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zest&bare Most of the shadows of this life are caused by our standing in our own sunshine. Ralph Waldo Emerson

loving La Paz

BOLIVIA | Monday, 19 October 2009 | Views [1057] | Comments [5]

La Pazwow! Coming around the corner from El Alto to get the first view above this huge city is breathtaking. Not a pretty city, although they are trying, but if ever the word ‘sprawling’ was appropriate, this is it. It’s beautiful though in the people, the buzz and energy. And it seems I really am a city girl, even enjoying all the concrete after the dustbowl of Cusco. It’s a strange space La Paz, as though someone found a crater in the earth and decided to build an entire city in it. It feels like there should be a river running through the middle (the back water drain they call the river doesn’t count) and it parches me thinking about how landlocked this place is. I did however glimpse the mighty Lake Titicaca on my way here however I don’t think I got her best angle.

It was at the border of Peru and Bolivia at an unfortunate looking town, Desaguadero. After nine-ish hours on an overnight bus, which was surprisingly luxurious with almost fully-reclined seats, blankets and movies – not bad for $28, we stopped to go through Peruvian customs. This entailed standing in the pouring, freezing rain for over an hour, waiting for the office to open (the line gets huge hence not waiting on the bus – believe me, I wondered about this option too). After ‘checking out’ of Peru I literally walked across a bridge apparently in neither Peru nor Bolivia, with a murky looking Lake Titicaca to my left, and into Bolivia. Customs there were a much simpler affair and it was evident at that point, things work differently here. The bus, obviously, collected us on the Bolivian side.

Strangely, and luckily, on the bus I sat next to a British guy I knew from Cusco, who is a little bonkers and owns a pub in La Paz. As I couldn’t get hold of my contact, Diane, he thankfully offered for me to wait in his pub. Considering the crazy storm, I was more than appreciative of this. Eventually Diane found me and we went to check out places for me to stay. I saw five places. One landlord, let’s call her Mrs Highpants with a perm, showed me a room that smelt so badly of cats, dogs and old books, I almost gagged. I tried to smile through the ordeal, and for those of you familiar with my ridiculously over-developed sense of smell, you can imagine my devastation if this was my only choice! I would rather live in the literal single-bed-sized, can’t-fit-my-suitcase-in room I temporarily stayed in. Of the other few places, I did agonize for a bit over my final decision. It came down to one I really wanted and one that was nice but I only considered it because the lady was old and friendly, needed the money and quite literally begged me. Then I slapped myself and remembered me and want I want is more important (I hope everyone reading this feels the same about their own wishes?). So I am now living in an amazing apartment that is full of light, is huge and so central, in San Pedro. If there was any doubt about my choice, the two hour ordeal to get to the ‘other’ suburb where I stayed for a week, the other night in the rain and dark, (taxis won’t go there because it’s in the boondocks), settled it. 

Another great point is that I can walk to my volunteer school and the school where I guess I’ll be learning Bolivian sign language – um, yes, you read correctly. I realize there will be a few practical issues with this endeavor, considering I don’t yet speak Spanish. Wish me luck. The volunteer school is at the top of a hill and bright yellow (the apartment is also yellow – as my favourite colour, these were good omens). There are about forty children who are deaf and some with additional impairments. They asked me to “teach them to speak”. This really is the role of a teacher of the deaf and honestly I have no idea what the ^^&*^ I’ve got myself into. In English and possibly even in Spanish with a signer to assist I’d be fine. However without any resources and clearly the language issues, this is possibly one of the biggest professional challenges I’ve ever faced. I am currently writing a program which I need to translate into Spanish, for these adolescent deaf children to learn sounds and the new language (sign language is a completely different language to oral language and has its own word order, etc.). Not sure anyone I’m dealing with here realizes the sheer scale of what they are asking these children (and me) to do. It’s stressing me out a little and I really need to keep in check why I’m here and what I want to get out of this. I’ll work it out, I’ll have to! And in the meantime any suggestions are welcome…

