Paz Out

Posted by on Jan 29, 2013 in Bolivia, Play-by-plays, South America | 3 comments

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La Paz — the city where aesthetics go to die and adrenaline junkies go to live. This place has something for everyone from rock climbing and trekking the neighboring volcanoes to biking, abseiling, and just general merriment for those who like night life. La Paz looks like it has tried in the past to beautify, but now the random piles of rubble just make you wonder whether it is in the process of construction of destruction. Having said that, amidst the mess, there are a couple decent looking colonial style buildings and one street you might even describe as cute (Jaen, where the museums are). While we didn’t have any trouble, La Paz does have its share of tourist touts and many people had a story of mugging (not violent) so it is prudent to be careful, especially after dark. I didn’t leave the corner of Wild Rover/Loki past nightfall and am pretty happy with my decision.

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As mentioned, we stayed in Wild Rover again, which is an experience in itself. It’s around the corner from the other popular hostel chain, Loki, and I would highly recommend staying in one of these unless you hate fun. The location is close to everything you will want to see, it is super easy to meet people, and the hostels have all the conveniences you will want–from lockers to charge your electronics to an in-house travel agent to help you book tours and such. And it is really close to the bus terminal. Plus having stayed at another Wild Rover, we got a free welcome beer.

Most things you do in La Paz are unexpectedly bizarre, so here is our gamut organized chronologically.

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Our first excursion was biking on Yungas Road. The road was built in early 1900s by Paraguayan POWs so that Coca Cola company could have easy access to coca plant production in the Yungas region. I highly recommend this, especially with Gravity whose equipment and guides are top notch (but there are much cheaper operators). The scenery of the bike ride is stunning –mountains, cliffs, waterfalls etc– and you go from 4700m to 1100m altitude and really begin to understand the climate variations at each level.

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With Gravity, you end at a nature preserve (Senda Verde) whose hot showers and a buffet lunch are exactly what you’ll want. Our entire ride was in pouring rain, so hot showers were more than welcome. And at the nature preserve, you get to see exotic birds and animals in the wild, and can take an optional tour of adorable monkeys (well worth the extra 30Bs).

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The next adventure was Cholitas Wrestling, which was in El Alto, as the name suggests, the high part of La Paz, which itself is in the “bowl” of a valley of the Antiplano. El Alto is Aymara migrant community and while generally poor and not very safe, it does offer spectacles such as the infamous market, the wrestling, oh and the airport is there. I’ve landed there before and it’s a trip at 14k feet. Back to the show, a bunch of us gringos got shuttled there from our respective hostels, given front row seats and a bag of popcorn. One even got to participate! All in all, it’s weird and clearly fake but entertaining not only because of what’s on stage, but also just in observing the locals who come to watch in droves, with kids and babies in tow.

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The next day I hiked up to a nearby mirador to get a glimpse of the city. The backdrop of the cliffs and volcanos is really stunning, I wish the architecture were equal in that regard, but most building are decrepit adobe/brick structures.

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Then I headed to Hotel Presidente (Best Hotel in South America in 1997 according to the signs by the elevators!!!) to UrbanRush to rapel face first down its 50meter wall while getting awesome views of Plaza San Francisco because…well…why not? Woo, I wore the Spiderman suit for you. If you go, ask your hostel if it has any discount coupons. Unbeknownst to me, Wild Rover had some 2 for 1 deals.

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Next up was Witches Market which is a random street nearby (honestly at no point in my days in La Paz did I stray more than 20min from hostel, which is sweet). The ladies sell random trinkets, the most famous and bizarre of which are stuffed dead baby llamas which are apparently good luck symbols. I’ll take their word for it.

Last stop on my walk was the Coca Museum, which had surprisingly a lot of interesting facts, albeit dated ones. You really get a feel for how important the coca plant has been to the indigenous cultures in the Andes, especially at the drastic altitude. It was used in religious ceremonies, to formalize marriage unions, and as mild stimulant much like caffeine is today in the Western World. Then the Catholic Spanish arrived, dubbed the plant a devil, tried to eradicate it, but realized that the locals could and would work longer with coca. So hey, once profitability was at stake, the plant was okayed so the Spanish could exploit local labor more AND tax it. Double winning. It wasn’t till much later that medicinal properties of the plant were discovered for things like anesthesia. Then it was added to wine etc as a stimulant and obviously Coca Cola got in the game. And in the midst of this, someone (not sure who) realized that making a paste of it with some toxic acids, kerosene and the like would create what we today know as cocaine. And now America is, I think, the world’s biggest consumer of the product. Anyway, that’s a lot of history. Basically the museum was very interesting.

After all the exploration, Yus and I took took an overnight bus to Sucre, which is technically the capital of Bolivia, but not really (will explain in a later post). Buses in Bolivia are…interesting…but for less than 30usd equivalent (170Bs), we got cama seats (almost fully reclined) and got to Sucre relatively on time.

3 Comments

  1. Very nice set of pics… we even went to the Cholitas Wrestling the other day, but got no good pics! :( Thanks for sharing yours! If you’d be kind to give me your comments on this [English version] on our trip to mystic Copacabana, it’d be greatly appreciated! Thank you! 😮
    http://3rdculturechildren.com/2013/01/28/photo-journal-trip-to-copacabana-bolivia/

  2. 1. so where do you stay if you hate fun?
    2. spiderman suit is awesome. remember with with great power comes great responsibility
    3. “a llama??! but he’s supposed to be dead!!” “yeah… weird”

    • 1. You don’t
      2. Hmmmm I’ll think about it
      3. You get me <3

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