La Paz

La Paz Travel Blog

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Saltenas are surely the best way to start the day. They’re like a miniature, gloopier and spicier cornish pasty and taste fantastic. We were back in Cochabamba’s dodgy bus station heading to La Paz. After a short break and amazing cliff-side views all the way we arrived in La Paz to find a bustling city nestled in a huge bowl. We stayed on Calle Santa Cruz, located perfectly for the main markets and witches market, and not too far from the rest of the city’s main bits. In reality the whole of Calle Santa cruz is a marketplace, selling everything you could wish for, or not, as the case may be. Em was in her element and already planning our next few days exploring the markets.

Wandering around on the first night proved that it’s unquestionably one of the (probably the) poorest cities that I’d ever been to.

On the plus side it disproved much of the hype and scaremongering about the dangers gringos faced. We felt completely comfortable the whole time we were there.

After checking-in to our 5th floor hotel we were already out of breath (La Paz is around 3700m high and you’re always walking up or down steep hills). I popped out for a quick haircut that cost me 10 Bolivianos (90pence!) and we all headed out on the town. Sat night was to be our last official night with Chad so we had a farewell meal for him in a Thai restaurant and headed to Mongoes for more drinks. After that Chad recommended a tiny bar which seemed more like someone’s quirky living room, and we headed home at 5am-ish.

Sunday started at 2pm and being Brits abroad, we headed to Olivers travels (decribed in LP as La Paz’s east cultural experience!) for hair of the dog and to watch the final of the Euro champs.

Later that night we headed back there for a couple of drinks with Sam, Aja and their other halves, friends of mine who happened to be in La Paz at the same time. Small world. They’d just completed ‘Death Road’, which many of our group were doing the next day. The world’s most dangerous road certainly lives up to its billing, and this year alone the death toll is almost in double figures. It’s a 3metre wide dirt track with sheer cliff drops on one side.

I’m not that keen on mountain biking, in fact to be honest, vanity had gotten the better of me at the age of twelve. Back in the days when wearing a helmet wasn’t quite so cool, I wasn’t allowed out on a bike without a helmet on. Sense lost and not wanting to look like a geek won out. Anyway, I’m certainly not keen enough on mountain biking to ride death road anyway and taking into consideration my mam's reaction if she even thought i was contemplating it, opted out.

So I spent the day with Em and Kathryn wandering around the seemingly endless markets and artesian shops, spending an embarrassingly small amount of Bolivianos for some quite nice stuff. Witches market, just down the road from us, has a staggering array of weird stuff including dried-out frogs, fox skins and other bits to put into your cauldron. The strangest of all would have to be the dried-out llama foetuses, used by farmers as ritual offerings to Pachamama (Mother Earth) for a bountiful harvest.

In the evening we were regaled with stories of how shit-scary Death Road was whilst having food in the Hard Rock (not sure if it was a real one though!) whilst meeting our new tour leader, Ysabel. Ysabel would be taking us from La Paz to Lima, and then on to Quito with the remaining stragglers. We had to say a sad farewell to Michelle at this point, but met a newcomer, Jacquie.

We called it a night whilst some of the others headed on to the infamous ‘Bar 36’.

We spent Tuesday wandering around parts of La Paz we hadn’t seen yet. We tried to do a city tour but were out of luck so walked around the main Plaza, along the main throughfare of La Paz and up past San Pedro prison. It’s possible in La Paz to go into the prison and chat to inmates (mainly the ex-pats who are in there for drug-smuggling). Life is pretty tough in there it seems. Some of our group went in to visit (Tim and Matt even watched the Euro final in there) and apparently they have to rent their cells. The inmates with initiative charge for tours and sell coke to tourists, which funds their cell and pays off the guards. All seems strange given they’re mostly in there for drug-related offences anyway.

As the visit itself wasn’t really our cup of tea, we headed back.

Everyone had dinner together in a lovely little colonial restaurant on the main drag. I had my last (and possibly best) ‘Pique a lo Macho’ with llama and we prepared to say farewell to La Paz and Bolivia.

It definitely has a lot of problems and a long way to go before sorting them out, but Bolivia has been one of our best travel experiences. It’s incredibly poor in monetary terms yet unbelievably rich in culture, landscape and (Cochabamba aside) warmth and diversity. Well worth making the effort for.

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La Paz
photo by: wilfredoc2009