From Puno I took a 5 hour bus to the Bolivian border, which took about an hour to get through, and then I was in! Copacabana, the town from where Bolivian tours of Lake Titicaca begin, is a far nicer, tourist friendly place than Puno, and is also covered in restaurants, which was perfect for my 1 hour stop. After a quick sandwich (my first experience of Bolivian tardiness) which ended up taking up the full hour, we set off again and by about 5pm were in La Paz. I’d quickly looked up a hostel to stay in for the night, so after some discussions with the taxi driver, ended up at Muzungu’s B&B backpacker hostel. Muzungu’s, I later learnt, means white man’s or effectively gringo’s hostel, in Swahili.
However I literally just dumped my bags before heading out to meet Mariana, the Godchild of my aunt Rachel, who’s family moved to Sheffield about 20 years ago, and then moved back to La Paz when Mariana was 6 months old. We went for dinner at a cool Thai restaurant, and then went to an art gallery to check out one of her friends’ recent installments. So this was my first experience of La Paz. Probably different to most people, but still pretty fun.
When I got back there were some Isralies in the room (they’re all around South America doing some post National Service partying) and a couple, the girl from Norway and guy from Australia, although they’d lived just outside Oslo for the past 2 and a half years. The next morning I went out with them to wonder around the city. We went to a market to get some fruit juice, to a square known for the pigeons that will climb all over you if you give them food (I’ve got loads of photos of this for Facebook or here at some point) and then on a 3 hour free walking tour around the city (obviously you then have to tip) which was really good. That evening I’d arranged to meet Mariana, but kind of bailed on her (sorry!) and met up with the Canadians I’d met on Machu Picchu, Travis and Steven, because they’d just got down from Huayna Potosi, a giant 6,000m mountain that tours above La Paz, and is probably one of the toughest climbs in South America, maybe even America in general. Plus it was Steven’s 28th Birthday. We went to an Indian restaurant, the highest in the world (there’s a lot of ”the highest in the world” when you get to the Andes), which also has a Vindaloo challenge which only 2 people have ever completed. Due to a fragile stomach, as usual, I decided against the challenge and got soup. The Canadians were also joined by some of their fellow climbers, 2 Germans, a Norwegian, and an English guy from West London who was also a Fulham fan. The evening was actually really fun, as we ended up going to an English pub afterwards and chatting and playing pool. The game was me and the Norwegian vs. Steven and Travis, and with an incredible final shot from the Kristian, my partner, we won. This is relevant later.
In the end I went and hung out at their hostel afterwards. It’s kind of sad when you’re traveling because sometimes you’ll meet really cool people like those two, who you’d feel would be perfect travel companions, and then they leave or head off somewhere else and you’re back on your own. But I’ve got a home in Edmonton, Alberta, if I ever want it. I guess that’s an advantage of meeting them.
La Paz is probably my favourite city I’ve been to, and that includes Cusco. It’s pretty vast, but is also nestled in a valley where in the north is sided by sheer cliffs, and in the south by strange craggy alien rocks, which look really cool. On top of the north side is another city, which used to be a district of La Paz, called El Alto. It’s about twice the size of it’s parent city, but much poorer and effectively filled with all the people who come to La Paz from other parts of Bolivia and find there aren’t the work opportunities they expected (this is obviously symplified). La Paz is basically a grander, more bustling, urban, important and importantly, Bolivian version of Cusco. The sight of Huayna Potosi right behind the city is also something to behold, although its peak is usually covered in cloud.
A strange thing happened when I was walking back from the Canadians’ hostel. On the walking tour we’d learnt about this prison that was home to various non-dangerous criminals. Politicians, foreigners, drug dealers etc. At about 2am I was walking back to my hostel and met this American guy who looked pretty rough and worn. He smiled at me and asked me how I was doing. As I’d been drinking, I didn’t consider this too weird a thing, and how sounded friendly, so I said I was doing fine, and how was he. He replied that he’d just been released from that prison after 7 years inside for drug smuggling, and could I give him 6bs, as he was trying to find a place to stay while he sorted stuff out. 6bs is about 50p, so I obliged and bid him on his way.
The next day I went to the Ortega’s/Mendoza’s beautiful suburban house for lunch, where we were joined by their Belgian friend and his Bolivian wife. It was a really nice lunch cooked up by their cook/maid. They told me about their time in England, football, and we talked about Rachel, Mike and their children Aiden and Logan, who they hadn’t really seen pictures of. They also agreed to take my bigger bag while I took the Salt Flats tour for a week, which was great of them. So I went back to my hostel, hastily packed up my things and rushed back to their house in a cab, dropped it off, and then got stuck in a La Paz Friday evening traffic jam for an hour. My night bus to Uyuni was scheduled for 7:00, so I was sure I’d missed it. However TIB (This Is Bolivia, my version of TIA, This Is Africa) and of course it was late. I made it in time to get some bread and bananas, and boarded the coach to Uyuni, with an agreement in place to meet the Aussie and Norwegian couple there the next day to start a tour with them. However it was to go terribly wrong…
Brilliant music video and a great song based in La Paz and I believe the Potosi mines, both where I’ve been. It’s also directed by a really talented Brit called Ian Pons Jewell.
Would say spread it around but it already has 300 million views!