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La Paz is a ramshackle conglomeration of red brick and bustling humanity that finds its way up both sides of the canyon that is its home. It is rarely possible to walk anywhere without going up a steep hill and at 3600m this can be quite an effort to the unacclimatised. Actually, I was so excited upon our arrival I charged up many hills to view apartments advertised in the paper on our first day. I then nearly passed out in the street and consigned myself to bed for the following day with altitude sickness, (clever, I know).

Everything is available in street market stalls from dried lama foetuses to colourful weaved rugs and street food (mainly deep fried) is available everywhere. The freshly squeezed orange juice for 40c was a common favourite. Micros (little mini vans) buzz up nearly every street and provide a very convenient public transport system is some ways (never have to wait for a ride, can always get off whenever you want and they go EVERYWHERE) and it other ways not. (clog up the streets and cause traffic issues)

There is apparently a river that winds its way through the city but this (thankfully) is mostly underground and only shows it ugly face in the south. It is clogged with pollution and toxic waste and happily, this flows to the Amazon- Incredibly, there are still no laws in Bolivia prohibiting the dumping of chemicals and rubbish in this manner.

So after a false start or two we found our lovely home- a sunny two-bedroom apartment with views of the mountains (we had an excellent view of Illimani, the 6400m giant that watches over the city, from our bedroom), an internet connection and cable TV. Fully furnished, it even had a washing machine in the bathroom. We paid a little more than we had hoped as furnished apartments proved a rare commodity but it still worked out as $150 each per month.

Both Jacinta and I took Spanish lessons a couple of times a week and I did some volunteer work on weekday afternoons. Jacinta travelled with her family for about one month of the two that we had the apartment so we rented a room to a Swiss journalist to save some money. We did some travel on the odd weekend which shall be the subject of coming blogs.

Ladrones (thieves)

On our first day in La Paz we were greeted by two separate organised thieving scams. Someone shadowed us early in the morning and sprayed a foul smelling black liquid on our packs. (Jacinta noticed him walking close behind) Another of the group then innocently and politely alerted us to the problem and suggested we put our bags down to wipe it off with the proffered tissues. A third guy in a security uniform also suggested we put our bags down. We kept walking faster without heeding their kind advice.

That evening as I walked under an underpass a load of dirt fell (was thrown) on my head and shoulders. As I put my hands up to wipe it off and flailed around in shock I was pick-pocketed. Luckily I had no cards on me and only lost about 20 dollars but this was a slightly unsettling way to be greeted by the city that we planned to make our home.

La Fiesta Del Gran Poder

In our first week there was a huge party “el gran poder” in the streets of La Paz. This involved 60 000 dancers and musicians from different indigenous groups in Bolivia dressing in elaborate costumes and dancing through the streets with marching bands. The parade started at 7 in the morning and was still going after dark. The spectacle was quite incredible and we were captivated for a couple of hours before succumbing to the street food and beer that also surrounded us. That night, as we mingled with the crowd and were planning to have another hot Sengali, (some dodgy sugar based spirit) another load of dirt landed on Jacinta- she automatically put both hands in her pockets and we thought it was a good time to abandon the crowded streets and turn in!!

Remar

I was working with a religious institution called Remar.  They ran a comedor benifico (soup kitchen) as well as housing orphans, teenage girls who had been sexually abused and rehabilitating adults with D and A issues. I ended up teaching English to the kids and guitar to the teenagers while occasionally helping out in the kitchen or helping them make bread and chocolates (which they sold to raise money for the organisation). The community was really lovely (in spite of trying to convert me to Christianity) and the experience was very worthwhile. I ended up spending plenty of time in micros  as the place was in El Alto. (the sprawling metropolis on the Altiplano above the canyon that hosts La Paz) I would have liked to go to the Yungas (green hilly area between the barren Andes and the Amazon where much of the countries’ produce is grown) with them all on their annual holiday but the timing was all wrong. I did manage to play some soccer with them (as the unofficial coach of the woman’s team!) and attend a large birthday party. (think lots of coca cola, dancing and joke telling competitions). Jacinta and I also had a fun day making pizza with the kids and eating it with them all.

The Rodriguez Markets


Every Saturday we went to the sprawling food market that engulfs a large portion of the city north of San Pedro district. There is no better or cheaper venue to buy the week’s food and everything from guinea pig to trout could be found lining the streets at bargain prices. We managed to find nearly everything we wanted with some experience but sadly tofu was only located on our last day. While we found the one st where pork belly was sold we were there at the wrong time of day to fulfil the dream. We did have fun cooking many roast dinners (often trout), soups, pork and chicken dishes and nearly always ate in. Eating out was usually underwhelming (and nearly always involved a deep frier) though we had some good ceviche meals and the odd good almuerzo. (cheap lunch specials that are everywhere and always include a soup and a Segundo with rice potatoes and a small piece of “meat”)

Suipaque

We went with a local Bolivian guy (Luis) to his home on the Altiplano one Sunday. Quite an experience.  He grew up in this isolated 6 family town that relies on farming and is surrounded by beautiful mountains. There is no electricity or running water and Jacinta and I managed to cobble together a couple of meals on the open fire “oven” in the tiny kitchen. Thankfully we had brought some supplementary food as there was very little in the town apart from sacks of rice, pasta, potatoes and corn.

Luis was very proud of his two-story house that was the only painted one in town (a happy ensemble of pink and blue if you are interested). He had made the ceiling very low both to save on building materials and because he (and most of his friends/family) are very short. This created a comical effort when we visited and we felt like we were in a quaint little doll’s house. His mother paused her work in the fields to offer us a large bowl of freshly picked fruit. We tried to converse but she only spoke Aymara. Luis had only spoke Aymara until he went to work maintaining churches in La Paz at the age of 13.

We stayed the night and headed back to the big smoke at 4am on a bumpy cramped little Micro.

The World Cup

We enjoyed watching some of the games in the local cafes (our cable didn’t have the required channel- isn’t it always the way!) and all was going well for the South Americans with one side in each of the quarters. Then it all went pear-shaped for them and there was much despondency. We ended up in a jungle town for the final and supported the Dutch in what was an ugly affair. – Sadly we never made it to the made stadium to see a local Bolivian match.

All in all the La Paz experiment was worth the time- After two months however, we were ready to get back on the road.

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2 Comments

  1. I love the b& photo of the lady with the fish dints, its fantastic!

  2. Beautiful shots!
    and it looks like you finally caught up with your blog 😉
    enjoy la Paz!
    k&r


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