After a trip to the Salar and some more pizza in the company of fellow backpackers, we got onto a bus to La Paz. The 10-12 hour ride was worth than we hoped but not as bad as we feared. It took us a bit more effort to find a hotel in La Paz than in any other place since the cheaper places we started with were either dirty themselves or in dirty neighborhoods. We ended up finding a place that was described in Lonely Planet as “sparkling clean” and headed there, where we settled for US$16 per day for a room with shared bathroom. But hey, at least that bathroom was clean. (Our other options included $10 for a room with a dirty private bathroom.) We spent two days in La Paz, minus some time for to catch up on sleep after a night on the bus and a half day for a trip to Tiwanaku.
La Paz is an interesting city, though we had to disagree with Lonely Planet’s claim that La Paz “in terms of spectacular setting, is in the same scenic league as Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, San Francisco and Hong Kong.” I haven’t been to Cape Town and Hong Kong, but Rio and San Francisco are definitely in a different “scenic league.” The natural setting is perhaps there (La Paz is located in a “bowl” in the midst of beautiful mountains), but the city completely fails to make good use of them. The beautiful Illimani peak is only rarely visible through the forest of rather ugly buildings.
The three things I found most memorable about La Paz were the soldiers, the Witch’s Market and the 10 litre containers of “puro.” Perhaps we were there on a special day, but throughout our visit the city teamed with soldiers in red historic uniform. One might think that given it’s army’s past performance (they lost every single war they fought and overthrew almost every democratic government even elected), Bolivia would just get rid of army a la Costa Rica. Instead, however, the military spirit still runs strong, even now when the country is no longer run by the generals.
The Witch’s Market is a little market near downtown La Paz that sells the strangest ingredients for sorcery and sacrificial offerings. By far the strangest of those are bundles of dried llama fetuses. Not wanting to get a curse from the witches, I avoided taking close-up shots of their wares, but of one of the pictures does show clearly stacks of llama fetuses. No, we didn’t buy any.
The last picture in the first row shows the third most memorable thing about La Paz – large containers of alcohol. From left to right, the containers say: “Singani especial de camargo” (a local drink), “Puro de camargo” (95% alcohol), “Vodk”, then two containers of “Ron” and two more containers of Singani. Quite a full bar. To be fair to Bolivia, however, I rarely saw drunk people in the streets, so apart from this one alcohol counter it hardly seemed like a land of alcoholics.