big night out, we had a great meal and followed this up with a crazy night on the town experiencing the La Paz night life. We did not get back to our hostel until about 7am. Needless to say we were nursing severe hangovers during the following day and lamenting the fact that we had no Irn Bru, however we have found the Bolivian alternative: Inca Kola!
No visit to La Paz is complete without a sneaky visit to the famous Black Market, here you can find anything and everything you need all at a knock down bargain price. The area is huge and takes up a large chunk of the city and is subdivided into separate sections, such as the electronics area or the fake football strip area! All this goes on with the full knowledge of the authorities. The only purchase we made was another memory card for Tony's camera, we have taken a lot of photos on our travels you know!
We also took a visit to El Alto, which is really just an extension of La Paz
but has lately become known as a city in its own right as it is growing at such a high rate with many immigrants from all over Bolivia arriving, many from the countryside. This city perches high above La Paz and is far more rustic and traditional, however despite this the streets are crazy busy with the perpetual hustle and bustle. This is the Aymara (indigenous Bolivian people) capital of the world and around 70%!o(MISSING)f the people who live here are indigenous and it was sad to see that once again these people live in some of the poorest conditions.
The culmination of our visit to La Paz ended with a trip to the extensive ruins of Tiahuanaco, a pre Inca site of enormous importance. The Tiahuanacan civilization spanned some 2000 years
before the arrival of the Inca! In fact it is said that the Incans originally came into being because the gods commanded a couple from the Tiahuanacans to travel to the Peruvian Altiplano and teach the people there everything they knew. The site is huge and was the capital of this vast and advanced civilization. They had extensive knowledge of astrology and our cosmos, as well
as advanced technical knowledge in the areas of mathematics, medicine and building.
The site has 3 main temples, all used to worship three of many gods idolised by the people of Tiwanaku. Each of these three gods is also represented by an animal. These areas or temples are the Akapana Pyramid devoted to the upper world and gods, which is represented by a condor, the Kalasasaya ritual platform devoted to the world we inhabit, represented by a puma and the semi-underground area Templete Semisubterraneo which was used to worship the underworld, represented by the snake. These took the form of a massive pyramid that we scaled, a huge flat area with statues and alters surrounded by a great wall, and an underground area reached by descending some steps. This last temple was perhaps the most interesting if not impressive, because it housed hundreds of carved faces in the walls depicting past leaders. However, some hypothesis say that they actually depict all the peoples of the world. This is not as outlandish as one may think, because sure enough you can certainly see similarities to peoples of Europe, Asia and Africa. How the Tiahuanacans may have known of these people
Indiana Jones Style Dig
Excavations continue at Tiahuanaco
is anyones guess, but it is intriguing is it not. Excavations at Tiahuanaco continue, with only about 20% of the site uncovered, it will be amazing to see the place in the years to come. We both enjoyed our visit to the site very much and cannot wait to see other ruins in Peru such as Machu Pichu now!
Before long it was time to say goodbye to busy La Paz, we cannot say that we will miss the traffic or incessant beeping of the horns by the crazy inhabitants, but we did enjoy the other sights and sounds of the city. There is certainly no place quite like it.
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