We arrived back into La Paz from Salar de Uyuni about 4:30am, freezing with no where to stay. We decided to go to the hostel we’d previously stayed at to use their Wifi and try to book some accommodation for the next few days. The hostel was closed for the evening but their Wifi still worked outside, so we did a bit of lingering until we gave in and rang the bell of The Adventure Brew Hostel ( http://www.theadventurebrewhostel.com/the-hotel ). Greeted by a sleepy looking worker who had clearly been napping on a mattress by his desk we were told we wouldn’t be able to check in till 12pm. Thankfully after sleeping a little on a couch in the hall we were told at 10am we were able to check in and finally shower!
For the rest of our time in La Paz we managed to get a room in an Airbnb last minute in the residential area of Sopocachi which is about a forty minute walk from the bus station. It was a lovely house which was well equipped for several travellers staying for long or short periods of time but we were not prepared for the steepness of La Paz and particularly the height of where we were staying. Trips to the markets were enough to question whether we did actually need bread, milk, eggs etc. Could live without it? It was so breathtaking! Literally and in respect to the views.
For the next few days in La Paz we experienced great food and great entertainment. It stated with a trip to the football of course. We saw Bolivar vs LDU Quito at the Estadio Hernandes Siles stadium which involved a lengthy walk over what felt like a mountain…that was just one of La Paz’s parks. We arrived not long before and the tickets cost one hundred and twenty Bolivianos so roughly six pounds each. From what I gathered watching the game, the quality of football wasn’t that great but our experience when we were there was very enjoyable.
It felt almost like we were at a fair. There were so many people selling sandwiches, bread rolls, ice cream and jelly, drinks, coffee etc however we decided to wait to eat and picked up a kebab on the way home. Now, don’t freak out but I’m sure that was my first kebab ever! And in Bolivia!
It was delicious!
On the way home we spotted several groups practising different dances all over the park. When we moved round the corner however we came across Tinkus Jayas which were a group of about twenty people covered in colourful dress dancing with a live band in a very tribal manner. I got the impression they are a dance community but unable to find much online in English. What was amazing was their energy, talent and enthusiasm. They looked like they were having the best time and it made me so happy to see! The choreography looked quite intricate with the constant change of direction and footing. Everybody in the group was quite close together and with the movement involving a lot of flaring of the arms and whipping of the heads I imagine the dancers have to be very aware of their stepping and spacing. There seemed to always be a leader of the group who counted the dancers in and somehow with a whistle made them aware of the selected sequence about to be performed. What was lovely to see was the leader was continuously changing, being selected by the previous. The whistle was passed on and the group constantly had to be alert and ready for what was coming next. It was exciting to listen and watch the rhythms from the band and vibrant movement of the dancers blend together so well to create such a powerful and positive atmosphere.
San Pedro prison was on our list of things to visit in La Paz. It’s one of the worlds most famous prisons due to it being a society within itself where inmates have jobs, they have to buy or rent their cells and their families are allowed to stay with them. I didn’t know much about the prison before visiting but was very intrigued as to what it was like. However they no longer run tours to tourists inside the prison and when we tried to get a sneak of what it looked inside we were told to step away and photos were not to be taken. So the best we got was sitting on the opposite side of the road in Plaza San Pedro catching a glimpse of some prisoners being moved and women and children freely entering the high windowless walls. Currently I am reading the book Marching Powder written by Rusty Young, published in 2003 detailing the experiences of a British prisoner at the time Thomas McFadden who was renowned for proving tours of the prison for tourists. This is proving to be a very interesting read which shows the corruption inside San Pedro and in Bolivia.
Other highlights of being in La Paz would have to be when we treated ourselves to some ice cream from Bits and Cream. It was well worth the money which a huge selection of flavours and toppings, therefore well worth the mention in this post!
At the weekend we decided to go visit the city of El Alto which is at the top of the mountain where the airport is and apparently has a massive market every Thursday and Sunday. You can imagine getting there wasn’t the easiest but pretty entertaining at the same time. Firstly we had to take the yellow cable car a few stations up. Then we caught a bus for one Bolivianos each before walking to the blue cable car station where we thought we had to get another cable to El Alto. However whilst we were walking it seemed the market had already started or was this smaller markets before we reached El Alto? We later realised once walking the length of the market, that actually this was El Alto market and it stretched 5km! It was huge! We definitely didn’t cover all of it, it was impossible. They sold everything from food and drink, car parts, clothes, house materials, SIM cards and phones to toilet seats and mattresses. It was crazy. People here buy everything for their houses from these markets. There’s no department stores and only a few people use the small supermarkets available. There was even medical supplies, for example syringes and dentist chairs which was a bit suspicious.
Our flight from La Paz to Santiago was at a good time, during the middle of the day. We noticed that we could get a taxi to the airport from our Airbnb for about sixty Bolivianos which was roughly six pounds. Bargain, as the journey was about thirty minutes. The journey…well that was something else. The road up to the Airport was directly up the hill to El Alto so this gave me an uneasy feeling to start with. During the journey the driver started swearing in Spanish at the car in front which was clearly struggling with the gradient of the hill, so much so that it just stopped in the middle of the road. He also decided it was a good idea to drive on the wrong side of the road to get ahead of the other cars and there seems to be no right of way in Bolivia. You go when you go and it’s a process of pushing yourself in. I was squealing inside and I could image my mum shrieking in the back if she was present!
Incase anyone is unsure… we did make it to the airport in one piece even though there were some moments in the journey I questioned the outcome myself.
La Paz is a city to visit. Its title of being the highest in the world is enough to draw you in initially but on arrival you notice the stunning snowy topped mountains that overlook the mass of poverty in this country, where families live with holes in their walls as windows and relentlessly climb hundreds of stairs and metres to get to and from the centre selling whatever they can to make what we call pennies. These people have such a high work ethic and I have an incredible amount of respect for them.