La Paz

Trip Start Aug 16, 2003
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Trip End Apr 21, 2004


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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Sunday, April 4, 2004

The scenery for the first three hours of the journey from Oruro to La Paz was pretty unremarkable, however, once we had driven through the rather sad sight of the sprawling slum of El Alto, we caught our first glimpse of the world's highest capital city nestled several hundred feet below us in a vast valley. It was quite a spectacular sight as we wound our way down the mountain and Dan and I were glad that the bus had emptied sufficiently to allow us to jump into seats which afforded a better view.

Due to the extremely steep streets in La Paz, and the seemingly constant expansion of our rucksacks, we wasted no time in hailing a taxi to take us to Hotel Sagarnaga where we duly checked into a pretty decent room for the next three nights. We were extremely impressed with the view from our window which looked right out across the city to the snowy triple peak of Mount Illimani beyond.

We decided to go straight out and acquaint ourselves with La Paz and quickly realised that although not easy to get lost in the city (you simply head downhill as all the streets eventually lead downwards to the main avenue which runs the length of the valley), it is certainly very easy to lose your breathe! A combination of the altitude and the steep, cobbled streets meant that we were frequently left gasping for air.

As we wandered around the Plaza Murillo area, which is home to the National Congress, Presidential Palace and cathedral, we couldn't help but notice, with a shiver, the blown out windows of one of the government buildings which had been bombed the previous day and was now cordoned off to pedestrians.

Having spent the last few weeks out in the middle of nowhere, we both felt a minor degree of culture shock as we struggled to get used to the intense hustle and bustle of the city. It was quite a feat to negotiate a path along the narrow streets heaving with people. Moreover, the constant traffic congestion and irrate, horn blasting drivers meant that when crossing the road you really did take your life into your own hands! For a while I felt as if I was back in Bangkok!

Following a quick snack and another round of photo taking, we made our way back to Calle Sagarnaga. Before making it up the hill to our hotel, however, we got waylaid by the numerous gift stalls and ended up buying more bits and pieces to increase our luggage load still further. We were fascinated by the 'witches market' where the street vendors were attempting to pedal all manner of weird and wonderful items from love potions to preserved animal carcasses!

That evening we decided to dine at La Paz's reputedly best international restaurant. As we rounded the corner of the street and spotted the doorman at the very posh looking Restaurant Vienna (www.restaurantvienna.com), I had to make Dan wait until I tried to make myself look semi-respectable. With no smart clothes in my possession (certainly not suitable for the cold high-altitude nights) I quickly whipped off my sweatshirt and tried my best to hide my trainers with my flared trousers. Our meal and the accompanying service was superb and a pisco sour aperitif, a few glasses of wine and a couple more after-dinner liqueurs had the desired effect in helping me to stop worrying about my scruffy appearance!

The following morning we gave up trying to find the bus we needed and ended up taking a taxi to the zoo just outside La Paz. Arriving just before opening time, we were delighted to have the whole place almost to ourselves. As we wandered around the deserted zoo we saw a number of animals that are indigenous to Bolivia including llamas, deer, alpaca, foxes, pumas, jaguars, condors, vultures, monkeys, parrots, pigs and snakes. Probably the highlight for us both was watching the monkeys getting fed. As one group of them received their food, we watched with amusement as their cousins in the neighbouring enclosure did their best to make as much noise as they could to attract the attention of the zoo keepers and ensure that they too were fed asap. Many of the cheeky little chappies picked up rocks and proceeded to bang them against their cage - it was a very funny sight.

Although the zoo wasn't one of the best we've come across, it was nevertheless a very pleasant way to spend a few hours and the surrounding view of the mountain peaks with the city way below in the valley was pretty special.

After grabbing some drinks, we jumped on a bus which took us back up the road to the Valle de la Luna. This is a superb spectacle of bizarrely eroded rock pinnacles and canyons (technically known as 'Badlands'). It was an amazing sight and we thoroughly enjoyed our walk around the attraction. At one stage Dan asked if I could hear a buzzing noise - I could, and indeed it was getting louder. As we turned around, to my alarm, we spotted the ominous sight of a huge swarm of bees flying right towards us. I quickly put my hood up and asked Dan what on earth we should do - the thought of multiple stings suddenly filled my mind. Dan replied that we should just stay really still...that's what we did and a few seconds later as the cloud descended on us, it was with huge relief that I watched them continue on their way right over our heads.

Back in the city we found ourselves drawn to the market stalls again where we spent the remainder of the afternoon buying a few more presents.

