La Paz - 27-30 April 2011

Published: May 1st 2011
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Due to the transport strike, we missed Copacabana and drove straight to La Paz. We got up at 4.30 am to Skype Kerrie and Gemma for her birthday. Connection wasn’t the best but at least we saw them and had a pretty good chat. We are certainly missing them.

We had breakfast and then went to the bus station by 5.45am, leaving in one of the very comfy buses for La Paz. We sat up the top floor of the bus which is always a better view. Again, the scenery was spectacular along the way. We were slowed down on many occasions because there were many large rocks on the road. We were wondering if there was a bit of sabotage from the strikers, so prevent vehicles from going to Bolivia.

The Peru/Bolivia border crossing was another experience. On the Peru side, we got off the bus and lined up to give our Peru entry papers to the authorities. We got back on the bus and arrived at the border. We got out of the bus again and saw the very, very long line to the Bolivian border control office. We eventually got our papers and stamp to enter Bolivia. We then walked over the border and submitted our papers and got the Bolivian stamp. We then found our bus on the other side of the border. This whole process too over 1 ½ hours which was much longer than usual because the previous 2 days, due to the strike, no one could cross the border so there was a bit of a back log.

We continued to follow the Andes Mountains. We eventually saw La Paz in the distance after 7 hours, and what a massive city we saw.

Nuestra Señora de La Paz (meaning: Our Lady of Peace) is the administrative capital of Bolivia, and the second largest city (in population) only after Santa Cruz de la Sierra. It is located in the western part of the country. It is located at an elevation of 3,660 meters a.s.l., making it the world’s highest "de facto" capital city, or administrative capital.

The official capital of Bolivia is Sucre and it is the seat of Justice, La Paz has more government departments, hence the "de facto" qualifier. The city sits in a "bowl" surrounded by the high mountains of the altiplano.

As it has grown, La Paz climbs the hills, resulting in varying elevations up to 4,100 meters. Overlooking the city is towering triple-peaked illimani, which is always snow-covered and can be seen from several spots of the city, including from the neighbor city, El Alto. The population is about 1 million. La Paz Metropolitan area, formed by the cities of La Paz, El Alto and Viacha, make the most populous urban area of Bolivia, with a population of 2.6 million inhabitants.

Founded in 1548 by the Spanish conquistadors, Bolivia has had a rocky political and economic history. In 1549, "Juan Gutierrez Paniagua" was commanded to design an urban plan that would designate sites for public areas, plazas, official buildings, and a cathedral. La Plaza de los Españoles, which is known today as the Plaza Murillo, was chosen as the location for government buildings as well as the Metropolitan Cathedral.

In 1898, La Paz was made the de facto seat of the national government, with Sucre remaining the nominal historical as well as judiciary capital. This change reflected the shift of the Bolivian economy away from the largely exhausted silver mines of Potosi to the exploitation of tin near Onuro, and resulting shifts in the distribution of economic and political power among various national elites. A third of the national revenue and more than half of the total customs in 1925 were derived from tin; in short, that humble but indispensable metal is the hub around which Bolivia's economic life revolves. The tin deposits of Bolivia, are the second largest in the world.

The geography of La Paz (in particular the altitude) reflects society: the lower areas of the city are the more affluent areas. While many middle-class residents live in high-rise condos near the center, the houses of the truly affluent are located in the lower neighborhoods southwest of the Prado. And looking up from the center, the surrounding hills are plastered with makeshift brick houses of those of less economically fortunate.
Part of the water supply is derived from glaciers, which are becoming a less reliable source of water.

La Paz is an important cultural center of Bolivia. The city hosts several cathedrals belonging to the colonial times, such as the San Francisco Cathedral and the Metropolitan Cathedral, this last one located on Murillo Square, which is also home of the political and administrative power of the country. Hundreds of different museums can be found across the city, the most notable ones on Jaén Street, which street design has been preserved from the Spanish days and is home of 10 different museums.

The home of the Bolivian government is located on Murillo Square and is known as "Palacio Quemado" (Burnt Palace) as it has been on fire several times. The palace has been restored many times since, but the name has remained untouched. We visited this Square on a number of occasions.

The day we arrived, we were taken on an orientation walk around the central area of the city then found a restaurant where I had chicken satays and peanut sauce and Tom had a large sandwich. By the time we finished lunch it was 5.30pm. We did our own think in the evening.

