|The world's highest capital city La Paz is a bustling city spread over a large canyon. La Paz literally translates as 'the peace' but we didn't manage to find anywhere that came close to this. Arriving early in the morning we drove through the densely populated outskirts with the most basic of housing and the sense of poverty continued all the way to the city centre. We found a place to stay in the middle of the city close to the market area next to the church of San Francisco. We spent the first few days walking the streets looking at the markets. There was an interesting area known as the Witches Market where all types of strange things could be bought. From dried llama foetus to hallucinogenic cactus plus an assortment of herbs and potions used to cure or curse.
On every street and corner people were begging and although we had seen people begging in Argentina, this was the first city we encountered with such a high level of need. We realised that we couldn't help everyone and it was especially hard to walk by young mothers with children who obviously had nothing. Again it made us realise how fortunate we are as westerners with so many opportunities and we considered how wealthy we must look to people who can't earn enough money to support their families and may never even get to travel to see their own country. On the streets there were people willing to give anything a go to make a living. From selling things like toenail clippers and soaps to shoe shine boys wearing balaclavas to hide their faces and avoid the social stigma attached. Everywhere the city hummed with activity and the noise and chaos was as hard to escape as the pollution. At first we weren't to keen on the La Paz but after a few days it began to grow on us and we ended up settling into the cities pace.
In the time we were there we heard a few stories from people who had visited the San Pedro prison in the middle of La Paz. It has an interesting history as a jail where families can go to live with their incarcerated partners. One day we went with Britt and Anthony and a couple of other people to see if we could visit. We were all very apprehensive about entering such an unknown world that we had only heard stories of what went on behind these walls. We stood out the front for at least an hour with our imaginations running wild not knowing what to expect. We psyched each other up glad that we were in a group and walked towards the guards holding shotguns next to the main entrance. In our broken Spanglish -hindered by our nerves and the intense stares from the prisoners standing in the internal courtyard looking out at us- we asked if we could come in. One of the guards motioned us to another entrance around the side of the prison where after being patted down, assigned numbers and paying a tourist fee we entered a world not many get to see.
Our guide was an inmate, a career drug smuggler from South Africa who told us about the general running of the prison. He was a strange guy with some unbelievable stories who has spent more of his life in jail than out. He explained how the quality of life within the jail is dictated by how much money you have and to be in the section we visited, away from the general population you have to pay to get in and buy all your food and essentials. If you want a room in this part you have to either buy it or rent it and as their isn't a lot of space many people share rooms or sleep in the chapel or library. We went on a tour of this section walking through and met a few other inmates and saw children playing in the courtyard. It wasn't as daunting as we had first imagined and was well worth the visit. The next day we went back to the jail to take the children toys, colouring-in books and crayons. They were very appreciative for something to brighten up their day, as it isn't much of a life for kids in jail.
That night we ate at a Lebanese restaurant in town and even though the food was delicious something Ryan ate didn't agree with his system, For the next few days he was really ill. Without going into details when he wasn't bedridden he was on the toilet. He had a high fever and was in a lot of pain. We had planned to leave on the Sunday with Britt and Anthony to go to Copacabana but Ryan was too sick to leave and so they headed north while Ryan recovered. The next day he was feeling better and we went to buy bus tickets but were told there was a blockade in the road and it wasn't possible to get there. We were stuck in La Paz for 3 extra days until the blockades cleared and after a week in the city we were definitely ready to leave.