You haven't experienced 'Real Bolivia' until you get to its 'de facto' capital, La Paz. I find it hard to put into words the madness that is and was La Paz. If you can imagine Kusadasi in Turkey on Steroids mixed in with Lourdes during Pilgrimage then you might be close but even at that, it doesn't do it justice.
As I mentioned in my previous Bolivia posts, you can't escape the road blockades which are just part of the whole Bolivia experience. Just be prepared to be flexible and don't plan anything because nothing (and I mean nothing) functions in Bolivia. We took a 10 hour bus from Sucre into what we thought would be the centre of La Paz and how wrong we were. At about 6am in the morning and 7 miles from the city, myslef, Andrew and about 20 Bolivians were marched off the bus and told to "Comience a caminar". In English that translates as 'Start walking'. Hungry, cold, smelly, in need of a toilet, tired, sick (all these come as part of the Bolivia package) and carrying approximately 25kg of luggage on our backs, we were not happy campers or in our case backpackers. On we walked with the hundreds of other Bolivians stuck in the same situation. We got a couple of hundred meters down the road when riots/bonfires/shouting and people just throwing things at each other began. Panic set in and we took a dodgy detour, following women and children (usually you're safe with women and children) and thank god in that instance, we were. After another hour or so into our torturous walk, we eventually hailed down a tiny white bus already stuffed with locals but managed to cram ourselves in and of course at that stage we would have got into a bus full of rabies infested dogs. We paid our fare which was the equivalent of 40 cent for a 30 minute bus journey and got dropped off outside our hostel. If that isn't luxury then I don't know what is.
We stayed at the Adventure Brew Hostel and it was perfect, not just because of the free pancakes every morning but also because there was always something going on. You wouldn't have to leave the hostel if you didn't want to, which was exactly what our 3 Swiss roommates did who were a little more interested in trying Bolivia's biggest export and I'm not talking about Alpaca.... There are plenty of hostels to stay at while in La Paz and most of them are very nice. Loki is another good one but usually full of Israelis similar to 'The Wild Rover' which is full of Irish, hence the name. 'The Wild Rover' does have its own nightclub right beside all the sleeping quarters so if you value your sleep, maybe look elsewhere. Anyway enough about that and more about La Paz. Well I loved it! The madness, the riots, the tear gas, the regular blowing up of dynamite, the pervy Bolivian men and the scary Bolivian witch women. What's not to love? There was so much to do in La Paz and that's why travelers stay there so long. One guy in our hostel was into his 5th month there with no intentions of moving on. Each to their own.
With Bolivian being the cheapest place in the world (that's not fact just an expression), it was easy to go a little wild. If you are the budgeting type then you would easily eat 3 really good meals a day for the equivalent of $5. Your best friend will be the Mercado Alto where you can get a 2 course meal usually accompanied with fried banana because they just can't get enough of the stuff there and a drink all for about $1. Or if you are a smoothie/juice type of person, get the energy booster which includes at least 15 pieces of fruit for about 0.50cent. 15-a-day is the new 5-a-day. On the opposite side of the coin where money isn't an object or you happen to be going out with the fussiest eater known to man who doesn't understand the concept of budgeting.... Well then, I have just the place - 'Jack Daniels Steakhouse'. We went here with our Irish/Polish friend Arek and it was definitely up there with Argentinian steak. You can get 500g steak, chips, wine and all you can eat salads for about $10 and that is the most you will pay for anything in Bolivia. 'Oliver's Travels' is another nice place that does a really good full English breakfast if you're feeling a little homesick. 'Olivers Travels' is also good for a drink as is 'Ram Jam'. I'd also recommend trying the street food especially the 'chorizo burger'. It's cheap and really good.
From Food to shopping - Try find me a Backpacker/Tourist in La Paz not wearing some sort of Alpaca jumper and those hideous woven trousers that you would never get away with wearing anywhere else. You can't, it's impossible and yes I was one of them. The stuff is so cheap and the jumpers at least are nice and feck that, why am I making excuses, there a must for the cold and altitude. Also, it is very cheap to post things home so buy loads and post it home because it will save you from lugging it around for months. The are street stalls everywhere in La Paz. The Witches' Market is a must - Venture off Calle Sagárnaga onto Calle Linares and you'll find yourself in the appropriately named Witches' Market, which only runs during the day (probably because they are too busy with their witchcraft at night). Here, you can buy a variety of charms, spices, and magic potions to help with things like 'man problems' and 'women problems'. Don't really want to expand on that one.... Llama fetuses are one of the most popular items (that's what is feautred in the picture above) you see there dead carcasses hanging from every doorway and window. Just don't walk head first into one like I did.
So we've covered accommodation, food and shopping and now 'what to do in La Paz'. I'm leaving the best till last because you won't/can't be bored. There is so much to do; Number One on the list is.. virtual drum roll please... 'Death Road'. Yes it's scary, yes it's insane. yes it's probably best that you don't tell your mum but categorically YES you have to do it! Although if you live on the less frivolous side of life and the second story of your house is about as high as you'll risk then maybe this isn't for you. A classic example who this isn't for would be... Yes, you've guessed it, Mr Safety Pants himself, Andrew Moloney, AKA my partner (never partaking) in crime. There was no point even trying to convince him and he has the cheek to call me stubborn. So what I successfully did in this case was rope some other poor victim in to join me. That victim was Arek and I couldn't have chosen better. With Arek leading our tour group and me close behind him, you'd think we were invincible and that there wasn't a 1000m drop ever so sloghtly to the left of us. Of course every couple of hundreds meters of so, our tour guide would stop us at a point where some tourist or bus had gone over the edge, just to remind us all how unsafe this road was. I guess they don't call it Death Road for nothing! Once we had reached the bottom of the mountain, we had to acclimatize to the sub-tropical temperatures where less that 2 hours before, we were dealing with sub-zero. After a nice cold beer, me & Arek went off with a different guide to our next adventure 'Zip-lining'. I'd highly recommend this as an add on, it was great fun and only cost about $30 but if you do it naked, it's free. I paid. For the 'Death Road Tour' we went with a company called Barracuda - they were half their competitors price and always have a smaller group. Oh and don't worry safety was not compromised.
Urban Rush - Ever feel like jumping out of a building dressed like Batman or Superman? Well now is your chance. For just $20 and some amazing views of La Paz, try this out. Here is the link: http://www.urbanrushbolivia.com/index.php/en/. Of course it's all very safe and done by trained professionals.
La Paz Walking Tour - it's free and informative. This happens everyday leaving from Plaza San Pedro and goes on for about 3 hours. The tour company are called Red Cap and although it's not compulsory, you usually give a few Bolivians as a thank you at the end. Hopefully, you'll get a really eccentric gay Bolivian who provided us with hours of entertainment: http://www.redcapwalkingtours.com/
Valle de la Luna - About 10km out of La Paz is Valle de la Luna, it's a pleasant break from urban La Paz and makes for some amzing picture if you have a clear day. It's made up of weird eroded hillsides and canyons. You can also do hike around the surrounding area but be warned the altitude is crippling, going a few meters is hard work let alone climbing half a mountain.
Tiwanaku - At this stage of our trip, we hadn't been to Peru yet so Tiwanaku was a first insight into the 'Inca' experience. It's a good day trip where you get to see some of the last standing architecture of the Inca Empire. Book this trip with a tour company because its a nightmare trying to figure out transport otherwise. Other sights of interest are La Paz Cemetary, Inglesia de San Franciso & Museo Nacional del Arte.
That's it from La Paz, next stop is Rurrenabaque or 'The Amazon'. I'll keep you posted!!