Sleepless in La Paz

Trip Start Jul 10, 2010
1
19
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Trip End Nov 30, 2010


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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

So the last time I left off I was in Sucre and we were planning to leave for La Paz. Guilleume, Nina and I got the night bus for 12 hours and woke up as we approached La Paz city - and what an incredible sight it is. The city is built in a huge valley on the top of a mountain, and as you enter over the lip into the valley you are given a panoramic view of the whole city. It is home to around 2 and a half million people and is the highest capital city in the world (apparently).

Nina was still ill and the altitude in La Paz didn't help - she has asthma and took a funny turn in the bus station, so they sought out a quiet hostel to stay in, whilst I decided to stay in one of the popular busy hostels called Wild Rover. This hostel is huge and has a very backpacker/party scene, with am Irish bar, staff from all over the world, and huge English breakfasts! Within 30 minutes of sitting in the bar (I was waiting for my room to be ready, not having a drink at 8:30am!) a girl came and sat with me at my table and we started chatting. Her name is Neha and she is originally from Kenya but now lives in London. We got on well immediately and she told me about a trek to the north of Bolivia that was leaving the next day and she encouraged me to join in. We went straight to the tour office and I bought a ticket to join her and 7 others on a 6 day tour through the jungle of the amazon basin and out into the pampas.

After booking the tour, Neha and I went out to check out the markets in La Paz - the main market is called the Witches Market (because of its more unusual items) and it sells all kinds of normal tourist fare, like jewellry, scarves, llama wool hats, etc. But is also has some really strange additions that are linked to Aymara rituals, such as dried baby llamas (which are supposed to encourage the goddesses to protect people from accidents and bring good luck to businesses!) I bought a few bits and bobs but stayed away from the dried small animals! Something tells me I would have to declare that in the UK!

As we walked along the market, we stopped to look at some jewellry being sold by a Bolivian guy on the street. The earrings were gorgeous and I bought some whilst be explained about his craft and even made us some broaches as we stood there. I think he seemed really happy that we had bothered to stop and talk to him - he was only in his mid-twenties and seemed very sweet. He asked Neha and I if we would like to go for a drink with him, so we said OK. He packed up his stall there and then (no official working hours in Bolivia!) and we went to a local cafe where he ordered beers and we chatted for a while. He got out a flute/recorder thing and played us a few songs - he even demonstrated some Bolivian dancing. I got a video of him singing, which I hope to post up here. It was a very random but lovely way to spend an afternoon in La Paz!

That night we went back to the hostel and a full scale party was beginning in the Irish bar (shocker!) - we decided to stay and have a few drinks. We started chatting to some guys who were half French, half Bolivian and the hours seemed to pass very quickly. Before we knew it, it was 2am and the bar was closing - but the staff and the guys we were with asked us to go on to a night club, so we went along. At this point I should probably mention that our tour to the jungle was beginning at 5am! The first nightclub had a Brazilian-style drumming band playing and we stayed for a few hours. Then we moved on to another place called Blue and were ushered quickly into a back room of a small white building that looked like someone´s house. After a while we decided that it was getting a little late and our tour would be picking us up in the next half an hour. But the doorman had different ideas. He said we couldnt leave because the police were outside. Turns out that nightclubs after a certain hour in La Paz are illegal (we had no idea!) and he wouldnt let us leave. We begged him for around 20 mins and then he eventually got sick of us and let us go.

We got a taxi and made it back to the hostel by 4:40am - leaving us 20minutes to pack our bags and shower before the trip began. The bus arrived and we jumped on to meet some of our fellow travellers. This included a couple from NZ (Grant and Debbie), a couple from Ireland who I had previously met in Sucre (Catrina and Roy), a couple from Finland who were friends of Neha (Irina and Asko), and two girls from Austria (Andrea and Sophia).

We set off on a nightmare journey down from the dizzy heights of La Paz to a small town called Guruy, where we would meet the long boat that would transport us to the north. The bus took a trecherous road down to Guruy - it was gravelled and bumpy, and had a sheer drop of hundreds of feet down one side. We were passing other trucks and cars, squeezing past each other on the narrow road, and all of us were holding our breath and closing our eyes. 7 hours later, with our hearts still in our mouths, we approached Guruy and our guide, Ivan, introduced us to the crew (a very smiley cook lady, a driver, and another guy who helped with luggage and tents etc). We set off into the afternoon sun on the long boat and began our 3 day tour into the jungle towards Rurrenabaque.


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