On the way to La Paz.
Nuestra SeĂ±ora de La Paz ( Our Lady of Peace) â€“ thatâ€™s the whole name of the Bolivian administrative capital. A beautiful name for a chaotic metropole at 3600 meters above sea level with a charm on its own we were supposed to experience by ourselves soon enough.
The city looked like a cooking pot, our bus arrived on its edge and had to get down to the center offering us a pretty impressive view. The bus stopped suddenly on a little crossroad and all the passengers got out. The Czech guy we met in the bus asked us where we planned to stay and we named him some hostels we chose before in our Lonely Planet guide book. Well, he has been living for the last months on the lowest budget level possible, what we considered fine was still too expensive for him. And we already tried to save money on accomodation. Nevertheless we were supposed to travel for 3 weeks only and wanted to enjoy this time. This guy would never go to a restaurant for example, we did it regularly and tried several local specialities. Suddenly we agreed that this was the point where our roads we separating from each other and wished him a good staying in Bolivia. The rest of us took a taxi that would take us to the first hostel on our list. Our taxi driver was really talkative and was interested where we were from.
Entering La Paz.
After I mentioned Slovakia and that we used to be part of Czechoslovakia he turned the topic on the problems in his own country. Obviously many locals were afraid that the biggest and richest province Santa Cruz would split up from Bolivia due to the problems of the local government with the socialist president Evo Morales. The taxi let us out in front of the hostel and we went inside to ask for the price. Due to our experiences in Peru , the night we spent in Copacabana and the fact that Bolivia seemed to be a cheaper country then its neighbor we had an idea already for the price we were ready to pay in a hostel. Unfortunately, the price we were told was much much higher. They asked some 12 euros per person for a dormitory bed, were they crazy??? Western prices in one of the cheapest countries of Latin America ??? In Copacabana we paid a third of it and had our own room, we didnâ€™t have to share it.
Entering La Paz.
Next hostel, next attempt. At least the next one was located pretty close, it took us less then 5 minutes to get there. Damn, a price slightly cheaper but still quite high. Alright, we had to try to find something on our own. But we were lucky, right in between these two places was a little hostel called â€śHospedaje Sydneyâ€ť. I have to admit that the entrance already didnâ€™t seemed very welcoming, but hey, Iâ€™ve slept already on weirder places. Little correctionâ€¦the inside didnâ€™t look that welcoming that well, but the price convinced us. They asked for a double room less then the price for each of us in the other hostels. We would stay probably anyway just for one night and as I knew us we would be most of the time outside. The best argument to stay here was the locationâ€¦we were just a couple of minutes walking from the bus terminal. This was good for Dan if he had some problems with his high altitude sickness. After a little rest we were ready to go out for some sightseeing.
House of the democracy, a bit shabby.
But before we do the arrangements for our next route first, especially being so close to the bus terminal. We planned to visit Salar de Uyuni, which is a salt desert relatively far from La Paz direction south. There were a couple of companies offering this route but what we didnâ€™t expect was that there was just one departure timeâ€¦at 7pm. It was an overnight trip arriving in Uyuni early in the morning. No other options to get there, believe me, I asked around in a couple of agencies here as I usually donâ€™t give up quickly whatever they tell me in the first place I ask. I checked also the prices for tours to the desert, arranging it here already would save us some time. There we 1, 2 or more days tours, our schedule allowed us to book just a day trip. It took a bit to compare the prices but suddenly we had everything set up and could start exploring the city. We followed the busy street down until we reached some sort of a street market.
The vendors here were selling everything we could imagine, predominantly cheap DVD pirate copies. The prices varied between 5 and 20 bolivianos depending on the quality and amount of DVDs in the package, considering that at that time 1 USD were some 7 bolivianos, the prices were ridiculousy cheap.
Some shue cleaners.
From here it was just few meters to Plaza San Francisco with a cathedral calledâ€¦Iâ€™m sure you can guess itâ€¦â€ťIglesia de San Franciscoâ€ť. As we were hungry we made a break in a cool restaurant we found thanks to Lonely Planet. Great atmosphere, great food. And not very expensive, exactly what we needed to feel better after walking a lot.
After this â€ślittleâ€ť refreshment we made our way to the main square which in La Paz is called â€śPlaza D.
Murilloâ€ť. It was getting dark already, but the streets were still very busy. Plaza D.Murillo marks the formal city center with a couple of historical monuments all around. The main ones are the government buildings â€śPalacio Legislativoâ€ť, the â€śPalacio Presidencialâ€ť followed by a 1835 Cathedral. In front of the governmental palaces were some guardians posted, some of them wearing historical uniforms. Of course we used the chance to make some photos of us in front of them. But we didnâ€™t dare to get too close, they didnâ€™t look at us very friendly. So all are pictures we made were done in a way that we were standing one by one some 4-5 meter ahead of the guards and pretended to look like we were just passing by.
