Saturday, 8 August 2015
La Paz (Part 1)
We arrived in La Paz at about 6am in the morning after spending the whole night on the bus. We had read that La Paz was an extremely dangerous city and even a local man on the bus strongly insisted that we take a taxi to our accommodation. For this reason we went against our normal practice of walking everywhere and took a taxi for the 2 kilometres to the hostel. It didn't look that sinister to us but when you first arrive in a place and you are carrying everything you own on your back, it's best to be cautious until you have found your feet.
We stayed at a place called Bash and Crash which was literally the cheapest place we could find ($B40). Breakfast was included so we were in. We threw down our heavy bags and went straight to breakfast, which they let us have the first day - a welcomed change from the scrooge hostel we had stayed in Uyuni. We then hit the showers still feeling salty from the salt flats. We had much needed naps and afterwards we went for lunch with a guy we had met in the dorm. Paul, from Gibraltar, was a great find as he could speak Spanish and knew where to find all the best food in the nearby market (most notably where we could get the best avo sandwiches). He also took us around the city and helped us get our bearings around this 'threatening' place. It really didn't look that scary in the light of day and we concluded that the fuss had been unfounded. He also took us to peak at the witches' market and showed us where the company was that he did the death road with... An activity we were toying with the idea of doing.
The rest of the day was spent doing admin and researching our plans for our last couple of days in Bolivia and taking our salt laden clothes to the laundromat. We had bought a cheat chocolate and since the hostel had a stash of dvds, we decided to get blankets and have a movie night. Unfortunately the movie kept sticking and we were competing with the club that was below our hostel. The club was really swinging as the university had just closed and all the students were on holiday. We eventually gave up and went to bed (poor Joy and Paul will never know how 'Click' ends).
After having a great night's sleep we were feeling fresh and ready to tackle the day. First order of business was to find and take the cable car to the top of the valley and soak up the views of the city. Luckily with a fluent Spanish speaker on board, this task proved easy and we soon found the cable car.
We took the efficiently run and shiny new cable car up to the top. Once there we decided to wonder around one of the biggest townships in La Paz, El Alto, which was supposed to be pretty dodgy so we didn't spend much time hanging around here.
Boarding the cable car
Rox and Paul
Above the cemetery
In El Alto, where clearly ice age and transformers characters are popular.
Ice capped mountains - no wonder we have been freezing our fingers off.
Stunning view of the city
There was even a cinema at the top where the cable car ended - can't imagine what 5D would even look like.
Joy being a rebel with her shoes on the chair
We even managed to spot this car that had clearly had an accident and fallen straight in this crevasse. Wonder if they ever got the driver out of this one.
Interesting to see what people in the cities use their rooftops for.
After we reached the bottom again, we parted ways with Paul to go to the free walking tour, which he had already been on. We met our tour guides at the designated meeting spot - we knew we were in right spot when we started seeing the high concentration of gringos around us.
Our tour guides
The tour started off by giving us all a warning not to do the illegal prison tours at the infamous San Pedro Prison across the street. This is a very unique prison as the prisoners have to pay for their cells and they range from luxury cells with Jacuzzis and satellite TV, to cramped shared cells with basic bunk beds. Therefore the ones that do no have heaps of money stored up from their criminal activities, actually have to work in the prison to earn their keep. They take up jobs like hairdressers, tailors and sell products to the other prisoners. Another thing that makes this prison unique is that the prisoners' families are allowed to live in the prison with them. The children then leave the prison every day to go to school. One of the smaller prisoners actually used this protocol to escape from the prison by pretending to be a child! Apparently one of the more entrepreneurial prisoners actually started taking tourists on tours of the prison. However, criminals being criminals, they couldn't help but to take full advantage of the helpless tourists. They would get the tourists into the prison and then the guide would disappear. As the tourists tried to leave, the prison guards would order them back to their cells. The tourists would then have to pay exorbitant amounts to the prisoners and guards to be set free. It was for this reason that the tour warned against taking these tours with ex prisoners.
The walking tour was very informative, especially since we had found the Bolivian people to have been a closed nation and for this reason we had not received much insight into their clothes, traditions and beliefs. The tour lasted about three hours and took us past all the main buildings in the city centre, the fresh food markets, the witches market and ended at a bar for free shots of singani and orange juice.
We don't have any photos of the fresh food market because we were warned that if you didn't ask politely enough to take a photo of the fruit selling lady or her produce, then she would throw her produce at your face. We had already been exposed to the extreme camera shyness of traditional Bolivian ladies and knew that even if you did ask politely they would always reject your request. For this reason we remained cautious and kept our cameras well hidden.
