(Disclaimer: I did this on my phone so don’t know what it looks like really, could be messy)
Sooo La Paz…an analogy…
When I was working in housing support in Edinburgh we got the file for the new woman moving in to the bloc. It described paranoid schizophrenia, violence, a long list of police incidents and how she’d turn on those employed to help her, weaving them into a vast conspiracy. A fairly intimidating character to integrate with the other frail, demented (as in dementia) old biddies. So it was hard to believe the soft spoken, dottering old Jamaican woman I met was the same. A woman who offered me daily gifts of chocolate bars and ginger stems and entreated me, with much glee, to glimpse her treasured silver spoons and peacock ornaments.
Likewise, I’ve seen La Paz’s file and peacock ornaments.
The impression I had before I came was of a crime ridden, ugly city with deadly traffic and much poverty. They’re not exactly wrong, as in the woman’s file it’s not being made up. There is a fair amount of crime, everyone drives like a maniac so there’s lots of accidents and it’s a city of greys and browns. Concrete and dirt. And this is the poorest country in South America, quite visibly living here is tough. Having had a few days here though it’s clear these issues are only a part of the experience. I feel safe walking the streets, during the day. I cross the road without fear, siddling between bumpers and running through gaps. Snow capped mountains, colourful churches, blue skies and finely dressed cholitas* brighten the palette incessantly. I really like it here.
Walking around is an orgy of sensory stimulus, a city lived on its streets. It delivers on all the Bolivian cliches but also offers unexpected curiosities and all manners of action. After conjuring the energy to move out of the dead springed hostel chair I slouched into after my taxi dropoff, I stroll down the main Street. Heavily armed police with a confiscated hodge-podge of shotguns and old rifles idly watch as thousands of protesters flood the highway. Loud firework sticks have me jumping embarrassingly as the other bystanders pay it no mind. I’m lured by a dancing bear into a restaurant, only realising after I’ve ordered that the place is definitely for kids, and eat an awkward empanada. ‘Brossoland©’. The bear dances on gamely through the protest smoke.
Further wanderings show the city to be an endless marketplace of repeat goods. Stout bowler hatted women pedal SD cards, ice cream and llamma fetus’.
A shop with a thousand baseball caps has me stroking my budding travellers beard for an hour. They have every NFL team but mine so…
A good two course lunch with a drink can be had for £1.27, an ice cream for 11p (up to 40p if you’re a real fancy bastard). It’s pretty damn nice for food here, especially as the next vendor is never more than a few steps away.
I came across a little fiesta and had to feel for the cars who couldn’t sneak through and were trapped behind the festivities, crawling along for goodness knows how long.
I have my own festivities one night with a young Dutchman called Sven. First drink is in a cafeteria with ham and egg sandwiches and a crowd of middle aged Bolivianos. Second, after much searching, is at a tiny absinthe bar in a colonial alley with hummingbirds on the ceiling and fat naked men on the table. Sven lights the candles and tells me of Colombia. Third is in an empty restaurant, the over gracious owner makes pains to get the WiFi working for us although we don’t need it. Fourth is cocktails out on a rooftop bar overlooking the lights of the city, soaring up the mountainsides in all directions as they do. It seems like Pearl Jam are still pretty big here if bar music is anything to go by. We return to our hostel for karoake, outraged at being denied a slot due to tardiness we stage invade for a Spanish song we don’t know the words to. It doesn’t go well. After this we find comrades and the rest of the night brings the kind of mischief that I couldn’t repeat in polite company.
And I know what you’re thinking;
“Yes, yes this is all very well Jon but we came here for the ancient erotic artefacts and have yet to see a single one!”
Let me oblige you…
Also art and history is weird.
Also La Paz is kind of weird, bad files and peacock ornaments…
Shut up the analogy works!
I’ll leave you with some sunset pictures from the top of the city, reached by the fun and absurdly cheap cable cars.
*- Cholitas are the hardy looking Aymara women that wear bowler hats and layered dresses. Look em up. Interestingly if her hat is straight she is married but if it’s at a jaunty angle then she’s single and ready to mingle.
*- Also, on an unrelated but cute note, the local football team is simply called: The Strongest. I wish I was the strongest at football…