La Paz in Depth

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


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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Thursday, October 11, 2007

Feeling that we needed to get more out of La Paz, we took an all day walking tour with "La Paz on Foot."  La Paz on Foot is an organization started by an American living in Bolivia with his wife and children.  We wished there were tours like this in every city!  (www.lapazonfoot.org). 

We started the day at the "top" of La Paz in a growing suburban area called El Alto.  El Alto is at the top of the canyon and looks down into the La Paz valley.  The neighborhood, with a population of 1 million is growing quickly, and houses are literally hanging off the top of the canyon.  El Alto is considered a middle class neighborhood and houses many of the immigrants from the countryside that want to find work in the "big city."  There are five major avenues that run from El Alto down into La Paz.  These represent significant bus lines, as most of the population buses to and from work.  An interesting fact we learned about El Alto is the organization and strength of all the local unions.  Although the area looks extremely chaotic (as do many developing countries for that matter...) most of the citizens are associated with some kind of neighborhood association or union that pushes a political agenda.  The municipalities in Bolivia are not very strong in terms of representative government, so neighborhoods often have to take matters into their own hands and organize protests and blockades in order to realize "progress."

The other interesting factoid we learned was regarding the use of dummies.  A few times driving around La Paz, we have seen dummies of men hung on properties.  My first thought was that this was some kind of a political statement...the working man is still in chains, blah, blah, blah.  But really, the dummies are used to ward off would-be thieves.  The dummies are supposed to demonstrate to the thieves that if you rob this property, this is what will happen to you.  Not sure how effective that is...

From El Alto, we could see the entire La Paz valley, the "river" and, most spectacularly, the mountains ringing the city.  The Cordillera mountain range is adjacent to La Paz and it represents 7 peaks over 6,000 meters.  The views of the snow capped mountain peaks are amazing.

We made our way through El Alto and started our descent toward central La Paz.  The purpose of La Paz on Foot is to expose travelers to the non-touristy side of La Paz, including all the various neighborhoods, green space, and the contrast between the working class areas and the very affluent southern neighborhoods.  We stopped for a snack and were treated to a local fruit called, "Moco, moco" fruit, or the more formal name Grenadina Fruit.  If you know what "moco" means in Spanish, you´ll understand the picture more...

Our descent to central La Paz included going through La Paz´s "mercado" which is basically a series of streets selling different types of goods.  For example, there was the electronic street - selling TVs, DVD players, cell phones, etc.  There was also the furniture street, the shoe street, the clothes street and the more typical fruits and veggie streets.

The "cholitas" in La Paz really run the mercado area.  Cholitas are indigenous woman who choose to live in the cities (versus the farm lands) but maintain their traditional dress.  And cholita fashion changes all the time.  The "typical" dress includes an Italian bowler hat, worn high on the head (without pins or any type of fastener), pleated skirts, a shirt and sweater, nylons and shoes.  Apparently, cholita fashion changes constantly - and the materials, number of pleats, etc. will communicate to anyone where one stands on the social scale.  The cholita merchandise is really the most interesting.  Twice we tried to get pictures, but twice we were quite rudely told to leave.  We always asked first, but what the cholitas want, the cholitas get.

After cruising through the market area we made our way to a beautiful little part which was in the southern part of downtown.  Apparently, this park is a popular resting spot for newly married La Paz couples who have made there way (following the ceremony) across the Ave of the Americas bridge to the park.  It was definitely a serene spot to rest our feet.




We ended the tour by walking through the city´s newest green space, which was really a series of green parkways adjacent to the main thoroughfare that linked various neighborhoods to the south.  One of the parks included a large exhibit of public art that changes constantly. 


We stopped in San Martin, an area of the city that reminded us a lot more of Los Angeles than La Paz.  Definitely one of the more wealthy areas, with a lot of tweenies bopping around trying to look like adults.

Either way, it was a very complete tour of La Paz - and we were exhausted by the end!
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