La Paz was the last stop on our Bolivia Hop ticket, and it was an interesting drive from Copacabana. At one point we had to get off the bus and jump in a small boat for the Tiquina River crossing, while the bus was taken across on a raft! It was pretty funny to see. It was beautiful driving into La Paz that night – it sits inside a sort of bowl surrounded by mountains, and the entire city twinkled below us as the bus started to descend into it.
We were staying at a hostel in a dorm room with zillions of other backpackers, and I was surprised to see posters all around the hostel warning against the use of drugs on the premises. I had been expecting to be offered cocaine every where we walked, but I was never asked, which was a pleasant surprise.
One morning we went along to the walking tour, and were taken around town, kicking off in front of the famed San Pedro prison, where prisoners have a certain level of freedom behind the walls, including being able to have their families live with them in the prison. It is a community run by the prisoners who are able to work to earn a wage, and who are required to buy their cell like regular real estate when they are first incarcerated. The guides warned us in the strongest terms not to take one of the tours of the prison, because your safety cannot be guaranteed, and once you’re in it can be difficult to prove that you don’t actually belong in there when you try to leave. The guards may require a hefty bribe to let you out again.
Afterwards we headed to the witches markets with super creepy dead llama fetuses arranged into offerings. Apparently they are used on construction sites and are believed to provide protection to workers, who will walk off site and not commence a job without one being present. We kinda thought that introducing tighter safety measures including strict use of PPE might be a better way of improving safety standards on site. We were told that the llama babies had died of natural causes, so that made us feel a tad better.
We walked through a huge open-air market, with vendors mainly selling fruit and veg. A common sight were small white or black pebble-looking things. We were told that they were dehydrated potatoes that are very popular in Bolivia because the never go off. They didn’t look very appetising!
Something that was very appetising (albeit not healthy in the slightest) were fried potato pockets filled with beef, onion, and slices of hard-boiled egg. Found at one of the other main markets, it was one of the tastiest things I ate in South America.
You couldn’t walk anywhere around La Paz without there being a shoe-shiner on the block, so Pedro took the opportunity to get his shoes polished.
We spent three days in La Paz, and every day at about 2:00pm, a storm rolled over the city and dumped rain on the streets. It made sight-seeing tricky, as we didn’t want to get caught out in the storm. But it is an easy city to walk around, except for the sometimes hilly streets. There is a metro system, and a new gondola type network, but I didn’t feel especially safe in La Paz, so unfortunately I wasn’t keen to try either of them out. It was very colourful, and an interesting mix of old and new, traditional and modern.
We met two other Aussie couples on the walking tour, and met up with them that night for some drinks at one of their hostels. It turned into a great night – there was even some dancing on top of the bar.
On the walking tour we were told that Bolivia was the first country in the world to give the environment human rights. In essence, Mother Earth is deemed to be a person. We had heard about “Pachamama” during our tour of Machu Picchu, and the indigenous Andean belief that she is a living being, and it is fantastic that Bolivia has enacted something into law in an attempt to protect it. However, the law seems to be aimed at stopping industrial pollution such as in mining operations, and attempting to minimize the effects of climate change. I applaud them… BUT… everywhere we went the rivers choked with bags of household rubbish and building waste. We saw locals simply dropping their rubbish on the footpath, stray dogs were tearing up bagged rubbish down side streets, and there didn’t seem to be any sort of recycling program. It didn’t seem as though the people were practicing what they preached, and I wondered how the government would apply regulation to industry if they hadn’t yet addressed something as seemingly basic as adequate rubbish collection and street cleaning. Growing up with “Keep Australia beautiful” anti-littering campaigns, it was disheartening to see. I wonder whether the new laws make it illegal for an individual to litter, and what the penalties are for doing so, if any? The law is only about five years old, so it will be interesting to see how things play out in the coming years.