Tijuana on Steroids
Trip Start Sep 07, 2011
54Trip End Dec 22, 2011
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Without warning this road comes to the cliff where La Paz proper sprawls thousands of feet below in a valley. Poor neighborhoods clinging impossibly to the cliffs plunge down off the Altiplano, and I have heard gravity gets the best of some of these precariously built homes from time to time
Downtown where I am staying squeezes into the upper valley floor at 11,975 feet and qualifies La Paz as the world's highest capital. Any walk around town involves both a steep descent and climb, and honestly after a few blocks of this both lungs and legs just say oh hell the f word no. It's a cost-benefit analysis really...the rewards of seeing beggars, dirty street vendors, run down buildings and the feeling of not being safe do not at all outweigh the costs of negotiating this mountainside Tijuana on steroids.
As much as I want to find the good in a place and say no bad things, I am just having a hard time wrapping my head around La Paz. I vaguely remember it being this way from a visit three years ago, but then again, the more I travel, the more I tire of gritty third world cities and the way people live in them
My travel buddy from Peru and I have met up again and we set out to find something edible today. In fact, I haven't had a truly memorable meal since Iquitos or Lima, and my nutritional intake is full on suffering. Food hygiene also takes a back seat in these parts due to lack of education and something else most people don't think about...because of the extreme altitudes here, water boils at a lower temperature than at sea level. Not all bacteria are killed in that boiling brew, and most visitors descend off the Altiplano with tales of intestinal woes and just how bad the food in Bolivia tastes. So far so good for me because the altitude has zapped my appetite and fatty meats and greasy pastries don't look particularly appetizing anyhow.
Our Food Quest La Paz 2011 stopped in front of a particularly dirty indigenous woman selling "fresh" pork rinds on the street, but of course with no intention of buying from her. Apart from needing a break from a 3 block ascent, what got our attention was how she so deftly picked lice out of her young daughter's thick matted hair and flicked the offenders into the sidewalk. Man what a skill she has to do that barehanded while serving up bags of rinds at the same time.
Traveling is all about learning from other cultures and scenes like this remind us to be ever so careful about what we ingest
As much as I bash on American chains encroaching on the world, La Paz is one place my buddy and I really sought the protection of all things American after lice mama's display. The Golden Arches may have given up on Bolivia a few years back, but thank God Burger King still lets all in La Paz have it their way at an outlet downhill from the main square. And have it my way is just what I did $7 later with a double whopper combo, fries, and orange Fanta, no ice of course. And yes, I supersized the hell out of that bitch and enjoyed every greasy, gut busting, bad for me calorie. What has the world come to when some La Paz Burger King brings me to new gastronomical heights and I am fawning over two beef patties of dubious animal origin as if this is something rated in a Michelin Guide?
Yes, I am glad to have stopped in La Paz since it gives my journey balance. How can we appreciate the jewels like Cartagena or the comforts of Miraflores unless we see how the other half lives. Many indigenous people come to La Paz seeking a job and then become trapped in poverty and urban blight. I feel blessed I have the money in my pocket to get out.