Dan and me.
Danâ€™s headache was getting worse again, a sign for us to return slowly to our hostel. Before returning to our rooms we used the chance to enter an internet cafĂ© just few meters ahead of our hostel, we needed to let our beloved at home know that we were still alive.
Wellâ€¦in Danâ€™s case there were some limitations to that.
Our first day in La Paz was slowly ending, it was just something around 10pm when the fatigue definitely closed my eyes and sent my mind for some rest no matter how loud the traffic outside was.
At 8am in the morning I went to take some shower. The bathroom didnâ€™t look very good and the water was more cold then warm, but slowly I was getting used to it. What I still really couldnâ€™t get used to as a European was the habit here to throw the used toilet paper to a small basket next to the toilet. I mean, I understand the reason as I read before that the tubes are much smaller then the ones we have in Europe, but stillâ€¦I found it disgusting.
It was around 9am when we were ready to go out again. But before we left I asked the women at the reception if we could leave our backpacks here. We wouldnâ€™t stay another night as our bus to Uyuni was leaving in the evening. We could, the lady said no problem.
Our first stop on our second sightseeing tour of La Paz was again the Plaza D.Murillo. We wanted to make some pictures here by daylight and this time we knew the shortest way how to get there.
The full square was now covered with pigeons. When ever they start flying it looked like a kamikaze attack, uuuf.
When we were discovering a new city and had enough time me and my friends pointed just the direction out and then we followed one of the streets we considered interesting. So we did now as well. But unfortunately we realized soon that we entered an area which looked a bit sleepy and except of some small shops there wasnâ€™t anything interesting. At least we got from here an amazing view of the imposing snowy Mt.Illamani (6402 meters).
It was time to change the direction a bit. We havenâ€™t eaten yet and it was time to find a place for some good breakfast. Didnâ€™t take long and we could finally sit down. What I really loved in South America were the big fruit salads they offered for breakfast almost everywhere. Couldnâ€™t get enough of them. And obviously they helped Dan to feel a bit better as well.
This high altitude sickness was a big handicap for him.
Our next destination was â€śAvenida 16 de Julioâ€ť also called el Prado. This was the modern part of La Paz, a bustling street full of shops and restaurants. We walked along and enjoyed the nice sunny weather. One of the sights here was the â€śUniversidad Mayor de San Andresâ€ť, not the nicest building but all the students around chatting made up a special lively atmosphere. Few streets further we experienced a different sort of â€ślively atmosphereâ€ť. There was a demonstration going on and from time to time we could hear a loud shot. Alright, maybe it was better to move further. So we did.
We still had enough time before the departure of our bus but we started to feel tired already.
So we entered the â€śAlexander Coffeeâ€ť we found listed in our Lonely Planet. A nice fashionable cafĂ© and a good place to stay for a while drinking coffee and coca tea against the heights.
Me again...ane behind some guards.
About 1 Â˝ hours later we decided suddenly that it was time to leave, time to pick up our backpacks by the hostel and to move to the bus terminal. On the way back Dan started to feel worse again, damn. We asked him a couple of times if he will manage it, but he just nodded. He was moving slowly but at least he was able to move. Somehow we got back to the hostel and then to the bus terminal nearby. I went to ask to the desk when we can get into our bus, but the guy there told me that â€śunfortunatelyâ€ť it had a delay and we had to wait. Bad luck. While we were waiting we bought at least something to drink and to eat for the bus trip.
When I returned from the public toilet I noticed that my friends were chatting with a couple. Seemed to be foreigners and when I came closer I realized that they spoke Slovak. I guess Americans, English, Germans, French, etc are used to meet people from their own country while they are traveling, itâ€™s not the case for us Slovaks. Then thereâ€™s just some 5 million of us only. And honestly, I donâ€™t really expect to meet another Slovak while Iâ€™m in Bolivia. But sometimes it happens though, these two were backpackers like us discovering South America. A very unequal couple. While she was talking all the time he just answered questions from time to time. They were heading to Uyuni as well, but unfortunately they were traveling with another company. We also introduced Dan, our Swedish travel mate. They were pretty impressed that he was able to speak Slovak, but while we kept on talking Dan started to give out painful sounds soon. His headache became very strong again. We gave him one of the pills we bought for him in Puno and some water and slowly he calmed down a bit.
...picture from Marian
He needed some rest.
Suddenly after an hour waiting we got the sign to get into our bus. It was the time to continueâ€¦and for Dan hopefully the time to get some sleep.