the crazy town of la paz

  • we do not like democracy
  • san francisco church
  • witches market
  • houses on the hill
  • old school buses
  • city at night
  • more buses
  • minibuses
  • public transport
  • people traffic
  • street markets
  • inca beer made of corn

La Paz is an wild city. I had heard stories, but I really didn't expect this. La Paz is built in the mountains, so all the streets are either step up hills or steep downhills. I don't think anything is flat here. This makes following directions a bit hazardous because if somebody tells you that a certain shop is 2 blocks away, you have to bear in mind that it may be 2 blocks of steep uphill which will take you ages to get to. The streets are absolutely packed with people and cars. I don't quite know what everybody does in this city, but everybody seems to be out on the streets moving around. There's an area that is called "The witch's market" which is made up of loads of stalls and shops selling all those touristy items - crazy stripey trousers, clothes made from llama wool, small Bolivian guitars (churanga) etc etc. The weirdest thing being sold here is llama foetuses that the locals believe bring good luck. It's actually pretty disgusting seeing all these dried up baby llamas by the hundreds, being sold as if they were just an ornament, still who am I to pass judgement on other people's traditions.
There are also loads of opportunities to buy coca leaves, which are said to help with altitude sickness. Not sure if it really makes a difference. I chewed some a few nights ago and didn't really see any change in my breathing etc. What I did get was numb gums, numb mouth where I kept the coca leaves and greenish teeth and I think really bad breath cause they definitely do not have a pleasant smell. The coca leaf is used for the production of cocaine and is illegal in most South American countries, but chewing it here is completely legal and I don't see why it shouldn't be in all the other countries too as it's not like it gets you high. I visited the coca museum in downtown La Paz and learnt quite a bit about this plant. The most surprising fact being that coca leaves were and are still used in the production of Coca-Cola - hence the name. Also the reason why back in the day Coca-cola was seen as a bit of a stimulant. These days, the active cocaine ingredient in the leaves is no longer used in the drink but the leaves are still used for flavouring. It's pretty annoying to read that selling coca leaves is illegal, yet the American Coca-cola company is allowed to buy tonnes of the stuff every year. According to the locals, the western world really screwed things up for them because we took something pure like coca leaves or rather the natural cocaine present in small quantities in the leaf which had been used for centuries by their shamans and doctors, as antiseptics and used by miners to heighten concentration levels etc. and we turned it into the synthetic cocaine drug which is such a huge problem here and all over the world. Also, what could have been a great industry for Bolivia - the production of natural cocaine for medicinal purposes - has been blocked by the UN because of the illegal use of cocaine. Funny though that the US, UK and a bunch of other countries are allowed to produce medicinal cocaine but not Bolivia.
The traffic in La Paz is crazy. There are loads of minibus taxis like in South Africa. And like in South Africa, these guys have absolutely no regard for anybody on the road and no regard for any laws of the road. Also, each taxi has a person always sitting at the door and as they pull up to a stop this person start shouting out the destinations and the costs. I really need to film this as it's difficult to put it into words. Loads of times you'll be walking along the road looking at stuff in the markets and you get smacked with taxi side mirrors.
One night we took a taxi up to one of the mountains to have a view of the city. It was pretty impressive, but the experience was ruined slightly by the pungent smell of urine at this beautiful spot. This has actually been a bit of a problem here - it seems most of the local men will just take a piss anywhere they feel like going and a lot of the streets around the markets and plaza are littered with urine puddles and there is often a strong smell. After viewing the city from the top, we took a local bus back into the center and were dropped smack in the middle of a crazy market. We asked some local for directions and he was pretty helpful and before we walked away he told us to be careful and to keep an eye on our stuff. All cameras were swiftly put away.
The first day or 2 here I really didn't like the place, but like so many other places on this trip, it's quickly grown on me and I'm finding myself spending much longer here than planned.