So I arrived in La Paz the night before Jess flew in from the UK; I spent three nights there and she spent two. We were able to see a good chunk of the (interesting) tourist parts of the city, and were pleased to discover that not only was it a lot warmer than we expected (during the day), but that it was generally a lot cleaner, more compact, and more pleasant. One might even say: more peaceful! (La Paz means ‘the peace’).
The first thing that we both had to get a handle on was the altitude — much of our trip is going to be at altitudes over 3,000m, but La Paz being a city, there was a lot of walking to do, and everything seemed to be up immensely steep slopes. We both gorged on coca tea which meant that we just about coped, but it wasn’t easy.
I was able to sate my obsession with generic tourist sites quite easily — there was a cathedral and attached museum which explained, in Spanish, how the Franciscan monks had used the site over the past half a millennium. I am beginning to feel a bit jaded towards all the Christian stuff that I have seen, but I can never deny that there’s definitely a lot of beauty in Christianity.
We also visited a couple of ‘ethnographic’ museums which had information on the ethnic groups of Bolivia (of which there are over thirty) and their history (which stretches back thousands of years). Again, much of the information was in Spanish, and photography was mostly forbidden. But it was amazing to see the development from obsidian shapes to clay pots to golden jewellery… to Christian and Spanish influences. One of the most interesting exhibits was a collection of photographs from the late nineteenth century to today, mostly of indigenous peoples and their costumes and practices. It’s relentlessly fascinating — and nothing like anything I’ve learnt about before. I wish I were able to learn about different groups’ customs in a way that is neither under glass nor exploitative — but I think I’ll have to settle for tiny glimpses.
A way that was definitely exploitative/contrived beyond belief was the small Witches’ Market in the downtown area — now overrun with tourists. Yes, those are llama foetuses.
Anyway. We were also able to see a slightly more ‘authentic’ side of La Paz when we went on its modern and very shiny cable car, which took us from the centre of town to El Alto, about 500m further up. Let me be clear: La Paz is so damn pretty.
These don’t really capture how beautifully the city ‘sits’ in its valley — but they give an indication of how gorgeous the sea of red-brick is. It was also a cloudy day so the colours are washed out… I’m sorry these aren’t the most representative photos! (As always, I’ll nick better photos off Jess when I can).
Last but not least, travelling in any south American country on a Sunday is usually an exercise in handling frustration — but we were lucky to walk right into a huge fair on the main street on our ‘rest’ day in the capital. There was so much going on — food stalls, kids’ activities, governmental health stands, a sea of tchotckhes, music, candyfloss — even a rap battle, which Jess and I giggled at but I had to admit was pretty impressive.
These kinds of things go on maybe once or twice a year in British cities — it made me happy to think that this isn’t an irregular occurrence in Bolivia, but a part of life. It must make the city a lot happier.
We are going to be going back to La Paz for short periods throughout our trip, and for one night at the end so we can party — and I was so happy to see how accessible and friendly it was.