La Paz, pt. 1

After a truly horrific overnight bus ride from Sucre, we arrived in La Paz around seven in the morning.

We bought the nicest seats (cama suite) for 180 bolivianos a person on El Dorado (the nicer of the tourist buses), and I can only say two good things about the trip: it didn’t break down, and the raised leg rests were wonderful. But like local buses, the bus overbooked on purpose so Bolivians sat in the aisles. There was no bathroom. And the roads were unpaved and absolutely crazy on the mountains. We stopped twice for a bathroom break. Only once was there an actual toilet, and I use that word very loosely. The other time the women just huddled under a parked semi truck and did business on the asphalt. Men just stood around the bus.

Okay, now that that is over, we arrived in La Paz. The third-largest and (possibly) most developed city of Bolivia, it is not attractive. Most hostels are in the city center, where the old colonial city was, so that makes walking to historical sites easy. There aren’t a lot of options (at least that we saw) for hostels, besides party hostels. Thankfully, most hostels are within walking distance of the bus terminal.

On Sundays, one of La Paz’s more unique tourist attractions are the Cholitas Luchadores, or fighting women. These are Aymara women that live in El Alto, the largest of La Paz’s suburbs, and wrestle. We really wanted to go to that, but all the people selling transportation and tickets wanted 80 bolivianos a person. I’m sure you can get transportation and entrance to the event much cheaper, but we were still sleep deprived and a little disoriented from our trip into the city.

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Not a lot is open on the weekends in La Paz, so we took a stroll through Mercado de Las Brujas. Just a block or two behind the museum/cathedral of San Francisco, the “witches’ market” sells all sorts of potions, good luck charms, and such. Although almost everyone in Bolivia is Catholic, the traditional shamanistic beliefs of the Aymara are still strong. We saw wooden idols of the local gods/goddesses, dried frogs, and other odd-looking plants. The yatiri, or the witch doctors, were few and far between on a lazy Sunday, but we did see a few in their black hats and aprons full of herbs. The most interesting item in the market was, by far, the dried llama fetus. And there were plenty.

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Bolivian/Aymaran custom says good luck comes to people who bury these llama fetuses under their homes. The offering brings fortune from Pochomama, the mother earth goddess.

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Calle Jaén, one of the oldest and most historic streets in La Paz, was just one block from our hostel. Here are old buildings that are now museums. There’s a museum for precious metals, one for musical instruments, and another for Bolivian literature. On the other side of the street is a museum to a famous political martyr, Pedro Murillo, housed in his old home from 1809. One of the oldest and largest plazas in La Paz is named in memoriam of him. This plaza has often been the center of political upheaval and unrest. In 1809, one of the earlier uprisings (this was against the Spanish government) captured the plaza and several surrounding political buildings. Murillo was named president of Upper Peru (it wasn’t called Bolivia yet) with his compatriots. A few months later, in 1810, the Spanish recaptured the city and hanged Murillo and the others in the plaza.

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La Paz also has other plazas filled with pigeons, street vendors, and local people enjoying themselves. Roughly 12,000 feet above sea level, it was pretty high. I popped my altitude pills religiously and feltmostly okay. I am very eager to leave high altitude, though! Founded in 1548 by Spanish conquistadors over an indigenous town, La Paz was tightly controlled by the Spanish government for over two hundred years. The indigenous people rose up against the Spanish in 1781 for six months. Again, in 1809, was the beginning of the successful revolution against the Spanish. Sucre is still the actual capital of the country, but La Paz is where all the administrative buildings are, and when all suburbs are included, it is the largest metropolitan area. Bolivia is South America’s poorest country (I believe), and you can definitely see that in La Paz. There are incredibly nice, Beverly Hills-looking places in the city, and just up the hill near the suburb of El Alto are houses that are just one step above slums. La Paz is a very interesting city, and we enjoyed our two days there. It is a great place to see an emerging economy, traditional indigenous life, and rapid change in a city.

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Morgan S Hazelwood

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