Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Peace from La Paz

So we took our leave of Samaipata in the wee hours of the morning hoping to arrive in Santa Cruz as the bus offices opened in order to reserve the night bus before it filled up seeing as the day before there were no buses. However, it seemed all the `collective taxis´ had spent the night in santa cruz too and there was nothing. For an hour. Waiting by the road with a bunch of others desperate to get to santa cruz. Finally we filled up a local taxi who only charged a bit more and off we went down out out the lush green Andes and into the edge of the Chaco plains. Would have a been an enjoyable ride except the guy in the passanger seat was still drunk from the night before and talked for 2 hours non-stop of all things annoying. The day did improve after that but I still wasn`t very impressed by Santa Cruz, Bolivia`s 2nd biggest city. It was a big city. It was busy. Whatever. Bolivia (which I could glorify wonderfully) still has to have it´s low point. We relaxed in the plaza reading the election results (nice, as every Bolivian city), found some delicious arabian food, some internet and lots of snacks for the bus. Now the bus was a bit more impressive, actually cama-cama (real bed) so the extra we paid, paid off. So comfy but long ride and nothing to do past watch another awful awful movie they seem to favour down here. Oh and I believe the bus stalled twice while I was half-asleep, typical. Got to La Paz about 11am and braved the crazy streets (it would take us the whole time to get used to them) with our backpakcs up and down (La Paz is in a mountain valley as steep as Quito, actually resembles Quito quite a lot but I like La Paz better) Hostel, didn´t luck out the first night as our room was right outside the noisy common area that despite the signs people tended to smoke in, a lot. But the next 2 nights Corinna had joined us so we got moved up to nice triple upstairs. Great location did redeem it though, on the outskirts of the market district, 30 square city blocks of stores and stalls, selling EVERYTHING (except the movie Love Actually). Truth be told we spent the vast majority of our time in La Paz just wandering all the markets, incredible atmosphere. (Yes and doing a bit of shopping... so ridiculously cheap) The touristy artesania market with the typical lovely handmade stuff, the witches´market with weird cures (fancy a llama fetus?), the ´black market´ with food, clothes, material, building supplies, housewares, you name it, in bulk. And of course the food stalls. I could rant forever but will try to spare you. Just picture the biggest juicyest fruit salad of all your favourite exotic fruits with yogurt (choose the flavour) and sprinkled with puffed quinoa and coconut. Now picture the price tag. How does about US70c sound??? DELICIOUS. Biggest batidos ever for 40c, huge sandwiches with extra toppings under a dollar. The baked goodies were the only disappointment. La Paz gets my vote for the best street food I think. Though we are a bit sick of sandwiches by the time we left... And I know some people are cringing at the words ´street food´ but seriously, most of the bad cases I´ve heard of are people who ate at touristy restaurants where they don´t care cause their clientele is never returning and you can´t see the kitchen, in these you are literally sitting in their kitchen. It´s so fresh and you can´t be paranoid. The water though... that still scares me! The people in La Paz were so friendly too, I ended up teaching English to a shop lady´s daughter for a bit cause neither of us had change (very common situation, so annoying since the bank only dispenses huge bills and no one keeps any change on them) so great deal for me! And some university students asked me to do an interview in French for their class, ahahaha I completely embarassed myself. The simplest words I can´t think of and come out in Spanish. It´s awful, I still understand French no problem but speaking... I need a couple hours to adjust. Anwyay... back to the craziness of La Paz, incredibly we only saw one guy get hit, the traffic was all over the place a real free for all but ok once you´re used to it just got to keep on your toes! Never seen anything quite so bad. We lucked out on our long walk since they had closed the Prado (main street) for either a very quiet protest or something abour a market? Not quite sure... The majority of traffic in La Paz (like 95%) are these `micros` big vans that go everywhere for a few cents, with a caller yelling the destination out the window. We took one out to the Valle de la Luna and they are more comfy than look (not saying much but still) and very very convenient in you know the city. Valle de la Luna (moon valley) was pretty cool, crazy pinnacles of dirt created by erosion and framed by red and green mountains all under the dark clouds of a thunderstorm (that chased us back to La Paz, worst weather we´ve had since Chile) Wandered around in them looking way up and way down at all the different formations, rocks perched on drit peaks. Grabbed lunch at a local place that looked super nice with uniformed waiters but filled with construction workers on lunch break, great contrast. Another contrast: Driving through the rich section with huge ugly mansions on the way there. We also went to the Coca museum, very interesting and pretty well done. Putting all the aspects of that controversial little leaf in perspective and rich in details from it´s traditional spiritual value here to the current drug wars. Even treated ourselves to coca cheesecake and coca-carrot cake (more for the experience, wasn´t the greatest flavour!) Also ran into Kathi from our Uyuni tour at the post office and I ran around in the pouring rain buying things for her to give to her project with the shoe-shiners (of which there really are even more than the cheap internet cafes). They hide their faces behind ski masks so they aren`t recognised at school since it is considered the worst job. I still can`t get over how all the people still get their shoes shined, it seems so 100 years ago. And add a good amount of time in the above mentioned internet cafes (try 15c an hour), that about sums up our time in La Paz. It was wonderful though, for a big city it had a nice feel of daily life and it was good to take things slow for a bit.

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