Tuesday, December 21, 2010

La Paz, Bolivia

La Paz is one of the most outrageous cities I’ve ever been to. Of course everywhere in Bolivia has to be “the world’s……..” something, and this capital reigns as “the world’s highest capital city” (elevation 3,660 meters/12,007 feet), despite that fact that it lies in a valley. A sweet, pollution trapping valley. When you arrive from the top of the canyon the first sight is buildings, houses and lights as far as your eyes can see. It feels excitingly exotic, and as you descend into the thick of it, you start to catch a glimpse of just how chaotic this city really is. There are indigenous people side by side with people in suits on every single corner. There is not one super market, and it is the 2nd biggest city in the country – only small stores, tiendas and kiosks everywhere. As you walk down the street you can literally buy anything you want, from shampoo to batteries to hats to fruit to alpaca meat on a stick… and that is just one little old lady’s stand.

In the Witch’s Market you can find potions and concoctions that you can’t even imagine existed, not to mention dried llama fetuses of all shapes and sizes (they bring good luck to a new home). There are food markets and booths everywhere, selling set meals for as cheap as 6 bolivianos (soup and entrée for 85 cents) and fresh, delicious empanadas for half that price. For a reason I have yet to uncover, there are people in zebra costumes directing traffic, and they are surprisingly enthusiastic about their job.

As you can imagine, the sites, sounds and smells of this city can be overwhelming at times. After traveling to many places in the world, I crave cities like this; bizarre, tumultuous and dynamic. Not to mention incredibly inexpensive! Whereas a handmade alpaca sweater might cost around $200 USD elsewhere, here they run about $20 for the “tourist price”. Beautiful clothes and jewelry line the central streets of the city, and if I wasn’t carrying my life on back I would have invested in a whole new wardrobe. C’est la vie.

It happened that we were in this abnormal setting for yet another abnormal Thanksgiving together. During our time in Amsterdam we ‘feasted’ on turkey lunch meat, mashed potatoes and green bean casserole. In Bolivia I couldn’t even find one restaurant serving an American meal, so we ended up at an international establishment which happened to have on their menu pumpkin cream soup – so that, veggie risotto and a large beer made up this holiday which is clearly meaningless out of the U.S. But going to bed stuffed and a bit buzzed is really what it’s all about anyway, right?

gotta love The Point hostels!

So, survived La Paz, survived Route 36 and survived bicycling the “world’s most dangerous road”. Located just outside of the city, this single lane, unpaved road is, as you can imagine, incredibly unsafe. There is no guard rail and the drop offs are up to 2,000 feet. Instant death, for sure. Many cyclists from around the world have died trying to make their way down this road, and car/bus accidents have caused hundreds of deaths and will continue to do so as long as they use this route instead of another. The three of us plus our guide, Kevin, had a nice and adrenalin filled day conquering Death Road – the views are stunning, but you almost don’t dare to look and take your focus off the tiny road your life depends on. At the end you’re rewarded with a nice, cold beer – nothing makes you feel more alive!

Very disappointingly, one thing I did NOT survive was "the world's spiciest vindaloo". At the Star of India restaurant, if you complete the dish you receive a t-shirt announcing to the world "I survived the world's spiciest vindaloo". Obviously, worth the undertaking. After all my time in Asia and love for the hottest foods possible, I miserably failed and only made it through half of this unbelievably, out of this world, over the top, riiiiidiculously firey dish! When you looked at, all you could see were chili seeds. When you ate it, all you could do was burn, burn, burn, inside and out. The guy at the table next to us dry heaved (twice) and almost threw up at the table while eating it. After, he offered to sell me the shirt for a hundred bucks. Cheeky bastard.


The Lady Who said...

I love your description of La Paz. Makes me want to go there. Nice posts and great pictures. Keep them coming!

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