Life on the inside

Trip Start Oct 23, 2008
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Trip End Mar 01, 2009


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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Sunday, February 1, 2009

Ive become a little behind in the blogging of my epic adventures in Bolivia I'm afraid so all you fans out there I'm sorry if Ive disappointed you!  ;)
What a lot to do see and experience in Bolivia. I feel I have so much to say, so many experiences to remember and many amazing people Ive met over the last few weeks. There's just too much going on!
But to come back to where I was a week or two ago and go form there is a good place to start.
There are a few pictures of Copacabana, a small border town just on the Bolivian side of the Peruvian border where myself, Nikki and Claire stopped off for a night and were re united with Frenchie! It was a funny little place - a sort of Bolivian equivalent of the Costa Del Sol and not really a true reflection of Bolivia at all but none the less a pleasant place to stop for the night, eat some trout and climb a pilgrimage trial to watch the sunset before heading onto LaPaz the following day. A strange little bus ride where it was necessary to get out of the boat while its taken across the lake on a very dubious looking device and we got a little motor boat across.
Into La Paz and into the arms of political unrest, demonstrations, riot barriers on every street, copious police and a ban on all alcohol and the closure of everything from the Thurs to the Mon due to a referendum. Not really the sort of atmosphere thats most desirable when in a South American capital city! So we took some photos (mainly of the Witches market and the bizarre traffic wardens who dress up as Zebras!), booked a biking trip and jungle tours for the weekend and decided to check out the San Pedro prison in La Paz! Hence the name of this blog!

Ive often wondered what the inside of a prison would be like and so I got my curiosity quashed last week in a particularly bizarre few hours!
There was a group of about 6 of us and as we wandered into the main square of the city (also where the prison happens to be) we were pounced on by a very business mannered South African woman who laid out all the rules and regulations and told us to follow her into her office inside the prison where all the "details" would be sorted out. ie. the money aspect of this little visit! So were ushered into the prison past all the guards and police and taken into this tiny office where were told to hide our cameras and that wed have to tip the guide if we wanted to take pictures, that it would be 250 Bols each and wed have to tip the guide at the end. Oh and if the guards found our cameras, they'd either be taken off us or simply delete all the pics. Great - so not only do you have to watch out for all the convicts inside but also the guards!
But on we went. We were introduced to our guide - a Portuguese man done for trying to smuggle drugs. He'd been in there for 7 months with an undetermined time left. Undetermined meaning subject to money and bribery. The whole place is the most corrupt institution Ive ever been in and I really felt that morally I shouldn't be in there. As by simply being in there you are supporting corruption and yet at the same time there are so many wives and children in there (as if the men have sentences longer than 10 years their families are allowed to live in there too) that you feel supporting them is necessary and yet it all seems so wrong. I was really in two minds about the whole going in there thing and to be honest still am.
The whole place operated solely on money. You go in, have to buy your cell, you can pay more for a nicer cell or a bigger one if your family is there too. The inmates have TVs in their rooms, restaurants and shops in the prison, computers, their families, football and most importantly for most of them an unlimited supply to coke. If prisoners go in with no money and cant afford a cell they are simply killed a lot of the time by others inmates and if you kill another inside you simply get another year added to your sentence. Its crazy.
They are pretty much free to do what they want inside as long as they report in twice a day and many once given their freedom want to stay as they reckon they have a better quality of life inside and can make more money than they would if they had their freedom!
Its such a bizarre experience to be in there, walking around with convicts and killers and watching them have a relatively normal life inside their city within a city. It really is its own little world in there and its a scary place.
One inmate was killed 2 weeks ago - I would imagine over drugs and so the killer was removed to the mountains for 2 weeks to be kept in isolation. Its just bizarre that you're there walking in and among all these people and ever your guide and body guards are convicts. 
My favorite bit (in hindsight) was come the end of the tour we were taken  into this little room and the door locked behind us with 6 prisoners. We then sorted out the logistics of tipping the guide and tipping for our cameras and then the drug dealers stepped forward wanting to know how many people wanted to buy or do either coke or dope in the prison! There was then a bit of a giggle among the prisoners when they pointed out we were already in prison so it couldn't get any worse! Luckily everyone from our group declined and we were checked out of the bizarre little place and ticked off the list! The brands we had received on entry still intact on you arms reminding our selves that for a short space of time we were nothing more than another number inside a Bolivian prison!
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Comments

pipparush
pipparush on

am glad you are back on the outside .....
how extraordinary .... what more can you experience? Its hard to beat being offered coke and dope inside a Bolivian jail - that is definitely an experience not many young girls could say they have encountered (very glad you declined by the way!!!). Incredible photos .... well done ..... we have to do something about all this to get you published.
Can you do something saner for a while?
Love,
Mum XXXX

petutschnigg
petutschnigg on

microcosm
Off school today and tomorrow, the south east has more or less come to a standstill and all because we are unable to deal with about 20cm of snow. Hence, a forced day at home but everything looks rather pretty. I can't even fly your mother over here for a good snowball fight, all the airports are in serious trouble too, and so are the trains, the tube, the busses .......so your blog was a most welcome read! I am trying to respond on this computer again - see if the snow UNBLOCKED a few things! I have never been 'inside' and intend to keep it that way but your visit to such an incredibly corrupt environment has to be experienced to be believed. Somehow I get the impression that the prisoners think their abode is a feature of any normal sightseeing tour. Can't fault them for their confidence.

Great photos again Ciara! As always, take great care!
Love
Joe

pipparush
pipparush on

Re: microcosm
I don't know WHY he would want another snow ball fight - as the last one we had - in austria - he lost seriously badly as I landed one fair and square down his back!!!

petutschnigg
petutschnigg on

winter wonderland
........there are times when you just have got to let things happen .......just wait for a bit of snow in the Kiwi mountains! 2 against one - so what!
Joe

a_morshed
a_morshed on

the answer that could never be found
charming- you were offered coke! and that's a tourist attraction- perfectly normal for them to offer coke and heroin to people. what a place to be! if that was ever even thought of happening in one of our irish prisons the people would be screwed!! once again you're showing how different life is everywhere you go

no-seno-se
no-seno-se on

Finally catching up on the blog!!
Oh my god, how amazing!!! The prison sounded really good, love the pictures of the numbers on your arms. Can't believe they just get an extra year for killing someone inside!! The prison sounds quite homely actually!

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