With the exception of the superlative Restaurant Vienna, we came to the conclusion that, for a capital city, La Paz really does not have a great selection of eateries, when after wandering for over an hour and a half we still couldn't find a half decent place to have an evening meal. In the end we settled for a little cafe which was okay but nothing special - although I must declare that the cherry cocktails I had were very good!

A little more shopping was on the agenda the following morning as we browsed around some of the shopping malls on El Prado (the main thoroughfare). We paused at one point to buy a couple of presents at one of the many street stalls and when Dan asked me if I had any change left, I reached into my bag, only for my hand to appear straight out the other side of it. With alarm I realised that my canvas shoulder bag had been slashed and my wallet stolen. I was now minus two credit cards and short of around 200 pounds!

Straight away I thought I knew exactly when the theft had occurred...Minutes earlier on the extremely busy street I had been barged by a large, middle-aged lady (at the time I assumed it was simply due to the throngs of people around) however, in retrospect I'm quite sure that while she was holding me up, her accomplice was getting to work on my bag (I didn't feel a thing though!). Dan actually remembered seeing an older lady with a young lad hanging around on the street and then suddenly moving very quickly into the crowd as we approached. We're both pretty convinced that these were the thieves.

We were extremely grateful to the incredibly helpful street vendor who, upon realising what had happened, went out of his way to make sure that we got to the police station as quickly as possible. The next hour or so was spent obtaining an official crime report so that I could claim on the insurance.

Had it not been for the fact that I was so angry at myself for being a victim to a scam which I have been warned so much about, it would have actually been quite an amusing experience as we used mime and sign language to get our message across to the non-English speaking policeman. Half way through relaying our story, as the policeman typed his report, painfully slowly with one finger, on an ancient typewriter, we were interrupted when around twenty, very dodgy looking boys and men were led into the room. They had just been rounded up off the streets and we watched as they were subsequently searched one by one. Dan was instructed to survey the motley bunch to see if he could spot the lad who he thought had robbed me. Sadly none of the faces fit, however, as we agreed later, any one of them was probably equally capable of such a common crime and on another day it may well have been one of them!

The next few frustrating hours were spent trying to get though to my bank to cancel my cards. Eventually, after trying a number of different phones and after several conversations with international telephone operators, I managed to get through to the right people and successfully stopped my cards. We've now been forced to rely on the one remaining functioning credit card belonging to Dan - lets hope we can get by on that for the last few weeks!

Despite neither of us feeling much like it after the events of the day, we spent what was left of the afternoon finishing our gift shopping.

After a pretty bad day, we ended up having a fantastic night at a nearby Pena Restaurant where we watched a brilliant show of Bolivian music and dance. We were also able to sample some typical Bolivian fare - Dan learnt that he has quite a taste for llama! Whilst enjoying a few drinks, we were highly entertained by a great group of dancers who were accompanied throughout the night by three different bands, all of which included some incredibly talented musicians. Whilst the footwork of the dancers may not be quite as intricate as demanded by many other forms of dance, the exuberant energy of the performers coupled with the stunningly detailed and ornate costumes makes for a truly spectacular overall show. Many of the dances portrayed the story of historical myths and tales and I was quite surprised, although very pleased, that Dan praised the show as much as I did. We topped the night off with a shot of tequila each, poured from a huge glass bottle containing a rattlesnake!

Waking up with a bit of a sore head after a few too many rums the night before (the measures here are very generous!), I was none too pleased when Dan insisted that he was going back to El Prado to have a look for the duo who stole my wallet. With visions of me having to visit Dan in a Bolivian prison, I was extremely relieved when he returned an hour or so later and hadn't had any luck!

We checked out of the hotel and eventually, after a number of failed attempts, we managed to get a taxi to take us through the most congested part of the city to the station for buses bound for Copocabana.

La Paz is situated in a stunning location and we really enjoyed our stay here. It is just a great shame that I will always associate it with having my purse stolen and unfortunately that put a bit of a cloud over our visit.

Andrea and Dan
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Comments

Amandan on

It's really funny, our name on our blog is Amandan for Amanda and Dan, and we're also thinking about going to Bolivia. Ha. And Dan is from Reading, PA, USA. HA! Here's our blog http://teetotaledattwentysix.blogspot.com/.

Tuppence Magazine on

Glad you managed to avoid prison. Although, apparently you could have visited San Pedro, if the book Marching Powder is anything to go by. There's even going to be a Marching Powder film soon, by Brad Pitt's production company.

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