La Paz – what we made of the Bolivian capital

Once we got to La Paz we checked in a not very cheap hostel*, but one that came with recommendations (pancakes for breakfast and a free beer in the evening, not a treatment you’d get everywhere) and we spent our first day in the capital of Bolivia. .. in bed! I had had some stomach problems and been down with flu for a week or so before going to La Paz, and it had subsided just in time. I was in the process of reading a book about how to treat yourself when sick, and how drugs should be the last resort. So i followed the advice from the book and let my body use its intelligence – rest in bed and hydration, and wouldn’t you know it, it worked wonders! So i was back on my feet, but as soon as we got to Bolivia, Boca fell sick instead. Solidarity, maybe? We thought the timing was not the best, but what to do, when the time comes, the time comes. So the only place we went that night was the hostel’s bar, where we received our free beer – the black one is really worth it!
The next day Boca felt much better, so the first thing we did was change the hostel (the pancakes were cold and we not at all enthusiastic about them) and we moved to La Carretera**, where we got a double room for the same price we had paid for a bed in a bedroom of 8 in Adventure Brew. Plus, the owner is the most lovely lady ever!
Our main occupation in La Paz

After checking in, we went out to explore the city – we found in our magical book a walking tour that was meant to take about 3 hours. Four days later, we finally finished it. That’s because of an unexpected element that came into the equation – shopping! By this time we had a plan in mind that Bolivia would be the last new country visited, so we thought it’d be ok to give in to some shopping. That seemed totally reasonable given that the only thing we had bought in the past eight months were socks to prevent our toes from freezing in Patagonia. We could not stop staring at all the gorgeous alpaca clothing (soft as cashmere and extremely warm), the silver jewelry that stole our eyes (and minds, for that matter), the superb Andean paintings… and the… oh, so many more. So we started with some shy shopping the first day: an alpaca blouse, a skirt, a pair of socks, a hat, a pair of earrings. When we got home we felt like jumping for joy again – our first shopping in 8 months! And seriously now, this is female blood flowing through our veins after all!

The next day we planned to finish the tour we had started the day before. We advanced a little, but did not get to the end because we got stuck shopping again. This time there was no “shyness” involved, but we gave ourselves permission to buy pretty much everything that threw a “smile” in our direction. It was as we were expecting to catch up for the last eight months in one day! What madness!

Failed plans – nothing new

The third day we figured things can no longer continue that way, so we bought a bus ticket to Potosi, the place we had been recommended especially for visiting the mines in the Rich Mountain. Those days there were strikes and protests blocking the national roads, and we knew the bus to Potosi din not leave La Paz in the past few days due to all that. But at 2pm when we bought the tickets we were told there was no problem, they had found alternative routes and the bus would leave at 8pm. Of course when we got there at 7.30 – surprise! “No bus can leave for Potosi due to the protests on the roads”. Great, let us jump for joy again! “Well then why were we told at 2pm that alternative routes were found?” No one was able to give us a concrete answer. Or any answer for that matter. We immediately decided to change plans and go to Uyuni instead, to the salt desert, but unfortunately the buses towards there had all left at 19 or 19.30. Bad luck! We got ourselves tickets for the next day to Uyuni, and spent the extra time we found ourselves with … shopping! Not that much of a bad luck after all 🙂

 

What we liked in La Paz (besides the shops and boutiques) One thing we loved in La Paz and we highly recommend is the Coca Museum, located smack in the middle of the shopping district – probably that’s why we managed to go inside only on the fourth day ahahaha. Coca is a plant monumental to the Andean tradition, and no less controversial. It is the plant cocaine is made of, but also such a significant presence in the indigenous cultures that these people cannot conceive living without it. In the late 80´s the U.S. government offered Colombia, Bolivia and Peru to help them eradicate their coca crops as part of the War on Drugs. While Columbia and Peru still use this strategy today (that´s not to say it works so well that these countries are 100% “clean” though), with Bolivia things did not go as well as it was hoped. So today many of the coca crops are illegal … and the problem does not seem to have a simple and quick solution.

Make sure you give yourself at least one hour to visit the museum, as you’ll be given a fairly substantial booklet with fascinating information (such as the fact that until 1929, Coca-Cola still had cocaine in its composition).
Another place we were highly recommended is a vegetarian restaurant called Namaste. It’s on 1334 Zorila Flores Street, not very easy to find, but not impossible either. They have lunch menus for 20 Bolivianos, but it’s all gone by 2pm, so it’s a good idea to get there before. Deliciousness!
The three-hour tour we managed to complete in four days included the San Francisco Square and Church (which is at the foot of shopping district), the Black Market, the Witches´ Market (where you can buy all sorts of herbs and items used for ceremonies, as well as llama fetuses, just in case you ran out of ideas for presents) and a couple of other squares and museums – all nice places to see, and a pleasant stroll through the city.

What we thought of La Paz

Truth be told, we weren’t all that impressed with La Paz – if it were not for Boca’s stomach, all the shopping and the bus delay, we would have probably considered two days there plenty of time. We had heard so much about Bolivia, how it’s so different from the rest of South America, so authentic, raw, frozen in time. How people are special, warm, open. Again, truth be told, we have not found anything in Bolivia that we had not seen before in Peru, at least in the Sacred Valley. Mamachas in their traditional outfits, great food sold by the side of the road, guys and ladies (which to us was pretty shocking) who saw the world as their private toilet, etc. It’s true that you don’t get to experience all this in Lima, while in La Paz they’re commonplace, but as compared to the Sacred Valley we did not feel that much of a difference.
What we liked in La Paz was how cheap everything was, from food to shopping to fruit juices sold in the street for 30 cents a cup. We liked the diversity, from new and fancy buildings to dodgy streets to the traditional markets where you can find everything from coca leaves to llama fetuses and a bunch of other scary things used for all sorts of ceremonies. La Paz was probably the city where we ate most often in fancy looking restaurants, as everything was so cheap that it was too hard not to spoil ourselves – around USD3 for a lunch menu with soup, main course and drink. Overall we found many good things in La Paz, but if we were to choose between spending time there or in Peru, we’d definitely choose Peru :).

Meeting Noemi, the brain behind Pedagooogia 3000

One of the main reasons for going to La Paz was to meet someone who could give us more information about Pedagooogia 3000. The first day we called the number on the website and our surprise was anything but small when we were told that Noemi Paymal, the lady who wrote the book, was in La Paz during those days (rare event, as she’s almost always away on one trip or another) and is willing to meet us. Extremely enthusiastic, we met Noemi early morning in her favorite library and spent more than two hours talking, sharing, enjoying. She told us of an invitation she had received from an university in Bucharest in June, and how she found a great opening in Romania to the ideas she was sharing. And a “hunger” for a better education suited for the third millennium. This made me very happy, as education is a sector I wish to focus on upon my return home, so it’s great to know people are open enough in this respect.

We said good bye to Noemi with the certainty that our collaboration was just beginning :).
Next destination – Uyuni and the fantastic salt flats!
_________
* Adventure Brew – 5 minutes from the bus terminal, prices starting 49 Bolivianos depending on the number of beds and the building (they have two buildings). With wi-fi (does not reach the rooms though) and breakfast with pancakes.

 ** On Yanacocha Street, perpendicular Sucre street. 25 Bolivianos a night, with wi-fi, no breakfast

 

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