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Published: February 28th 2006
It’s the 3rd day of the Carnival, no, not Rio, or Salvador, but downtown La Paz, and the energy and excitement and danger are just as full-on. In fact it’s been full-on from Uyuni, thru’ Potosi, Oduro and La Paz…the primary danger being getting soaked as packs of young, and not so young, roam the streets, armed to the teeth with water ‘pistols’, military design, star wars colours and shapes, awfully phallic, giant purple, bulbous headed, red, yellow and green shafts, the pumping action by grown-up boys, sheathed in their plastic condom coveralls, even Siggies greatest critics would have to believe this one! also the water bombs, 12 for 1 Boliviano (about 12 cents) luckily the general aim is shithouse but this also means more potential of getting hit by wild throws!
All along the street, hundreds of enterprising old women with a few kids are filling water bombs like crazy from great buckets and vats they have dragged down in the early morning. Others are queuing up to buy more, family groups, all covered up with plastic ponchos, moving down the street, front attack, back-up, rearguard lookouts, but always vulnerable to the long lobbed bomb, chicas especially targeted, from across
the street two chicas are suddenly bombarded by 5 or 6 guys with bombs, water pistols, really more like water RPGs, …but the chicas aren’t finished, as they innocently walk past a group of boys they suddenly whip out cans of santa snow and cake the boys heads and faces…and it seems that direct retaliation is not permitted, in fact, the idea, if you are hit, is to try and ignore it…some unfortunate stoic is trying his best to ignore a veritable water cannon pumping gallons of cold water down his neck, better to cut and run!…so far I’ve escaped attention, one of the benefits of being a tourista maybe…except copping a bucketful from a truck full of kids coming into Oduro on the bike, and later being chased by a bunch of chicas around the back streets, and a bit of collateral santa spray from a drive-by outside the hotel yesterday. Most cars are off limit, unless of course they fire first, then it’s on for young and old, some cars getting pumped full before they can get the windows up, some of these water pistols are seriously soaking, a constant stream of kids straggling past the hotel where
I’m hanging in the doorway with the maitre’d and his sidekick, always attentive, eyes in the back of your head, waiting for the tell-tale eye catching, arm drawing back, following the trajectory of several bombs thru’ the air simultaneously, calculating the splatter pattern, a couple of seriously hassled chicas run to the cops (constantly prowling the median on trail bikes) they call for back-up and the truck of heavies rolls up, the regular squirting and bombing goes on all around but the chicas are driven off, later they come around again, point out a couple of boys, the cops drag them off, with the chicas…where to? Who knows. And it sort of goes on all night, the parade starts at noon and rolls on for the afternoon and into the night, if you can’t get a seat it’s running on local TV in most bars and cafes and shops!…very handy in Oduro where it was impossible to get near the action on the main drag.
So, coming across from Oduro to La Paz, beautiful road at first winding up and down thru' amazing canyons and vast sweepers around precipitous gorgeous...then it straightened out for the last 100 kms across
a much more fertile and productive valley than the high desert. These people love stacking rocks on rocks, all up and over the hills I can see the lines of fences about 2 -3 feet high, all made from rocks stacked on rocks, and it has to be done right, not just cobbled together if they are to withstand a few hundred years like this. And these fences run right up and over the hills, obscure, patternless, maybe meaningless?. What are they dividing up? Nothing seems to be happening in any of them! Have they all gone off to work in the mines? Or make bangles and bead bracelets for the touries??.
Anyway, approaching La Paz we enter a growth spurt of a township, buildings going up everywhere, about 10 kms of this and we hit the last toll pay way and as we go thru’ suddenly we are on the very lip of an enormous valley, some 5kms across and maybe 500metres deep, so unexpected, and this canyon is lined with habitations, from big city buildings down further, smaller places pushing up the walls to where its almost vertical, sunlight reflecting off a million tin roofs and glass windows,
and along the top rim, precariously balanced places, I’m not sure whether it’s better clinging to the top edge and worrying about falling, or stable at the bottom waiting for something to fall on you. By the way, the best local beer is Huari, and pronounced ‘worry’ so you can see lots of good lines there!…don’t Huari, be happy, drink your worries away, etc etc
Went out to another ‘Valley of the Moon’ and even less like the bloody moon than the others, to be fair it’s spectacular erosion and fabulous scenery, but the Moon? C’mon.
Back to town and time to be watchful as the water works are on again, but a bit quieter than yesterday, maybe it’s just too early but I’m feeling game enough to stroll the street. Not too far tho’ I can tell you, after a couple of blocks, and everywhere is up hill!!, I am buggered, I think I told you about the thin air??….well it’s not getting any thicker….can’t wait to hit the coast, I’ll be able to do 1,500 metres in thorpedo time I reckon.
Spent a couple of hours doing the cultural thing, the local museum of contemporary art, all Boliviano
artists, not as inspiring as I’d hoped and certainly lacking the cutting edge that I saw in Argentina, but all the same, coming from a different, and probably more repressed background, they are doing well and I hope to get back with some bits and bobs.
My nose is getting picked raw as the bloody dust and the thin air result in constant nose full of crap, sorry, just had to share that with you to see if your still there. Well, are you? How about some response! Please? Is anyone out there??…this is back to the graveyard shift DJ mood?
Well, if all goes according to plan, like I’d have a plan?? Yeah right…well, if it’s still fine tomorrow I might head off to some fantastic valley and then to Copacabana and spend a couple of days out on Titicaca..yeah yeah the highest lake, La Paz is the highest capital city, Potosi the highest city, it’s a land of extremes.
But I’ve got to say, La Paz is a fantastic city, the road into the city wound down and around getting to the bottom of this massive canyon, through eucalypt lined side canyons, beautiful smell again, at some turns
a barren rock walled canyon, then around another bend and densely urbanised, wall-to-wall housing, always the terracotta coloured red bricks, houses cluttered, stacked on top of each other, straggling stairways and haphazard electricity lines, the toppermost houses on near-verticl cliff faces, then a bare area where the face is just too unstable to support anything. And a muddy brown river gushing down in it’s manmade channel, thrashing it’s way down the valley, thru’ the central city, quite a little white water rafting adventure right here in town if someone takes it up. And lots of little parks and plazas, and fabulous sculptures and monuments, they really live their history here, as in most of latino America. The architecture, old buildings preserved luckily, litle cobbled lanes and twisting steep walkways, pretty manicured plazas and parks stuck into obscure corners, and hardy as the swarms of kids rampage back and forth chasing hapless odd couples who run the gauntlet, trying to get from one end of the street to the other.
Enough already...trying for some pics.
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