After going a million miles an hour for almost two weeks straight since the Wisconsin crew landed in Cuzco, it was a relief to finally get back to La Paz and check in to our final accommodation for the trip. We'd organized a sweet 3BR apartment through AirBnB which we got settled into after only a few moments of chaos when we were separated in 2 taxis and none of us knew where to go.
A few of us hit the grocery store for dinner food and other supplies before we all sat down for a home cooked family meal: Gina's Special Black Bean Burgers with super spicy ketchup and a side of pasta salad and steamed broccoli...delicious, and nutritious.
We took it easy that night as we were all tuckered out after our last 48 hours of extreme action. In the morning we decided it awesome, if not particularly wise, to stretch the "Extreme 48" into 72 with a good old fashioned "Play It By Ear" day...the La Paz addition.
We filled Guapo's fresh Bolivian bucket hat with all sorts of random activities and sat down to pull out of the hat and let fate decide our day. As luck would have it, our first mission was to get a beer. No problem for this group. We headed for the British-owned "Oliver's Travels" Bar where we enjoyed a rare commodity in this part of the world: Tap Beer. (Saya Dark and Saya IPA, to be precise)
Leaving the pub we headed for Witches Market where we were tasked with the purchase of a few random items from the witch craft shops...we pretty mych stuck with the tiny statues of Pachamama (Mother Earth) and left the more exotic offerings of real life mummified baby llamas and for real dried llama fetuses for the more hard core.
Next, we pulled up a piece of concrete to wait our turn with the Coca Leaf reading fortune teller. Our tour guide Ben had told us about this on our city tour a few days before, but we'd been too late in the day to see him then. Today, however, we were nice and early and before too long Selma was stepping up to the plate and I was sat beside her doing my best to play interpreter as the Leaf Reader mumbled his Spanish out of his coca leaf stuffed mouth. I think we got there in the end: the reader inquired about Selma and Steve's previous relationships before turning his focus to their apparent good fortune in business and a concern about the future health of their heads and stomach.
Gina was next; the Fortune teller sprinkled his coca leaves over his blanket and then stared into them and mumbled to himself before asking Gina similar questions as he'd asked Selma. There were a lot of coca leaves that had landed face up which is good luck...he quickly informed Gina that she and her partner (me; although he kept mixing Selma and Gina up and kept calling G's partner "Steve" instead of "Adrian" which was funny) would have good fortune in business, that we'd travel a lot, and that we'd buy a house soon. All the good news came after one awkward moment when he asked Gina why she wanted to leave her partner (!). He didn't realize that I, who was interpreting his message, and the partner to be left were one and the same!
We thanked the crazy old man profusely as we stepped away and onto our next mission...to find and try BBQ guinea pig at the market. "Cuy" as this regional delicacy is known is common throughout Perú and also something G and I saw quite a bit a few months back in Ecuador...however, after searching and asking we realized our opportunity to indulge in BBQ guinea pig had passed when we left Perú and entered Bolivia. We chalked it up and after yet another horrific bathroom stop in Bolivia we headed on to our next stop: Adventure Brew Hostel to try their home brew.
We found our way to the hostel and settled into our pints before getting into a sponaneous, but fast and furious ping pong tournament. The round robin preliminaries left us with a Bryan vs. Adrian showdown that went 5 games to decide...with Adrian only just barely squeaking it out for the victory. The first of no doubt many fierce ping pong battles to be had between the brother-in-laws to be...
By the time we headed out of Adventure Brew we had decided that if we really wanted to continue the Extreme nature of the last 48 we were going to have to step our game up...beer drinking and ping pong, while totally awesome, don't exactly count as extreme. But, in La Paz city there is one activity that is most definitely classifiable as "extreme"...Urban Rush. Talley Ho...to the Presidential Hotel we marched.
What is Urban Rush, you ask? Oh, nothing really...just a face first rappel off the top floor of a 20 story hotel in downtown La Paz. We arrived to scope it out, but before long Bryan and I had donned matching Spiderman outfits and were kitted out with our harnesses, helmets and gloves. No turning back now!
After a few practice runs on the training wall for both of us I was stepping up to the edge and clipping into the ropes and then, before I knew it, I was leaning out of the window and staring straight down onto La Paz. The cars and people looked tiny and even though I have rappelled face first a number of times before in my camp counselor days, the nerves were kicking as I took my first few steps down the side of the building. I made it down in one piece although it was far from a graceful execution as I did a little flailing in attempts to work the taught rope loose...but, I was back in control by the time I got to the free fall portion where you let go, jump out and surrender to gravity while putting your life in the hands of the guide who is below you to arrest your fall. Back on the ground and looking 20 stories up I could see the tiny outlines of the arms of Gina and company waving down. Whooooo-yaaaa...Urban Rush, for sure!
I hopped the elevator back to the top and experienced that awkward moment when the elevator door opens to a full car and you are the dork who gets on wearing a spiderman costume...yeah, freaking sweet.
Back up top I kicked my shoes over to Bryan so he'd have a sturdy pair of footwear. He was all business...even though his nerves were pounding and he looked a little pale. Still, he hopped up and freaking charged it! You'd never have known his first time rappelling EVER was in the waterfalls the previous day and that it was also his first time ever going face first...not to mention off the side of a building. His form was good, way better then mine...and he made it down in no time. When he got off the elevator and back to the top he was sporting the largest grin you've seen the man sport and you could tell the adrenaline and endorphins were pumping heavy through his veins. It was a pretty sick experience.
