Sunday, 27 April 2014

Snow in La Paz

Before we came to Bolivia, I'd heard stories that anything could happen here. It was the place where the police and government were so corrupt that enough money can make anyone turn a blind eye to anything. The rest of Bolivia had seemed pretty safe, and I was expecting the noisy, dirty city sat in a bowl of mountains to be a proper glimpse at what can happen.

The first thing that hit me about La Paz when we got off the bus early in the morning was how chilly it was. Not surprising as it's just over 3,500m high. Not just does it mean that it's cold. but it also leaves you breathless having to walk up hills! Next, was the amount of cars and traffic, always impatiently honking their horns!
La Paz
La Paz
We planned to stay at two different hostels in La Paz. We stayed at Bacoo our first night to recollect our energy, and then The Wild Rover for the last 3 nights, which is known as the party hostel of the town. Bacoo was ok, the room felt like we were staying in a garden shed, but the staff were incredibly friendly. The Wild Rover is an Irish themed hostel, centered around the bar which gives free shots and there's guaranteed dancing on the tables whatever night of the week it was. Undoubtedly, we left feeling a lot more tired than when we started! We asked for a room at the back, away from the bar, which I would recommend if you want to try and get a bit of sleep. The food in the bar was also pretty good and cheap - my first jacket potato in 3 months!
La Paz
La Paz
Unfortunately, Bacoo was fully booked and couldn't let us into our room until the afternoon, so we had a lots of time to fill. We started by getting breakfast at Alexander's coffee. It was a nice dose of breakfast that wasnt just a bread roll and jam. I had fruit pancakes and Nick had an omelette.
La Paz
Feeling like we had a little energy to face the day, we walked up the first of our many hills in La Paz to the San Pedro square to do the free walking tour with Red Cap. The first place we visited was probably the most interesting. The guide pointed to one of the buildings that faced onto the square and explained that it was San Pedro Prison, one of Bolivia's strangest prisons. There are about a million reasons that make this prison so different to those in England, and to get a better idea I'd recommend reading the book Marching Powder by Rusty Young. It tells the story of an English man who was imprisoned there maybe 10 years ago and what happened to him. It's not the most well written book, but it's interesting. The guide spoke about families living together in the prison, as often the women and children wouldn't be able to survive on their own. Every morning the wives and children leave to go to school and work, and return in the evening. The prisoners are made to buy their own cell when they enter the prison, depending on your budget there are simple cells where lots of people sleep together, to private 5 star aparments with wifi. Inside the prison walls the prisoners ran their own businesses so there are lots of shops and restaurants, and many of them still continue in the line of business they were locked up for, making drugs. Very strange indeed!

Next we headed through the market and saw just of the view of the 400 varities of potatoes they have in Bolivia. Next was the witch market. I expected a dark, covered place with boiling pots and pickled jars of things that used to be alive, but the market was actually a row of shops. The strangest thing they had on sale were the llama fetus'. The guide explained that because the people still believe in the old gods of Pachamama, they still sometimes do rituals and offerings. They could buy wine, sweets and herbs for their Mother Earth. There was a man sat on the floor in the corner of the street who was the chief witch doctor and could communicate with Pachamama. I couldn't take any photos as the ladies at these markets don't take kindly to their photos being taken and often throw things at tourists who do!

Next, we walked to the modern part of town and the guide explained the troubled past of Bolivia and it's presidents. I couldn't help but notice that the amount of names of presidents who had been hung, or the guide would like to hang was incredibly long!

That evening we treated ourselves to an Indian meal, which I find I always have a taste for. We went to The Star of India, which is owned by a British cook. The food was really good and it made me feel even happier that they had Irn Bru, a sugary Scottish drink that tastes so good!

The following day we were up super early as we had booked with Altitude to do a tour of the Death Road, one of the most dangerous roads in Bolivia, by bike. We sat in reception for what felt like an incredibly long time before I asked the lady at the hostel if it was normal for the pick up to be over an hour late. She called the office and it turned out that they had forgotten about us. At first we were a little annoyed as it could have potentially meant we had to reschedule other tours, but the company were so sorry that they came to pick us up, asked what they could do to say sorry, and so paid for us to go on another tour to the ruins of Tiwanaku and rescheduled our bike trip. It actually worked out really well as it saved us a lot of money!

Tiwanaku was a really fun day. Our guide was pretty funny and it was a good chance to practise our Spanish. He made us take his contact details as he told us that he was after an English girlfriend, so if there're any ladies out there, Victor is single and ready to mingle! The saddest thing about these ruins was the fact that the temple had been completely in tact until the Spanish came along and decided to build a church in the village using the stone of the temple.
La Paz
La Paz
La Paz
La Paz
La Paz
La Paz
Our last couple of days in La Paz were spent having lots of fun in the bar at the Wild Rover, trying the local food in the markets, doing souvenir shopping and cycling the Death Road.
La Paz
La Paz
This was one of my favourite experiences in Bolivia, except for the Salar De Uyuni Tour. We had a great group of people and all managed to finish in one piece. The road used to be the main road from La Paz to the jungle, but as there were so many accidents, it was closed and a safer road built, leaving it free for cyclists to zoom down. There were tight bends, riding through water falls and it all finished with a meal and a cold beer by the pool before heading back into town.
Death Road Bike Ride
Death Road Bike Ride
Death Road Bike Ride
Death Road Bike Ride
Death Road Bike Ride alt="Death Road Bike Ride">
We left the next day for Lake Titicaca and as we drove high into the mountain, we could look back into the city. It was so high that snow covered the road! Despite the cold, the altitude and the darker side of the city, I really enjoyed our stay here and felt like we learnt alot more about Bolivia.





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