I recommenced Spanish lessons however I fired my Spanish teacher on Thursday. Any teacher who asks indignantly with her face screwed up if I really didn’t understand the tape recording (yes, a cassette tape recording – the quality was amazing?) or if I really don’t know how to conjugate that verb (um Miss, I haven’t learnt that tense yet!), and then gives me the wrong advice because she actually doesn’t speak English (I should have asked her indignantly if she really didn’t understand me), is not creating the right learning environment for me! So I told her so in a calm and honest way and frankly she reacted really nastily. She told me that in all her 15 years of teaching no one had ever told her that the environment was stressful nor that they didn’t appreciate nor find her sarcasm helpful when they didn’t know something. I said perhaps they felt that but didn’t want to say anything to her. Anyone who has worked in a client- or teaching-based job should know the rule of ten percent, where usually one in ten people won’t gel with your teaching or personality style and that’s just life. She really didn’t need to get huffy or start mumbling in Spanish (possibly abusing me). I was just being honest and looking out for my learning. So I am currently asking anyone who speaks Spanish and at least some English to practice conversation with me. So far I have three takers so we’ll see how I go.

I’ve had a mini-Maximo reunion happening here at my house with some of the Cusco crew - Chloe, Bridget, Benita and Ben - staying this week. Tom’s been hanging out with us too. I’m by far the nana of the group, in age and in the fact I am meant to be working, but it’s been great… we just need the rest of our little Peru group and somewhere like ‘Inca Team’ (where we all danced many hours away in Cusco) and it’ll be like we never left!

On Friday Bridget, Chloe and I went to the Valley of the Moon. This is technically called the ‘Badlands’ and looks out of place with its rock formations, canyons, pinnacles and cactus. It’s meant to look like the surface of the moon. It was interesting and a nice few hours out of the city. To get there we had to go through Zona Sur – the rich end of town. Good God, you could almost forget you were in a third world country. The houses were humungous with gated communities and clearly lots of money to go around!

But I do love it here in La Paz and in my gritty neighbourhood, San Pedro. The famous prison of San Pedro is two blocks away, taking up prime city land. This is the prison the true-story ‘Marching Powder’ is about – where prisoners have to buy their own cells and there are ‘neighbourhoods’ of differing prestige inside the prison. The prisoners’ wives and children live inside too and the prisoners can set up restaurants and shops. You used to be able to visit and ‘sample’ apparently the purest cocaine with the prisoners (made inside San Pedro) however it’s not so easy now. You can go with a tour group, which wouldn’t exactly be the same as the original experience (where you could also sleep inside the prison). And even if you did get in on your own, apparently the guy now running the ‘tours’ is a cold-blooded murderer (as opposed to a relatively ‘safe’ drug dealer!). I can see the intrigue but I’m pretty certain I’ll give it a miss!

Unfortunately I am yet to buy a new camera (to recap, some bastard stole mine in Cusco) so haven’t taken any photos. I will do so soon though!

I am taking myself to Lake Titicaca for my birthday weekend (hint, hint.. haha!) in a couple of weeks, for hopefully a prettier experience than at the border. So until then… here’s to life!



Hey Dan, paeds is not my field but sing out if I can do anything/ask anyone something. Good luck, my brave friend. Loving the updates. a

  Ann Edwards Oct 22, 2009 5:36 PM


Hi Danielle ..."HAPPY BIRTHDAY" for Sunday. Hope you have a great day and enjoy your trip to Lake Titicaca.
So glad you are giving the San Pedro prison tour a miss
and good luck with all the "Hoo Hah" going on ... I know you will overcome all the drama - you always do!
Take care & stay safe.
Love, hugs & kisses - Mum xxx

  Cheryl Ryan Oct 28, 2009 1:15 AM


Happy Birthday! Love you lots and hope you have a really great day xx

  Amy Baker Nov 1, 2009 8:36 AM


Hey Dan - happy birthday hunny! Missing you!! Hope you have a great day xx Thinking of you xxxx

  Jemma Gorman Nov 2, 2009 5:28 PM


"Take 2" ... on the wishes for a Happy & Safe trip to Lake Titicaca & Copocabana this week end Danielle.
Have a great time - thinking of you.
Love you. Hugs & Kisses - Mum xxx

  Cheryl Ryan Nov 7, 2009 8:19 AM

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