The next day I rode a mountain bike on Death Road (separate blog) while Tom did a more comprehensive city tour. He visited San Francisco Square and Murillo Square. HE also visited the Witches Markets which sell potions and items which locals buy and take home for luck and good fortune. There were numerous Llama dead/dried foetuses which is a key for good fortune. He also visited San Pedro Square where the well known San Pedro Gaol was. This is a unique prison as the inmates families can buy a Unit inside the gaol for the inmate and their family to live. It is a city inside the gaol walls. On the weekend, tourists go to the square and hope to be invited by inmates families to go inside the gaol...for a price. The cocaine trade supports the gaol economy!!!! We went back to the square the next day and I was stopped because one of the gaol police caught me filming the prison. He wanted me to delete it but I was slow to show him so he just waved me away.
Tom also visited Moon Valley. This is like one of the Canyons in the USA but is simply an erosion effect. It is quite spectacular. I will let the photos speak about this feature of La Paz.

That night, we all went to a lovely restaurant serving Thai and Indian food. This was the last dinner we were having together after the group had been travelling together for 36 days. It was pretty sad saying goodbye to everyone the next day. We were also changing Tour Guides so the group again asked me to thank Manny, on behalf of all the group, for all that he had done to make our Peru-leg of our journey enjoyable. After dinner, we went to a club where Salsa dancing was the go. Several of the group had a chance to practice their Salsa. We then went to another club for more traditional dancing in Australian clubs. It was great fun. Home by 2.00am!!

On the next day on 29 April (where is the year going and we can’t believe we have been travelling for 36 days already) Tom & I walked around the city for some shopping. This was after about 10 of us met across the road from our hotel for breakfast – banana and milk juice, fruit, cereal and yoghurt, fried eggs and brown bread toast (which is the first time we have been offered brown bread in South America), and coffee. Excellent! That all cost 22 Boliviano (The conversion is 1 $US to 7 Boliviano.) After that, I went shopping by myself and came back at 12.30pm, meeting a very worried Tom as we had to move out of our hotel room at 12MD and I hadn’t returned home. New Rule: don’t worry about a little lateness, knowing that we can always go to a hotel and ask our way back to our hotel (we have always carry a business card from the hotel we are staying at). I was walking through the food/hardware/clothing/grocery etc etc markets, through the large number of streets on Saturday morning where all the locals and surrounding villagers come and do their weekly shopping. The roads were door-to-door people and cars and took twice as long to walk through.

I took Tom for coffee at one of our favourite restaurant in La Paz (100% Natural) and caught up with Erin. He was feeling more relaxed by the end of his coffee. Erin was not travelling with us from La Paz and was off back to Cusco to attend Spanish classes for 4 weeks. Cusco is a great place for Spanish classes.

We then went to Another Pub/Restaurant, Oliver’s Travel to say goodbye to the rest of the group. After that we walked around the markets again, so that I could shop Tom where I was in the morning and I had noticed the crowd was much less than the morning, although still busy.

We then visited the Cocoa Museum for 10 Boliviano each. Everything is so cheap in Bolivia. The museum was really interesting, telling us that Bolivia was part of the responsibility of starting the global drug trade back in the 1500s by giving the miners cocoa leaves to chew as they found that they could work for longer if they did this. USA imported the greatest supply of Bolivian cocoa leaves and is responsible for 50% of the world’s drug trade. The cocoa leaf farming has had a rocky history with sea-sawing between being banned and legal over the centuries, particularly with its cocaine properties. It was found to be an excellent anaesthetic compared to many of the horrific methods used through history. Cocoa tea is always on the menu where we have travelled in SA so far, as it is excellent for helping the system cope with altitude (helps oxygen uptake and is a diuretic). I noticed a lot of cocoa leaves on the floor of our overnight bus driver’s seat as it helps to keep you alert also!!!

Having 3 nights in La Paz gave us an opportunity to do a bit of house-keeping/clothes washing and a bit of relaxation also. We even caught up with Adam by phone. He and Ange have been amazingly busy with their emergency vet hospital services over the Easter and Anzac Day holidays. Public holidays mean work for them. They were having a recovery day when we called. It was great to catch up at last.

Our new travel group then met in the hotel foyer to bus to the big bus station to catch our Cama bus (fully reclining seats) for our 10 hour over-night bus trip to Sucre. The rest of our group who were leaving us all met us to say their last goodbyes. That was wonderful of them. We caught the bus at 7.00pm and arrived in Sucre at 7.00am on 1 May 2011. The trip was pretty good.

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