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Dropping into La Paz

BOLIVIA | Sunday, 2 December 2007 | Views [849]

Driving into the city of La Paz is literally like dropping into a huge canyon with sides 1000M steep, stacked high with cubicle mud-brick homes stacked next to and on top of each other. During the day, the thousands of tiny brown boxes blend in with the color of the eroding cliff sides. The cliffs resemble the same shape as those along the step slopes of the beaches of Torrey Pines, but are a darker, richer color, and hundreds of times grander scale. There must be millions of shanties and homes, and they plunge downward into the depths of the center of La Paz where the main commercial heart of this region thumps with people everywhere transacting business in their entrepreneurial ways. It's overwhelming to view, hard to imagine so many people living on top of each other and on such steep slopes. At night, the plunge into La Paz looks like we might be entering the milky way; a sea of starry lights, it's a strikingly beautiful sight. On a clear day we can even see the snowy mountains surrounding the outskirts of the city. Our bus drops us off near Plaza San Francisco and we are overwhelmed. People everywhere. Taxis passing by are packed with people, it is going to be difficult getting a ride to our hostel. It's started to rain, and walking is not really an option, as our hostel is a distance away, and we are still weary of the dangers of being fresh tourist targets, carrying computer, cameras and a bag full of electronics. We've read up on the scams on the street here in La Paz. On the way in, we pass walls of graffiti that read "be aware, but don't fear." A powerful message for us to take to heart. We need to continue to embrace the culture and the challenge, being smart about how we travel, but not overly paranoid and fearful. Despite this positive reinforcement message, it's hard to erase the Bolivian stories we've read about from other travelers, and on the US Department of State country profile sheet (which we really need to stop reading, or we may be convinced not to travel to these amazing developing countries). We've read about tourists being abducted here, savings accounts drained, killed, and buried in shallow graves. The same scams in other places in South America also exist here, as do the frequent "fake" police who request you hand over your passport and come with them to the "fake" police station, and then they proceed to rob you. This aside, we're prepared to travel, being aware of our surroundings, and enjoy our time to the fullest in La Paz. Everywhere around us culture and tradition are rich. The chola paceña (La Paz women) in their big full skirts (polleras) made of brightly colored velvet, silk, taffeta and polyester, beautiful, sparkly shawls decorating their shoulders, black healed shoes, and bowler hats swarm the streets, living out their culture vividly and colorfully each day. Lining the streets are "masked men" wearing knitted black ski/face masks and baseball caps. These guys are the local shoe shiners, and are everywhere.... there are rows and rows of these guys hard at work. Not quite sure why they wear the full face masks, perhaps it's to protect them from the fumes of shoe polish, or the toxic air of the city pollution. Ladies sing out the prices of strange glasses of colored drink with brain like looking fruit floating mid glass. There are rows of pirated CD's and software stalls, and leather items and shoes are big business here. Food vendors have the portable roll up stalls, and seem to fry up everything you can imagine with a fried egg on top. We grab a cab, finally, after 30 minutes waiting in the rain, and head up hill past Plaza San Francisco to our all too comfy guesthouse - Arthy's Guesthouse. While some people may criticize the place for hit's midnight curfew, were all too happy to have a place where we can relax and actually get a quiet night's sleep!

Tags: On the Road

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