We split into two groups when we left Urban Rush; one group headed for the super market for more supplies and the other strided out for home by way of the rotisserie chicken store to procure a roasted bird which would become the centerpiece of our dinner that night: Mexican fajita fiesta extravaganza. Legit!
After dinner we turned our attention to a few cocktails and before long were joined by our tour guide turned friend, Ben...who had come around to lead us into the La Paz night for a good ol' fashioned Friday night out. We headed out...but, were stalled a mere 3 blocks from the apartment where we encountered the establishment version of kryptonite for this group: a Karaoke Bar.
Of course, and per usual, it started off innocently enough as "one song" and quickly degenerated from there into several hours of shenanigans. Before too long we had befriended the entire bar of locals and were wowing them with our wicked song selections and vocal prowess. It all came to a raging crescendo when Guapo assumed control of the mic and delivered a American Idol-esque rendition of Jon Secada's epic ballad "Just Another Day"...in Spanish, no less. We may have entered that bar as just another group of gringos, but to say we left as Rockstars is no stretch.
We bar hopped for the rest of the night as Ben led the way and we tagged along. In the end we saw a good segment of La Paz's nightlife before calling it a night. We thanked Ben again for being an awesome guide and heading for home.
The next day saw us moving a little slowly for the first part of the day. A few of us ventured out to collect T-Shirts from Vertigo biking for our Death Road adventure and handle a few other errands, before heading back and rallying the troops for a late afternoon mission up to Killi-Killi mirador (viewpoint) to snap some sunset photos and ceremoniously "make it rain" with the excess coca leaves we had left from our city tour earlier in the week.
As it was our last supper together, we headed out for a nice Italian dinner at one of the highly regarded places in the city; Pronto Delicatessen where we had a great meal and had a round table session telling the team what our favorite parts of the trip were. Back at home, Selma, Steve and Lance "el Guapo" packed their bags in preparation for a 4am departure from the apartment for La Paz International Airport to begin the long journey back to Milwaukee and back to reality.
We got up to say goodbye to them as they headed off into a still dark La Paz in their taxi before sliding back into bed for a few more hours of shut eye. That day, Sunday, was our last day with Bryan and after a little back and forth about what to do that day, we agreed on the Tourist Bus trip through Zona Sur, a part of the city we hadn't yet seen. The sun was punishing as we took our seats on the upper deck of the two story bus and put on our headphones...but as soon as we pulled away from the curb, we had the wind in our hair and things were righteous. We were, literally, the only people on the bus...but that didn't bother us any. We enjoyed the ride down and around the southern (newer) part of town and found the commentary that streamed in through our headphones to be interesting. It ranged from history and politics to the story of Che Guevara's time (and death) in Bolivia and onto the importance and value of the coca crop to the country for both legal and illicit products. It was amazing to see how the locals have built houses right into the crazy, other-wordly terrain that surrounds La Paz in general, but particularly the Zona Sur.
We unloaded for a 20 minute pause at Valle De La Luna where we walked a short circuit and snapped a few photos in and amongst the lunar-esque landscape of this little park before hopping back on the bus and heading again towards the city.
In town, we swooped a couple good looking pizza pies and made for the apartment where we enjoyed a very chill night of NFL and movies. Bryan packed his bags and we all hit the hay...preparing for a second consecutive 4am wake up call. This time Bryan was heading for the airport and G and I were again up to say goodbye before heading back to bed for a few more hours of shut eye.
When we awoke later that morning, we both had the all too familiar feeling of post-visit depression...true, we weren't heading back to the States to go to back to work like our friends, so I don't expect any sympathy...but, it still is a bit of a downer to once again be on our own, all alone in the middle of South America, after such a fun, packed and awesome few weeks. On top of that, G was feeling a little sick so we made the decision that we'd stick around La Paz for a few days before striking off on the final leg of the South American Odyssey...La Paz, Bolivia to Santiago, Chile via the Salt Flats of Uyuni in Bolivia and the desert of Northern Chile. Our flight out of Santiago was in exactly 2 weeks...we didn't even want to think about it...talk about depressing.
We ended up spending 3 more nights in the apartment in La Paz after everyone left during which time we pretty much just laid low. We got a free two day pass to the nicest gym in La Paz and had two good, but HOT workouts. One night we saw the movie "Argo" featuring Ben Affleck which tells the fictionalized account of the real life hostage rescue from Iran in the late 1970's. We cooked for ourselves without exception which was nice and spent one frustrating afternoon trying to figure out a way out of La Paz and down south to Uyuni. It was way harder then it should have been. A few hours were burned at the Internet café catching up on blogs and, gulp, doing a little work on our resumés...yes, the cruel world of reality and work is looming in the not too distant future...and, on the final night, our buddy Ben came over and I assisted him with his final university project by means of a video taped interview where I gave him my $0.02 on tourism in Bolivia with emphasis on our experience on the Death Road bike trip. He is a great guy and had been instrumental in our amazing time in La Paz, so, of course, I was more then happy to help.
At long last, the moment we'd been dreading had come...Thursday evening...and time to bid La Paz and our chilled out week there adieu and set back off onto the harshness of life on the road. The final push and only 10 days till our flight...why not make it painful for ourselves and start it off with an overnight bus ride. Here we go again...
Big shout out to the Wisconsin Crew: Bryan, Selma, Steve and Lance "el Guapo" for an amazing 2+ weeks. We're so stoked to have been lucky enough to have you join us for an absolutely epic stint of the South American Pro Leisure Tour. And, a heart felt thanks to Ben...tour guide extraordinaire and all around righteous dude.
Looking forward to seeing all you guys again real soon!!