(Day 19 - 21)
10.12.2009 - 13.12.2009 20 °C
After 24 hours of flying and transit from Havana via Cancun, via, Lima, via Santa Cruz, Steph and I finally arrived in the near freezing evening (5 degrees) at La Paz international airport, the world’s highest airport.
At over 3500 meters above sea level, the city lies in a bowl-like canyon. On either side of the city, the steep slopes of the valley are covered by homes made of a light-brown colour brick. Not a free space is left, there are houses everywhere. The first view of the valley just outside the airport creates a definite “wow” moment at the sight of the millions of houses. Once arrived in La Paz, you can see the impressive snow-covered Mount Illimani in the background.
Our first evening also saw a torrential rain that we had to rush through to get dinner. Steph was wearing half her clothes to fight the cold! Thankfully the weather and temperature improved after that first night!
The first day we were fighting with slight altitude sickness, being constantly out of breath, headaches and not sleeping very well. It can get much worse, so we got off lightly, but we still tried to drink plenty of water as well as coca tea (well used here to combat altitude sickness), made from the same plant our Colombian friends are well know for, but without the same high!
So we took it easy, walking slowly (felt a bit like walking on the moon, in slow motion) around the city taking in the noise, the street markets and colourful stalls, which reminds me of parts of Wynburg in Cape Town :D
It’s a fascinatingly diverse city. The constant is its steep slopes, the streets go up and down, and are lined with street vendors everywhere. These streets, apart from being busy all the time differ from one block to the next.
Some areas have streets where the shops sell the typical and beautifully bright & colourful woven materials such as bags, scarf’s etc. Tourist stuff I guess.
Then a few roads down you will find the older-style markets (Witches Market) which sell talisman’s and good-luck charms, curse-killers as well as dried Llama fetus (!!!) and fake fossils.
There are two different purposes that the dried llama fetus fills; the one that is seared on a plate with herbs and sweets is for good luck in business, while the regular dried llama fetus is to protect your home. It is widely known fact that most homes in Bolivia have these dried llama fetus interred in the foundations of the building.
Most of these stalls are manned by women whose faces seem ageless, dressed in the traditional outfits and round hats.
A few more streets away, tour operators in hundreds – we aren’t sure how they survive as there are just soooo many of them here. Then the flower sellers, meat sellers, toiletries etc – all on the streets, this all creates quite a buzz.
Today we were feeling much better and were able to enjoy and explore further. Steph discovered a book exchange place and swapped a ton of heavy books for another to her great joy.
This joy also bought her an afternoon of mishaps: someone tried stealing her handbag (slung across her chest from one side to the other) but she stopped him in time, then she fell – unavoidable on these steep slopes – but no harm done. Finally a lady almost hit her by accident with a broom, and a pigeon almost flew into her face. We’ve got her hidden away safely now and hope it’s over
I tried to get into La Paz’s most infamous attractions, Carcel de San Pedro prison. Its basically a prison without any guards, and is essentially run by the prisoners. If you have read “Marching Powder” you will know what I’m talking about.
The prison has been officially closed to tourists for a while now but a few people have been known to get it for a tour lead by the prisoners. I will try again when we come back in 5 days
We are off tomorrow for 3 days in the Bolivian Pampas (the vast Bolivian grasslands of the Amazon basin near Rurrenabaque filled with animals) and then a further 2 days in the Amazon Jungle.
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