|What is it that defines a great city or a bad city? It seems that we all have our favourites, and the one’s we do not care for. Over the years I have tried to come up with a check list that can help get to the bottom of this. I have arrived at 5 points which are as follows (1 being the most important etc)
1. The Vibe you get when you walk around (hard to define in words but you just feel it; some places you walk down the street and just know you could hang there for a while, others are like vomit trifle)
2. Character (including friendliness of the locals, unique charm and personality)
3. Architecture (any impressive buildings and layout really, and impressive can come in many guises, not just size, but colour and uniqueness etc)
4. Scenery and setting (beaches, mountains and delightful parks score highly)
5. Amenities (including restaurants, bars, museums etc)
With this checklist in mind, I just wanted to point out that La Paz is fairly deficient in most, apart from its claim of being the highest capital city in the world, and a decent mountain looming in the background. The vibe was filled with a menacing undercurrent which I didn’t care for one bit. We did, however, do some delightful trips to the surrounding areas, but I will let Georgie explain everything...
We arrived in La Paz (which is 4000m above sea level) in the dead of night which I wouldn’t really advise. Although we were untouched, a girl walking in front of us was spat at several times in the face by local women. (We’ve also met several gringo couples who have had wallets and bags stolen and one girl had her necklace ripped off her neck in the middle of a busy street) Our ‘hotel’ is located alongside ‘alcohol alley’ which as the name gives away is just an alleyway with hundreds of different stalls selling dodgy alcohol and no doubt anything else you may want on the side too. You can therefore imagine the kind of unsavoury people that seem to hang out around the hotel.
On our first full day here we did a bit of sightseeing – although there really isn’t an awful lot to see. We spent over an hour attempting to source a cup of coffee which led us on a wild goose chase through some really stinking markets and everywhere you look there are unsavoury characters lying in wait to rob a gringo. We decided to head back to the hotel and dump anything of any value whatsoever and went out again with only a few pounds stuffed in a money belt and my bra (I am pretty convinced that they couldn’t get to it there without me noticing!). We eventually found a coffee and wandered around the ‘witches market’ which is pretty colourful, selling more llama wool clothes etc but most freakily, llama foetuses are on sale there – pretty gross but apparently good luck if you bury one at home. We didn’t buy one. We also visited (from the outside only), the infamous San Pedro prison. For those of you who have not read Marching Powder, it is said to be the weirdest jail in the world, and basically if you get you sent there you don’t get a cell but have to buy an apartment there, and you can deck it out with TV’s and refrigerators etc. You get lots of politicians that go there but also the odd westerner for drug smuggling. The families of the inmates are allowed to stay with them in their apartments so there are shops and schools there and all the amenities you would expect. Bizarre! It is also said to be extremely corrupt, occasionally brutal and apparently has a cocaine laboratory run by prisoners that produces the most pure cocaine in the world!– no we didn’t go in but you can do still – for a cost of $40. A couple from a tour group stayed overnight a couple of nights ago apparently. Oh and someone escaped a couple of weeks ago – just donned a suit and walked straight out! Apparently the Bolivians never try and escape because they have it far better off on the inside with their family living with them etc, than they do on the outside. It’s really only the foreigners that try and escape and they are also the people that do the guided tours of the prison. We also went to the cinema – My Lovely Bones (in English) which we both really enjoyed although differed as usual from the book.
The following day we needed to get out of the city so went to visit Chacaltaya which is a mountain of 5400m at its peak and is also the highest ski run in the world (although sadly out of season for us). Although we drove up as far as 5000m and only had to walk 400m, at that altitude, it took us an hour and a half! Obviously 5400m is pretty high and we definitely got slightly light headed, shaky and breathless but are very relieved that the Inca trail is not as high as that. The view however was amazing, probably the first proper snow capped Andes view we have had. You could see the whole of La Paz, the highest 2 mountains in Bolivia (6400m and 6200m) and also the whole of Lake Titicaca so as I said, pretty impressive.
We then went to visit ‘the valley of the moon’ on the outskirts of La Paz which used to be a lake, thousands of years BC, but what is left is a huge area of bizarre clay formations and structures. Some are like really tall obelisks and others resemble things like hats and turtles. Quite odd but definitely worth a visit.
We have 1 final day left here today before moving onto Lake Titicaca, so we are going for a little wander around, with nothing of value on us whatsoever and hope for the best! To round La Paz up, it is a dirty, smelly crime ridden city with a serious drug problem. Get out of the city and the views are worth it, if you can cope with the altitude.