The Champagne Backpacker: Michael's Round the World Trip 2005-2007-- The Adventure of a Lifetime travel blog

Cathedral, Central La Paz

Family Photo

Young Bolivian Boy

Senior Bolivian Woman

Wedding

Bolivian Woman

La Paz City


SUNDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2006. LA PAZ, BOLIVIA. I've survived flying into La Paz. You can definitely feel the altitude here--It's hard to breath and walk uphill/upstairs. This is the stereotypical South America that we see in pictures. Unlike Argentina and Chile, whose population, customs, and dress are largely Western, over half of Bolivia's population claim indigineous roots. It's immediately evident in the faces and dress of the people. I love the tiny Charlie Chaplin top hats that many of the women wear. I should be here for a few days acclimatizing and planning a route around Bolivia.

Whereever you may be this holiday season, have a HAPPY CHRISTMAS and NEW YEARS!

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 27, 2006. LA PAZ, BOLIVIA. I haven't done much since arriving in La Paz, mostly because I have been trying to acclimatize to the high altitude. I get winded just walking up a flight of stairs or a hill. It doesn't help that La Paz is located in a steep valley. I also seem to be constantly tired. These are classic symptoms of mild altitude sickness, which will hopefully go away with time as my body gets used to the altitude.

I spent yesterday and part of today applying for a visa to Brazil. Brazil is one of the only countries in South America that requires a visa for American citizens. It's a bit of a hassle as the visa application requires, among other things: 1) Yellow Fever certificate; 2) Copy of Credit Card; 3) Copy of bank statement; 4) Copy of return or onward airline ticket; and 5) US$100. At least the Brazilian Embassy in La Paz claims a turnaround time of two days.

Tomorrow I tackle the "Most Dangerous Road In The World" downhill on a mountain bike. This is a spectacular and thrilling 3600 meter/11,800 foot, 65 kilometer/38 mile descent from just outside La Paz to the town of Coroico. It is called the most dangerous road in the world because apparently in some years over 100 deaths occur on this road. The root cause is reckless driving by Bolivians. Check back tomorrow to see if I survived.

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 28, 2006. LA PAZ, BOLIVIA. I survived, along with five Israelis who joined me on the ride. Details and photos to be posted shortly.

LA PAZ, BOLIVIA. As the world's highest capital city, La Paz sits a dizzying 3660 meters above sea level. The city itself is built in a canyon below the antiplano, a high plain ranging from 3,500 to 4,000 meters, and set between two great mountain ranges. Thus, in addition to the altitude, one must also contend with the steep valley in navigating the city. There's not a lot to see in the way of tourist interest. However, the city does provide endless opportunities for people watching in the informal markets throughout the city. Markets seem to spring up everywhere along the sidewalks. Vendors, mostly women in traditional dress, sell everything from food to clothing to house wares. As many vendors were selling the same products, there appears to be healthy competition. Unfortunately, the lack of product differentiation makes it difficult for vendors to compete other than on price. This, of course, is great for buyers. However, it looks like many vendors might only sell 10 to 20 Bolivianos per day ($1-2).

I spent my first few days just resting and acclimatizing. I was winded just walking up the two flights of stairs to my room at Hotel Continental (63 Bolivianos, $8). For food, I simply wandered around until I found a place that suited my fancy. A typical Bolivian meal is meat (beef, chicken), rice or potatoes, and cooked or raw vegetables. This meal will cost about 6 to 10 Bolivianos, or about $1. In contrast, meals in restaurants catering to foreigners start at about 15 to 25 Bolivianos ($2-3).

Bolivia is one of the cheapest and poorest countries that I have so far visited in my round the world travels. Internet cafes, for example, charge 2 Bolivianos/hour ($0.25/hour). A filling meal can be had for 8 Bolivianos ($1). The standard budget accommodation runs about 70 Bolivianos ($9). Despite the relatively cheap prices (by Western standards), many people appear to be struggling to make a living. This struggle is evident in the begging that I encountered everywhere I walked in La Paz. The beggars are mostly women and children in traditional indigenous dress. Except for Santiago, I did not experience any begging in Chile and Argentina (Chile and Argentina are very Western and developed compared to Bolivia). The begging is almost, but not quite, as bad as it was in Ethiopia. I have read that the poverty is due, in part, to three reasons: 1) High birth rate; 2) High infant mortality rate; and 3) Low female literacy rate. My own, albeit limited, experience would seem to bear this out on the streets of La Paz. There are so many women carrying babies or with children. Indeed, the large numbers of children are quite striking when compared to my visits to developed nations. The children nonetheless are clothed and do not seem malnourished.

As I don't speak Spanish, it's been difficult to communicate with people. It was a lot easier in Chile and Argentina where many spoke some English. It seems a lot less people speak English in Bolivia. Thus, my travels in Bolivia are proving to be a little more frustrating and challenging. Still, I'm carrying my Spanish phase book everywhere and making an effort to speak with people.



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