Christmas in La Paz

Trip Start Nov 17, 2010
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Trip End Feb 27, 2011


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Where I stayed
Hostal Estrella Andina La Paz
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of Bolivia  ,
Saturday, December 25, 2010

24/12/2010 - Saturday
We were the only gringos on the bus, and there were locals sitting in the middle of the aisle.  Lucky that we bought our tickets early!  After leaving Arica, we began climbing the steep roads that wound over the Altiplano, the widest part of the Andes, past the town of Putre and as we gained altitude the landscape changed drastically - there were plenty of large lagoons, lakes, volcanos and mountains.  It was one of the most amazing drives I've experienced.

Because we were going from sea-level in Arica to above 3000 metres, we did begin to experience signs of altitude sickness.  We had taken half a pill of altitude sickness prevention medicine (we were prescibed it back at home), however Oliver felt a bit nauseaus and I was feeling a bit drowsy, but not too bad.

About 10 minute before the border crossing into Bolivia we stopped behind a huge line of traffic, but for whatever reason our bus driver decided to drive on the wrong side of the road and charged all the way to the border, bypassing probably an hour of traffic jams.  The border crossing was relatively painless, we had to lug our bags all the way back to the bus but it was all quite quick.

A few hours more of driving and we experienced what we had heard so much about Bolivian buses - a breakdown.  The bus had stopped about 300 metres from what looked like a road toll booth.  At first we didn't mind, it was a chance to get out and breathe some fresh air, stretch our legs, use the bathroom... but after the first hour we were still sitting in the same spot on the road and it was beginning to get dark.  After the second hour, another bus pulled up to try fix our bus.  After the third our, most of the locals had already hopped into minivans and we were the only ones left on the bus, apart from two other locals.

Eventually the bus cranked back to life, and it turns out we were 10 minutes out from El Alto, the city above La Paz.  The first views of La Paz as we drove down the road leading into the city were fantastic, unfortunately I couldn't get any nice photos as it was really bumpy, but it was truly an amazing sight.  Another hour later and we arrived at La Paz bus terminal at 10pm.

Because of the altitude sickness we decided to get a taxi to the hostel - usually we would try walk there.  Unfortunately, because it was Christmas Eve many of the streets, including the one our hostel was located on, was closed and set up with stalls. We ended up walking to our hostel with our backpacks, huffing and puffing due to not being used to the thin air, and travelling for over 36 hours.  I'm sure some of the locals out shopping were also not impressed with being smacked with our backpacks while we tried to navigate our way through the crowd.

At 11pm we arrived at Hostal Estrella Andina, which turned out to be a pretty fancy schmancy hotel, and checked into our room.  We decided since it was Christmas we would treat ourselves, and for $15AUD a night we booked a three bed private room with a TV and bathroom.  It was seriously better than some 3 star hotels I've stayed at in the past, except it didn't cost $100 a night.  I was loving Bolivia already!

25/12/2010 - Sunday
Merry Christmas!  Feeling very lethargic due to both the effects of travelling and the altitude, we went outside to find a place for Christmas Lunch.  We ended up at an Italian restaurant, and had Llama pepper steak, which wasn't too bad.  Afterwards we went back to the room and watched movies.  An eventful day.

26/12/2010 - Monday
We kept in contact with some Aussies that we met in Mendoza, and they told us of a guy who could get us tours of San Pedro Prison, so we made some enquiries and were told to meet outside a shop in the centre of La Paz.

We walked down the main road until we found the shop, and there were already many other gringo backpackers there waiting.  Along the way we passed many fried chicken shops.

I noticed that there were a lot more of the minivans driving around instead of taxis, and they always had a young boy yelling out the window of the locations that the vans were going to.  I guess it is like a smaller, cheaper version of a bus.

Having read the book Marching Powder by Rusty Young, visiting San Pedro prison has always been high up on my list of things to see in South America

Our 'guide' lead us to the side door of the prison, where we entered after being let in by guard with big guns.  We were briefed in a small room just inside, told not to bring in any cameras or mobile phones, and paid the entry fee. (600 bolivianos - around $80AUD).  Surprisingly they didn't say that we couldn't bring in guns, knives, grenades etc...

Once inside it was just as I had envisioned when I read the book - a large courtyard filled with plastic Coca-Cola signs, families eating lunch, prisoners walking around.  We were in the 'rich' part of the prison, where mostly gringos and political prisoners are held.  For most of the tour we sat in a cell and heard the story of a man named Stephan, a German drug dealer that operated out of the Netherlands and was caught with a kilo of cocaine flying out of Bolivia.

After we left the prison we headed back to the hotel room and watched a few more movies, then went to bed.

This blog has been featured on a travel site called REAL Hostel Work! They help secure hostel jobs for travellers who want to live and work in South America, check them out here: http://www.realhostelwork.com/.

My Review Of The Place I Stayed



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