We had obviously already observed what the traditional dress for Bolivian ladies is but it was interesting to hear the rational behind it. For example, the undersized bola hats come from the fact that the Spanish tried to import hats to the indigenous men. But they wrongly assumed that because Bolivian were all short that their heads would be proportionally tiny. However, that was not the case and as the Spanish had already shipped thousands of hats in this small size, they convinced a few influential Bolivian traditional ladies that the hat balancing on top of one's head was high fashion all over Europe. The indigenous believed this and the undersized bola hat has been a permanent feature in traditional wear ever since.
Also they explained that Bolivian ladies wear the knee high skirts because they believe it accentuates a woman's best features - her wide hips and her shapely calves. It is for this reason that a single lady will have her calves exposed and her bola had worn skew, whereas a married lady will be wearing knee high socks and her bola will be worn perfectly straight.
We then went past the witches market and saw all the weird potions, lotions and dried out lama foetuses as we walked past. The guides explained that the lama foetuses are buried under the foundation of a new house, for protection and good luck. They also told us about an urban legend that hobos are scavenged from off the street, made motherlessly drunk and then buried in the front of skyscrapers for the same purposes. We hoped this was just a myth because we hadn't noticed too many homeless people roaming the streets. They also told us about a love potion called 'the follow me' potion. But it came with a warning - to make sure your aim was good because if you blew it on the wrong person or into a crowd of people you were certain to put yourself in hot water.
Lotions, potions and talismans
Can you spot the human skull?
Iglesia de San Francisco
Even though the Spanish imposed Christianity upon the indigenous, when they built their churches they still put symbols of their own gods into the decor of the churches' walls.
This is a building that allows people to abseil down it.
Our friend Violet, from Uyuni, was supposed to have joined us for the walking tour but she hadn't made it to the start. She however managed to find us along the route and join the tour. The tour went onto the main square where we were shown the Presidential Palace. The Bolivian President doesn't actually live there, but instead has a big house on the hill. The reason for this is that when Bolivian mobs get angry with presidential decisions, they tend to lay seize upon the vulnerable palace and assassinate the President in office at the time.
Joy and Violet at the flower section of Mercado Lanza.
Atop the pedestrian bridge that traditionally separated the Spanish and the Indigenous people.
The Presidential Palace
Guards posted at the gates and reporters covering the latest news
This clock has the numbers backwards and is known as the clock of the south.
This wall still has the marks of bullets after the last political uprising when many police officers lost their lives.
Pretty pink building
We ended the tour at Oliver's Travellers Pub for our free shots.
Free singani and orange juice shots
We then went with Violet to get local coffee beans and to exchange pics from Uyuni. That evening we went with her and Paul to an English pub to watch the Copa America where Peru and Paraguay were playing for third and fourth place in the cup. But before the soccer began we had just enough time to grab some dinner. We had heard on the walking tour that Bolivia claims to have the best fried chicken chain of restaurants called Copacabana Chicken - KFC apparently even tried to buy the recipe from them, so we had to test out this claim. The chicken wasn't as oily as KFC but the spice layer wasn't as thick or as tasty in our opinion, but they did have some interesting and spicy dipping sauces. At the bar we even decided to spoil ourselves and got a bottle of wine between the two of us. It was much better than our first bottle of Bolivian store bought wine but still couldn't hold a candle to our brews back home. After a lovely evening, which even included Violet reading palms and predicting futures (witches market watch out) and Peru wining 2-0, we walked Violet back to her hotel. On the way back to our abode we stumbled upon a huge music festival in one of the square. There were only really local people around but we decided to join in and try to blend in with the crowd. We did not. But for some reason the free flowing alcohol had made the Bolivians more open to foreigners and some even ended up buying us drinks and swaying together to the sounds of the brass band. We went to bed above the sound of the night club which was in full swing directly below us.
We said farewell to Paul who was on his way to Cusco. We spent the rest of the day at an Internet Cafe blogging, skyping and saving photographs. It was pouring with rain so there wasn't much else to do around town. We bumped into French Colin again classically (three times and counting...). We then geared up for the most important event of the day...The Copa America final between the favourites Argentina and Chili. We watched the match at our hostel bar area and found ourselves supporting Chili - not only because they were the underdogs but because we had actually watched them live when the soccer world cup was held in South Africa in 2010. After an admittedly boring 90mins, it ended at 0-0. Then it went to overtime, still no winner, then it went to extra time, but still no winner. It was at this point that Paul resurfaced - it turns out no buses were running that day because they had closed the roads to practice for the Pope's coming the next week. He hadn't missed much as penalty shoot outs were just about to start. To everyone's shock (and our delight) Chili won 4-1!!! After over two and half hours the match was finally over and we could leave our seats to go and eat supper. The only place that we could find open was a Chinese restaurant so it was chicken and noodles for dinner. After a satisfying dinner it was literally off to 'club bed' for us.
It was definitely a lazy Sunday for us that was just spent planing our Copa trip and our great trek through Peru to Ecuador. It was another raining and bitterly cold day in La Paz so much of our time was spent keeping warm under the blankets. Hopefully Copacabana will be warmer than this place.