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La Paz, Day 1

Written on: Sunday July 29th, 2007

A journal entry from: Bolivia, Peru, and the Galapagos!

Today was a difficult day. I headed out around 9:30am for a short walking tour. It turns out that my hotel is nicely located in a tourist area at the top of a hill. I headed downhill to Plaza San Francisco. On the way, I passed a gringo headed up hill who was suffering from the climb. As I continued, I encountered more gringos. We definitely stood out from the natives, not only in skin and hair color, but also in dress.

Next, I headed a short distance down the Prado (the main avenue in town), I encountered a soap box derby. The race had just wrapped up, but I did catch some of the cars. They ranged from simple (car seat attached to a piece of plywood with wheels) to the more advanced (steering wheels and molded plastic covers to emulate F1 cars). The winners were awarded with brand new skateboards and bicycles.

Then I got lost and ended up at Plaza San Pedro. Here was a makeshift carousel (see the pics, this wasn't the only one in town) and San Pedro Prison. According to Lonely Planet, the prison has no guards inside, the prisoners don't wear uniforms, and the prisoners must work to pay for their cells. Richer prisoners get luxurious cells, and the poorer ones must share with several other prisoners. The prison functions as a town with the prisoners themselves maintaining order (hmmm). Each area of the prison has their own futbol team that competes against the others. They even trade players amongst the different areas and pay the players money! Apparently, you used to be able to take a tour inside, but there was too much cocaine smuggling going on, so they ended tourist visits.

I continued to stroll around town and every hill I met was a challenge. Just one block uphill felt like I had just ran a mile at sea level. The altitude was rough! It didn't help that the air was filled with diesel fumes from the numerous minivans and micro-buses. I stopped at the Witch Market and bought a small trinket in exchange for a picture of her booth. In addition to trinkets, she had dead cats, dead baby llamas, and a dead armadillo. Apparently, you are supposed to use these to bless a new home (or something like that). For all you animal lovers, the animals usually died naturally before they were dehydrated and put up for sale.

I eventually found another plaza to sit and relax in, Plaza Pedro D Murillo. On one side was the presidential palace, and on another a large building that I presume was a government building. A military brass band was playing there as well. I grabbed an empanada and a bottle of water from a shop ($0.50 US) and sat down in the shade for a bit.

At this point it was only 1pm, and I think I walked no more than 2 miles, but I was thoroughly exhausted and my head was aching. I decided to head back to my hotel and catch lunch on the way. I stopped at Le Pot Colonial and had a tasty set lunch of Maize Soup, Grilled Llama with French Fries, and a desert Empanada stuffed with some sort of fruit. To drink, I had some Coca Tea, which is brewed from the leaves of the Coca plant, and I was told that it helps with altitude sickness. Sure enough, it cleared up my headache rapidly (no other side effects), but it didn't last for long, the headache came back shortly after my meal. The total cost of the meal: $2.50 US.

I headed back to the hotel to rest. While doing so, I caught a chola fashion show on TV. All varieties of cholas were on the runway, from the more conservative with long skirts and shawls, to the moderate (knee length skirts, colorful petticoats), to the scantily clad (mini skirts, knee high boots, and low cut tight shirts). But in all cases, they had on their bowler hats and petticoats! Oh, and I made a typo yesterday, the Spanish actually imposed this style of dress on the indigenous women about 2.5 centuries ago (not half a century ago, duh).