La Paz

Trip Start Nov 05, 2006
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Trip End Jan 14, 2008


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Friday, October 5, 2007

Our first full day in La  Paz:

We set out to explore the historico area around our hotel, which is conveniently located next to the "Witches Market," and the "Museo de Coca".   The Witches Market is a collection of small vendors, mostly old women from the Aymara tribe selling anything from clothing, to charms to ward off evil spirits, to my personal favorite, the dead fetus of a llama.  There are a wide variety of sizes and maturity phases of the llama fetus available.  Why would you want a dead llama fetus?  Well, to bury under the corner of a building being constructed of course!   This will appease the spirits and bring luck.  The "witches" are all clad in their indigenous clothing and adorn themselves with status symbols like gold stars on their teeth.  Quite friendly if you are polite and willing to shop, but quasi-hostile if you try and take their pictures  without a purchase.  We purchased a collection of "charms" and spent an hour in the Museo de Coca.   

The Museo de Coca is a museum dedicated to educate on the legitimate uses  and the exploitation of the Coca plant.   The underlying message here is "Coca isnīt evil, Western manīs   abuse of coca is evil". The museum has a great history of how the Coca plant has prompted advances in anesthesia and the manner in which it's used by indigenous peoples (chewing the leaves and used for tea which incidentally is legal and the recommended remedy for altitude sickness) as well as a section on the exploitation and it's present use for the illegal manufacturing of cocaine.  It is ironic that the United States whoīs government proclaimed it "evil," is responsible for more than 50% of the consumption of itīs illegal useage.  This is nothing new though, historically, the plant was condemned by the church only to be subsequently condoned  because it made more productive workers in the mines for the Spanish colonial efforts.  It's funny how morality can be bought for the right price.  It was also interesting to see an advertisement (from years ago) by Merck touting the quality and benefits of their cocaine compared to those of their competitors. Based on the information at the museum, the #1 purchaser of legal coca today is still the Coca Cola company.  Used for flavor only of course.  The museum gives a very different take on coca than you might see on CNN.

We finished up at the museum and booked our trip to mountain bike  "The Death Road".   Having both  done "The Death Ride," this seemed like a logical next step.  The death road is also known as the most dangerous road in the world.  Previously used for regular vehicular traffic with an average of one car over the cliff every other week, the road is used less for motor vehicles now and provides great cycling opportunities.  No stats are available on the number of adrenaline junkies that fly over the side though.  The winding road descends from La Paz, hugging a cliff with a 3,800 foot sheer drop off the side.  

Evening brought us to a great restaurant and our first exposure to Bolivian wine.  Stick with the beer if you visit!  This is the first time Iīve sent a bottle back immediately upon tasting it.  I assumed the yeasty, rotten flavor of the wine (a Syrah) was the result of a contaminated cork.  Oh no, this is not the case!  The second bottle had the same "distinctive" flavor.   Reluctant to insult our Bolivian hosts with a second return, we decided to suffer through it although I was still not convinced the entire case hadnīt been cooked.  Laura's eves dropping on the wait staff confirmed that this is the correct flavor.   Yes, Bolivian wine is in the running for the worst wine in the world!  We struggled through it, happy that our food overpowered the flavor and hopeful that the effects of the alcohol would improve the taste.   After dinner, our 'hood came alive at night with a party for Mary (yes, THAT Mary...the patron saint of Mexico and savior of the drowing in Banos!) This brought out all the locals with their fire water (served hot from carts in the street,) along with fire works and bands that lasted until the early hours of the morning. We ventured out briefly from the hotel walking into a smoky wasteland of trash piles, burnt up fire works and really drunk Bolivians.  I felt like an uninvited guest whoīd arrived four hours too late  to the party.  They werenīt unfriendly, rather they were all on a completly different level of inebriation.  As luck would have it, this was just a warm up for the real Mary party the next day so weīll get a second chance to party with the locals.  As I write, the street is filled with vendors and residents are lining up to watch the parade.  Alcohol is everywhere.  It should be a wild party.  
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