The places we have visited have all been amazing, but sometimes the journeys there are worth noting too! Bus travel in South America so far has been pretty good but Bolivia is certainly giving it its own twist. Our first mistake was trying to load our bags on the bus ourselves (as we have done countless times before). We were told to lug them up to the second floor so that they could be lowered by rope to then be loaded onto the bus. I am sure this made some sort of sense to someone once.
The other difference with the Bolivian bus system is that you get on the bus first then check the tickets as you are on your way?! So there we were looking at two buses going to La Paz, both our company, and not really sure which one to get on and no-one really to ask. So we just waited for our bags to be lowered over the balcony and got on the same bus as them.
The second mistake we made was not taking Imodium before the trip. For every other trip so far “Cama” and “Semi-Cama” buses have had toilets on them (at least). Well to be fair there was a toilet, but unfortunately it was full (to the brim and not with pee) before we set off so we were provided with a bucket instead!!! Joy! The positive of the bus trip was that we had the best chairs so far (well not the cleanest) they went completely flat and had loads of legroom. So at least we could get a little sleep.
We were both a little apprehensive and excited about going to La Paz. The talk of pick pockets, muggings, express kidnappings and shootings were a little worrying to say the least. La Paz is actually two separate cities, La Paz itself and El Alto which sits above La Paz on a plateau and is actually the highest city in the world. Unfortunately El Alto is also very poor and notoriously violent and we heard the going rate to have someone killed was $100US. It was also an area we were told to avoid.
We stayed right in the middle of La Paz and right from the start you could feel a tremendous energy about the place while also being acutely aware of the poverty of the general population. I wouldn’t say it was scary but you certainly had your wits about you and to be fair we didn’t go out much at night. That wasn’t because we were scared to, but that we were just a couple of days away from attempting to climb over 6000m so thought resting up might be a good idea.
Our first day was spent sorting out various future trips (and our climb) but we did find the time to go for a walk through the city. Now at 3600m that’s not as easy as it sounds as the air is so thin. Every uphill street really takes it out of you even though we have been at altitude for over a week now. Luckily we were spared the task of walking to the top of the city as a couple of years ago a cable car system was built. The views were fantastic and the amusing thing was seeing the very modern and very Austrian cable cars and their buildings nestled in amongst the rest of La Paz.
After enjoying the view we walked back down the hill through the markets which never get boring for us. It’s great to see the real markets rather than the tourist ones and once again the sights and sounds kept us entertained for hours! We soon started to feel much more comfortable and welcome in the city and it made us realise that it’s only a very small percentage of the population causing trouble.
Another amusing fact we noticed was the amount of traffic. Mostly made up of mini buses ferrying people around like a bus system. But come rush hour at the end of the day the city was an absolute grid lock with just about every driver believing that if they beeped their horn things would get going!
In general La Paz was turning out to be an incredibly vibrant and exciting city but there was definitely an edge to the place. T
On the left is the infamous San Pedro prison (from the book marching powder) and the reddish building on the right is the hotel we had booked in what we thought was a “safer area” of the city! Below is our view for the bedroom window looking right down on the prison. Ove rage few days we were here we got to see the ladies lining up outside to be let into the prison to be with their husbands. It really does seem like a crazy prison and the amount of guards on show is minimal.
The views of La Paz as we caught the cable car were something else. It really looks like no other city I have seen. One main thing we noticed is that ther is almost not a single tree and certainly no green parks. Still it somehow retains its own beauty.