Epic American Adventures 2014 # 10 – Livin’ La Vida La Paz
I have just returned from a completely different kind of Epic Adventure – Australian Outback (coming soon). However, all weekend I’ve been itching to update you on the next instalment of South America – I bring to you La Paz.
Try and keep up…
“This week we are in the capital of Bolivia – the city of La Paz. Since my last post we have really gotten in touch with Bolivian and Peruvian culture, so much so that Ryan thinks he would be perfectly fine with living in La Paz for a bit… If only it wasn’t for that pesky language barrier and his insistence that “translating is your job”. I’m not quite sold on it yet. Living on the shores of Lake Titicaca in Copacabana, or within the cobblestone streets of Cusco I could possibly do, however as I’ve mentioned before I feel I would miss the creature comforts of home too much (you know, paved roads, meat sold out of refrigerated cabinets, etc.).
On our last day in Copacabana, I felt quite sad to be saying goodbye to our little private slice of tree-house paradise. We packed up, then went to the ticket office to check our bus times before heading to the internet cafe and then lunch. I decided right before our bus to go for a walk up to the cathedral (EVERY South American town that we have been to has at least one of its own cathedrals and a relic up on the hill). On my walk I discovered a whole side of Copacabana we had missed out on – market stalls, restaurants, shops. But most importantly, I discovered an indoor fresh food market. We had searched for this two nights before to no avail, and we were resigned to the fact that we would not be able to cook in our little tree-house’s kitchen – needless to say, when I returned with the news of my discovery it made us even more determined to find something similar in La Paz.
Our bus ride to La Paz was quite uneventful (apart from the bus going on a boat to cross the lake – see above) however the beautiful countryside was just as captivating as our previous journeys. Snow capped mountains formed the backdrop to acres and acres of farmland and crumbling stone buildings. The farmland held everything, from crops, to pigs, to cattle, to alpacas and donkeys. Stray dogs roamed the streets of every village we passed through. They seemed to be in fine health and seeing them scavenging, playing, or simply walking along gave no doubt that there was plenty of food to be found.
The reason for this became sadly apparent the closer we got to the big cities. Piles and piles of rubbish became increasingly frequent. It was as though for the last few months, or even years, the people of the towns (or perhaps the people passing through) simply chucked their trash out on to the road side and the garbage collectors never made an appearance. It was incredibly disgusting and made me quite sad, as it was obvious that these people lived off the land much more than we do at home, yet they didn’t take care of it (ignorance or maybe just apathy…?). The towns themselves, in fact, were in some state of disrepair. I could almost see the hopes and dreams that had once been behind the buildings and streets, as though they once stood tall and majestic and now were standing forlorn, forgotten and neglected. Crumbled buildings, gaping holes in the dirt and stones roads, more shops with shutters down than open. I lost count of the number of ‘sport centres’ that we drove past on our journey, fields fenced with colourfully painted brick walls, but now containing long grass, rubble, and the odd donkey grazing. It makes me so curious – what happened here? What did these cities used to look like? What terrible things had happened to change them to the ramshackle, derelict towns they were now?
When we got to La Paz itself, we found ourselves in a much more modern city than Cusco, Puno and Copacabana.
It reminded me almost of Athens, in that I felt I had to be aware of my surroundings at all times even though around me there were people going about their daily business. The roads and drivers themselves would have put anyone on alert, but despite the dirtiness and busyness of the city, the people themselves were very friendly. We settled in to our hostel’s bar, sampled one of the hostels own beers (we get a free one every night), had a cup of noodles each for dinner in the questionable kitchen, and settled into our room, looking forward to free pancakes in the morning.
Over the next two days, we explored La Paz to our hearts’ content. We took a walking tour, and became more familiar with the crazy Bolivian presidential history (their current president publicly announced that eating chicken can turn you gay, and that he had discovered on his world travels that there were more Bolivians in Bolivia than anywhere else). We learned never to be a drunk homeless person on the streets of La Paz (lest a witch doctor abduct you and bury you alive at a high rise construction site to bless the new building). We visited the witches markets, where llama foetuses hung from every doorway, and you had to ask permission to take photos or you would be cursed. We traversed the 40 square blocks (or part-thereof) of Rodriguez Markets, where we bought enough food to make two nights worth of real dinner for less than $3 a night. As we were sitting in another indoor market hall eating peanut soup, it occurred to me that La Paz had the best and worst of what I’d seen in South America in one big package. I don’t think I’d be comfortable to live here, but I did feel a lot more comfortable with the things we had seen in the last week, and I was happy for that.
On the last morning in La Paz, we had to be at the bus station by 7.30am (sadly too early to enjoy pancakes). We were still sitting in the freezing station at 8.30am, condensation coming out with every breath, and and we were quickly losing patience with our late departure. To make matters worse (for himself) Ryan decided to wear shorts that day. We were very relieved to finally get on the bus. We soon discovered that it had snowed on the town at the top of the city overnight (La Paz sits in a valley). Needless to say, he wasn’t the least bit embarrassed to use my pink scarf as a blanket on the bus.
We journeyed back to Puno, with a brief stop in Copa (enough time to buy some souvenirs). After seven hours of traveling and an early dinner, we collapsed into our hostel, ready for another 7hr bus back to Cusco the following day.
After being sick on the very first inter-city bus ride in South America, I have dutifully taken my tablets every journey since then. I’m not sure what it is, maybe the fact that there bus drivers think they’re driving four wheelers when they decided to take shortcuts through the towns’ rubble-strewn streets, maybe it’s because the suspension in each bus is absolutely shot because of this, or maybe it’s because they also think they’re rally car drivers going along the twisty mountain roads. Whatever it is, I’m glad we’ve finished our long-distance buses (until Brazil at least).
I will write more about Cusco and our Inca hike next time. Until then!”