La Paz – Shoe shine boys and traffic chaos

We left our hotel room in Cochabamba at 8am to catch one of the many buses to La Paz only to discover that the road to La Paz was… that’s right… blocked by protests. So instead we hopped on a bus to Oruro as it is basically on the way and would be 4 hours of the 7 hour journey under our belts, putting us with striking distance as soon as the blockade lifted.

IMG_1797By 9am we were on a bus and by 1pm arrived at Oruro – a familiar sight. We checked and the road to La Paz was still blocked and no one knew if it would be open the next morning or not. Thinking that this would be like the Potosi blockade that went on for days we checked into a hotel near to the station and then went in search of some lunch. It was only half an hour later that we noticed at least 6 La Paz buses heading for the station, so we went and asked and hey presto the road had opened again. So we checked back out of the hotel and got one the first buses out at 2:30pm.

The journey to La Paz began with a wide expanse of flat land with mountains breaking each horizon and about 2 1/2 hours in we could clearly see Bolivia’s biggest mountain – Volcan Sajama at 6542m a white snow peak in the distance, it towered over everything else and we were already at over 3,500m.

IMG_1795Note: we recognise that we have a lot of scenery photos as we’re not the kind of people to go up to the locals and shove a camera in their face, so from leaving Oruro we have been trying to take some unobtrusive people shots.

We arrived in La Paz at 6pm just as the sun was setting, and avoided the dodgy taxi touts like pro travellers and headed downhill towards the centre. We soon found accommodation that accordingly to Lonely Planet was meant to be cheap but isn’t anymore (at least not by our standards), but as it was dark, we were hungry and the narrow streets outside were packed with people and market stalls we checked in for the night and went in search of food.

IMG_1785La Paz is a bustling chaotic city full of markets, internet cafes and with buses and micros clogging the streets and causing chaos – much like any large city anywhere in the world, but there are still women in traditional dress selling everything under the sun on the streets and we enjoyed the bustle and stimulation of being out after dark which we hadn’t been for a while (Cochabamba is dodgy after dark according to the local tourist office).

The next morning we moved to some cheap accommodation 5 minutes away. Having thrown our bags down we went for a coffee and planned the day’s adventures. In search of a good view of the city we walked right to the outskirts on the south of the city and apart from a spectacular view of Mount Illamani (6402m) that overlooks the city and is covered in snow at the moment there wasn’t much more to see. Since we walked downhill for over an hour we decided to catch a micro back to the centre which cost peanuts.

IMG_1798Over the next 3 days we wandered around the Artesans Market areas which contained the usual tourist stuff – but we did manage to make a few purchases. We also wandered around the so called Witches Market but there were only really a few stalls selling strange, weird and wonderful items. The market in Oruro has a whole strip of ‘witch’ stalls and far exceeded what was on display here although we saw a stuffed croc for the first time.

We visited the Coca Museum which was really interesting in that it gave a reasonably balanced picture of the well documented ‘Coca Problem’. Amongst other things it describes the traditional use of coca, the manipulation of Coca to produce Cocaine and subsidiary products such as pain relief and flavour for Coca Cola.

The Cathedral and Plaza Murillo, where the Presidential Palace is, are both impressive to look at – if nothing else for their pristine appearance. What was more interesting was the high presence of fully kitted riot police and numerous TV journalists hanging around. Earlier in the day we witnessed a miners march down the Prado and as the president, Evo Morales left the Presidential Palace in a swift well rehearsed multiple car escort there were a few shouts but nothing major.

IMG_1791Of course we also explored the markets, Marie loves going out and being able to buy everything off the streets, and we visited Calle Jaen which is La Paz’s best colonial street, although it was very short.

Since we won’t be in Bolivia for much longer we took advantage of how cheap it is and stocked up on necessities like toothpaste (don’t think between us we are carrying any luxuries), got all our laundry done and we got bargain haircuts (both for NZ$8) as there are a pile of salons right outside our accommodation. Emma’s was easy as we can say ‘shave all over with number 2’ in Spanish, for Marie’s we asked for a trim and its pretty short now, but surprisingly looks ok since the guy lifted up big chunks and cut straight across…

Tomorrow morning we’re off to what will be our last stop in Bolivia, Copacabana.

Observations:

  • The zebra crossings (where they exist) have people dressed as zebras to help you cross
  • People sell anything on the buses here from Saltenas to newspapers to God by getting on at one town off at the next.
  • The coca museum curators have found the cure for drug addiction. It’s the only cure available despite the therapies and technologies, medications of the modern world.
    Very simple – God. Nothing else works apparently
  • Micros here have an assistant who hangs their head out of the window shouting its destination at high speed and trying to drum up customers
  • Shoe shine boys here wear hats and balaclavas, accordingly to LP this is to hide their identities to avoid social stigma

Click on any image to enlarge and scroll through


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