OYOP: 24 hours in La Paz, Bolivia
We were traveling through La Paz for about 24 hours in order to catch a bus there to get to Sucre, the capital of Bolivia and where we will spend 2 weeks.
So, we booked a bus for the 4 hour trip from Copacabana to La Paz. We ran into a South African friend we’d made earlier before leaving who gave us a heads up about “strikes” going on in the small communities on the road to La Paz. What this means, we gathered, is that the locals were standing in the roads demanding per person fees for busses passing through on their roads. As such, his bus driver had taken back roads and gotten them stuck in the mud, and all of the men passengers had to get out and push the bus out of the mud.
With loads of hesitation, we boarded our bus on the same bus company and geared up for our short trip into La Paz. Our bus driver also took the back roads because of the strikes, but we didn’t get stuck anywhere. We did pass rows of small communities whose buildings looked near abandoned, and we did slowly pass through one town where I suspect the driver paid a fee to the local men standing on the roadside.
And then there we were for 24 hours in La Paz. La Paz is the kind of city where you can ride in modern public transportation across the sky one minute and purchase ancient herbs in the witch market the next. It is chaotic, and with over 1.4 million people, it is big. It is the kind of city that takes more than 24 hours to get to know and to grow on you.
We did hit a couple of the highlights though and as usual, walked endless streets to see and get to know the city. First, we walked shortly past the main plaza to find the famed witches market. Looking intently for large smoking caldrons, broomsticks, and women in costume, we circled a several block area at least three times before we realized it’d been right in front of our eyes. Tucked in alleyways of artesian shops are four or five shops that instead of selling bags, blankets, sweaters and jewelry, they are selling herbs, powders, oils, and possibly most interestingly and certainly most disturbingly, llama fetuses. Upon second thought, the first time we passed a shop with rows of hanging llama fetuses in the doorway, we should have known we’d made it. It is supposed to be good luck to bury a llama fetus in the ground where you are building your house.
As a stared at a bowl full of these charred black fetuses, I had the strange fixation like a child staring at a hot stove knowing that I shouldn’t touch it. Mesmerized, I reached out with one pointed finger and as I barely grazed one of the figures, there was a quick movement in the bowl, and I jumped just as a fly flew out and away.
After having our share of witchiness, we walked to the terminal to take a teleferico, a sky cable car, across the city. In this form of public transportation, you hop on one of rows of cable cars hanging by a skyline wire, and you gently glide along the wire high above the city through the other side. I was giddy like a kid on a Disney ride. The view is astonishing, and you don’t have to hike to see it. You really get a sense of this massive city with houses one of top of the other in the mountains and in the valley below. You can see the endless market tents. And there are so many cable cars that travel the wires one after the other, that if you don’t go during rush hour, you are likely to have a car to yourself.
We took the ride all the way across the city and back, and I could have done it a dozen more times in a row.
Apart from walking the streets, we also ducked into the cathedral, and we ate some fantastic Indian food. We sat and people watched for a while in one of the city squares, where you can buy ice cream and bird seed, so that you can eat your cone and be swarmed by pigeons if that’s your sort of thing.
Personally, I don’t understand the selling of bird seeds in city squares. It was difficult to relax while the pigeons were trying to scrape up any dropped bit of my ice cream cone, but judging from my watching people feed the pigeons and have them climb up on their arms and legs as they took pictures, I was in the minority here.
Finally, it was time to catch the overnight 12-hour bus to Sucre and leave La Paz. And so, I won’t have more than a 24-hour experience to report on in La Paz, but I think for now I got all I needed out of it.