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Touring La Paz

Written on: Saturday December 15th, 2007

A journal entry from: Kevin and Julie's RTW

Location: La Paz, Peru

Author: Julie

Hola!

Kevin is feeling better and better every day. His energy is coming back and his cough is diminishing, although our altitude of 3800 meters is slowing down his recuperation. We met Maxine and Mark for breakfast at their hotel then worked our way down the main street of La Paz, named Avenida Montes to the city tour bus pick-up point. We waited for a while, passed the pick-up time and there was no bus. Thinking we had missed we re-checked the schedule to realise that it was Saturday and the start time was different on week-ends from week-days. The next one was at 2:30 so to waste time we walked around the posh neighbourhood of the Pando and stopped for a few drinks at a really nice restaurant off of Plaza Avaroa. I ordered a nice esparagus crepe while Kevin ordered a few tapas platters of marinated olives, ham-wrapped cream cheese, and grapes and cheese skewers. It was an enjoyable few hours of wine, beer, good food and English football on the television. The time passed by quickly and we returned to the pick-up point where the bus was waiting. We paid our 6$ USD fee and boarded the top of the double-decker bus where a few Australian travellers were already sitting.  

The first loop of the tour lasted about an hour and half. It took us around the rich neighbourhoods of The Prado and the Lower Sopocachi, the business district, the market district of Santa Barbara, the plazas of San Francisco, 14th of December, and Murillo, the gringo heavy Avenida Sagarnaga where the witches market is located, Calle Jaen where all the museums are located, and Parque Barra. We saw everything from poor neighbourhoods, to high-rise buildings and luxurious hotels, working class neighbourhoods loaded with little restaurants and business stalls on the sidewalks, the pedestrian street where most of the city museums are located, little side streets where the bus could barely pass due to hanging Christmas decorations and loose power lines. There were signs that said to keep our heads and arms inside and I can understand why when we have to almost duck every 5 minutes not to be decapitated. I wouldn?t have wanted to have been on the first tour, when they didn?t know if their buses could through the narrow streets or hook the hanging lines. The tour was quick and mostly pointed out government buildings, bank buildings, some churches and gave a basic run down of the Bolivian history.  In a nutshell, in 175 years of independence, there have been 200 governments, including one that lasted only 6 hours and one year there was 3 presidents at the same time. They have been to war with most of their neighbours and in 175 years have lost their Pacific Ocean coast to Chile, a good portion of their eastern jungle border to Brazil, and a small section of their south eastern border to Paraguay. Most of the wars were directly related to the natural resources that are abundant in Bolivia, including rich forests, mining resource, and oil. Interestingly, the Bolivia Navy still performs exercises in Lake Titicaca, even thought they don?t have land on the ocean coast anymore. They are preparing for the day they think Chile will relinquish the territory back to them.  

The tour brought us back to the starting point but we stayed on for the second loop which took us to the south and from 3800 meters to just a little over 2000 meters. This is where the richest families and neighbourhoods of La Paz are located. Unlike other cities where the rich like to be located higher than the poor, in La Paz it is the reverse. The lower you are the more oxygen in the air, the warmer the weather, and the less pollution there is. We descended along the ugly, almost molasses like river of La Paz to the posh suburbs. Huge gated homes after another ran along the wide streets with high-end cars parked in the drive-way. I almost felt like I was home again, with the little boutiques, cute restaurants, nice parks, and lack of graffiti, garbage, and traffic. At one point, one of the Australian travellers decided to get a picture of the limestone hills surrounding the suburbs and stood up to take a picture. Although we gave warning, he was hooked by a couple of power lines and fell back. He was very, very lucky. He ended up with a little cut under the nose where one of the lines caught him and a bit of a bruised ear, but it could have been much worse. 

The last stop of the tour was the Valley of Moon that looks a bit like the Hoodoos in central Alberta. Large limestone hills have been carved into eerie shapes, chimneys, canyons, pinnacles, and stalagmites by the rain and wind. It was neat to see and we were able to walk around for 20 minutes admiring the scenery.  

The tour ended, we were dropped off at the starting point and walked back towards our neighbourhood north of El Prado, into the more blue-collar area of Plaza San Francisco. We parted ways with Maxine and Mark with tentative plans to meet the next day. We crawled into bed with a couple more DVDs and fell asleep watching Ratatouille and Marie Antoinette.