My first experience of La Paz was waking up in the morning still on a bus that we had caught overnight from Uyuni. We were so tired after an 800km journey over three days in the desert that catching the connecting overnight bus was not so bad after all. We slept most of the way and woke up in our destination feeling surprisingly awake. Well we were almost at our destination… Our bus had made it through to the outskirts of the city well on time, but a protest prevented us from making it to the bus terminal. We were forced to get off the bus and walk to a nearby area where we would catch mini vans, or so that was the plan. We are told to hold onto our belongings and stick together as a group as we walk around with our packs to find our alternate route.
It is around 6am in the morning and already the streets are flooded with people, most of them trying to find alternate routes to work. Along with the locals, we are walking along a road that has been blocked off to traffic. To the right is a big statue of Che Guevara and up ahead is a big foot bridge where we make a stop underneath. A local man gives us all a shout, 'Welcome to Bolivia', he says with a cheeky smile. We continue following the lead of our bus attendant who is being very helpful in the difficult situation. He leads us down some stairs and it was at this moment that we saw beneath us the great scale of this city. High up on the mountains edge we could see below thousands of buildings rolling down the edge and forming the great city of La Paz. It was much bigger than I had imagined and I was eager to dive in and start exploring.
Waiting for a mini bus to collect us all turns out to be too ambitious so we start walking down the mountain. It feels rather normal given we are in Bolivia. Walking down about one hundred steps with the weight of the packs on our backs and the lack of oxygen was a tiring task. We make it to the bottom and there we wait again for our ride to come. Eventually it does and we are on the road. Driving through the streets is insane and cars come within inches of each other as they dart in, out and around each other. We make it into town and book two nights in room around the vibrant street of Sagarnaga.
After checking in we have a hot shower and feel alive again. Three days in the desert followed by an overnight bus ride does take it out of you! Stepping out onto the cobble stone street we head straight to the closest coffee shop. We are situated close to centre of town and the mountains are high up around us now. All around us is a city rich in history and culture. I am excited to see we are staying right in the heart of town where there are artisans markets and literally hundreds of woven patterns hanging from all the shop fronts. Here the locals embrace colour, a nice change from Melbourne where we too often play it safe with black. The choice for ponchos, beanies, rugs, gloves and jewellery is overwhelming.
A few days in this city showed us its charm and its quirks. We ate our way though many different meals, some of which were incredibly cheap. Many cafes offer a set menu where you get an entrée which is usually a soup, a main course which is usually meat, rice and vegetables and a dessert. All this for around twelve Bolivianos! (approx $2) The food was usually very decent and generous.
Walking about town it is not hard to miss the zebra crossings, where people are dressed in a zebra costume and parade about the footpath still managing to control the traffic! Once we noticed a zebra take a nap on a car bonnet while they had to wait their turn! On all the main streets, shoe shine boys are everywhere offering their services to anyone with boots. No excuse for dirty boots here! Old stores are still about town along with an abundance of photocopier stores and one afternoon, we noticed a man in the street with a typewriter where people were queuing up for his service. Some of the buildings are very old and are falling down, yet some are still standing strong. It is evident this city has been around for many years.
One afternoon while at our hostel, we hear the sounds of drums and trumpets outside. It is getting louder and we decide to go and see what is going on. Following the sound of the drums, we turn to the end of our street and can see a parade marching down the road. Intrigued we follow their steps and make our way through traffic to get a closer look. We are not sure what the parade is representing, but later google answered our question. It was representing 'The day of the sea', when Boliiva lost its coast to Chile.
La Paz is a city that continues to surprise us, from its surprisingly tasty meals, quirky old post offices with old wooden signs and type writers, witches markets with llama foetuses (that apparently bring good luck), to its dancing zebras, it is defiantly unique. In contrast to all this we had planned to travel up north to Rurrenbaque where we would venture into the Amazon basin. What is supposed to be one of the most uncomfortable bus rides in the country to reach this town left us with the decision to catch a flight instead. After realising no flights were available for about a week, our plans changed and we decided to visit the Amazon from Peru instead. We booked a bus the next morning into Copacabana where we would visit Lake Titicaca. This would be our last destination in Boliva before heading into Peru.