20% of the population of Bolivia resides in the cities of La Paz, one of the capitals, and El Alto, its neighbouring twin. While El Alto is correctly named for its high altitude and no other notable feature, La Paz is anything but (the peace). Crowded, congested, not-too-friendly, agitated, but with a character of its own that makes you gasp.
The day I arrived, after an extended travel time with no sleep and much stress, the afternoon nap rejuvenated me enough to want to set out and explore some. That recovery lasted until the first corner, straight into a bustling market on a 30-deg incline uphill. Through the narrow streets, bustling markets, I had my first proper glimpse of La Chaos that ended with an energising coffee and sandwich at Higher Ground Cafe.
I had warned my guide from Red Cap Walking Tours the following morning that we would have to stop every 50 m to catch my breath on the intense inclines. Reemberto, a young college student and English-speaking guide, had plenty of spine-chilling stories to share about the good-fortune rituals and the witches’ market 100 m down the road from my hotel.
And stories about how the Spanish conquistadores influenced people to convert to Christianity by using Inca symbols on the facade of the San Fransisco Church.
The charming Calle Jaen was a treat to behold, with its cobbled street and colourful buildings.
Mirador Killi-killi for wide-angle views of the city:
Plaza Murillo, with tales of slain presidents and the Plurinacional Republic with its unique clock tower:
The Plaza San Pedro made famous by the prison in the heart of the city:
While I didn’t take the illegal prison tour, I did buy and read the book Marching Powder by Rusty Young. It was enough to give me the heebie-jeebies. The prison is a compound where criminals live with their families in a mini-society and crazy rules.
We moved on quickly to more amiable locations, including a much needed empanada pit stop. Through the Rodriguez Market, on our way to the Cemetery, via a parade of dancing people.
The cemetery is a revelation in itself. Graveyards are among my favourite subjects for photography, and this one takes the cake.
On this tour of expecting the unexpected, I encountered the greatest technological advancement in the city that even benefits its citizens: the teleferico. Saving me the trouble of climbing all the way up to El Alto, as well as the opportunity to ride in the cable car, an easy journey to catch some more vistas of the city and the snow capped peaks beyond.
A walk through the enormous open air market had me hungry once more, and we settled for a late fruit lunch.
I let go the Cholita Wrestling Show that was tempting but not enough to drag me back on my feet after a long day of walking!
Lately I’ve been getting annoyed by all sorts of touristy things, and La Paz was a pleasant change where people weren’t putting on fake smiles for foreigners. Or maybe it’s because I look Bolivian?