South America, Day Fifteen: La Paz, Bolivia

So… we arrived in one piece. Just. The first four hours were really intense. Bump after bump after thud after bump… and all the windows were rattling something chronic. Needless to say, it wasn’t the most comfortable night’s sleep. Oh and our so called ‘cama seats’ were in fact semi-camas… basically like an airplane seat but, in this case, the back of the person in front rests on your legs. Snug. Regardless, I managed to sleep the majority of the trip. Vicki didn’t. Vicki stayed awake and witnessed some very close calls… one which involved a lorry.

Anywho, we got here. Alive. We went from cold to snow to pissing rain. Welcome to La Paz.

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And then… the hostel!!! ‘Bash and Crash’ lives up to its name. Actually, no. ‘Hell’ would be more appropriate. The shower is ice cold. It also doesn’t have a curtain so the water goes everywhere. Oh and there’s a high risk of electrocution because of all the exposed wires. It even says ‘WARNING: please do not adjust temperature with wet hands’. Fabulous.

In addition, there’s an annoying cat, which keeps meowing very loudly. And now the hostel is throwing a [very loud] party. But there’s only one guy behind the bar. Unless he’s throwing the party for the cat?

Anyway, onto La Paz. It’s a weird city. Women dig up roads…

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…the indigenous mix with the colonized… llama foetuses hang from stalls in the witches market…

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…big-skirted, bowler-hat wearing cholitas stroll the streets (don’t dare take a photo of them because you’ll be cursed)… everything, I mean EVERYTHING is sold on the streets… dead animals, live animals, potions and lotions, veg…

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…people chew and spit out coca leaves… and the prison has a special “exclusive” relationship with Coca Cola…

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On top of that, every driver feels it necessary to honk their horn to mark every occasion. A red light, for instance. The drivers of these cars couldn’t care less if they run you into the ground. And zebras (aka students in costume) take charge of the zebra crossings because nobody in Bolivia knows how to cross the road.

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20141021_170944It rained cats and dogs for most of the day. Vicki got rejected four times (she asked to take a photograph of the cholitas, they scowled back at her in response) and I got told off for putting too much spicy sauce on my lamb and rice. So, as of yet, we’re not big fans of this city.

10704051_637409761408_8008443617870533673_n(Me pouting after a public telling off)

We arrived at 6.30am, tried to find our hostel, gave up, so hopped in a cab instead (20 bolivianos). Then we had to climb up a load of stairs with our backpacks on. Joy. Once we freshened up (with cold water), we headed out to breakfast. I needed a fry-up in the worst way so we went to the English Pub. Not very cultured, I know, but we’re a bit sick of eating frankfurters and dust. The fry-up was great but the guy serving was off his tree and clearly an ex-con (or a current con). He’s probably here for the cocaine.

After breakfast, we undertook the 11am free walking tour, which was really interesting and our tour-guides were excellent. Shoe-shiners wear balaclavas – not because they’re terrorists but because in indigenous culture the foot is the most shameful part of the body, so they cover their faces in order to remain anonymous so they don’t embarrass their family members.

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As for the bowler hats; well, some women can pay up to $2,000 (that’s dollars, not Bolivianos) for a hat. The reason women wear this particular accessory is because, back in the day, La Paz received a load of bowlers in the wrong size. Why, you ask? Well, an abundance of Brits arrived in the city in the 1940s and they brought their fashion with them. Having convinced the Bolivians that Charlie Chaplin was the ultimate role model for the discerning gentleman, an order was placed for hundreds of hats. Latin America wanted to be classy, like Europe. But… and this is a big ‘but’… the English men responsible for the shipment wrongly presumed that Bolivian men would have smaller heads. They didn’t. So, rather than ‘fess up, they decided to tell the women of La Paz (whose heads were smaller) that bowler hats were the latest fashion craze in Europe for women – and bingo, job done!

What else…? Oh yes, the cholitas wear their hat in a certain way to show if they’re single or not. Straight on = taken. Tilted = single.

Apparently Bolivian men love a good, sturdy calf – so the chubbier, the better! That’s why Bolivians eat loads and loads of carbs. The average carb serving is three –  for any one meal. They also have this yummy spicy sauce, made of tomatoes, peppers and chillies… but they don’t like it if you’re a gringo and you take it all. I learnt the hard way. I got told off. In public.

They’re a very superstitious bunch too. They believe in ‘magics’ – back when the Spanish took over, they did everything they could to get the indigenous to conform to their ways and embrace Catholicism. So they basically manipulated them so, one by one, they had no choice but to go to church. To give you an example of this; the indigenous fear that they can easily lose their soul. Sometimes they become so convinced that their slippery soul has slipped away, that they have to call it back. The Spaniards, becoming savvy to the indigenous peoples superstitious nature, told them that their souls were trapped in the mirrors in the church so – tah dah – off they went there in droves to pick them up.

The indigenous believe in “Pachumama”. The Spanish effectively re-wired their beliefs by telling them that “Pachumama” was just another name for “God”. In a way, this allowed the indigenous to maintain their traditions… hence all the dead baby llamas (they’re used as a sacrifice for Pachumama when building a new house on the earth).

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And, according to our two tour-guides (above), there’s an urban legend that human sacrifices are necessary should someone decide to build a high-rise building on unclaimed land. The builder would approach the witch doctor and together they would go out, dressed as homeless people, and get all the down and outs drunk on 90% liquor… they’d get them talking and, as soon as one of them starts talking a bit too much, revealing that they have no family (no one would miss them if they disappeared), they would select that unlucky one as their victim. They’d get them so drunk that they’d pass out; then they’d take their unconscious body to the site of the land they were to build on, dump them into a hole and pour concrete over them. They’d bury them alive before drowning them in cement. Nice. It’s just a legend but under big buildings human remains have been discovered. So it might be true.

Do not get drunk on the streets of La Paz.

Here endeth the lesson.

We went out to Oliver’s English Tavern in the evening and had a couple of “Bolivian Fruits” (cocktails with the Bolivian equivalent of Pisco… grape brandy, I think). We were too knackered to have a large one and Vicki’s tummy was still dodge so we took it easy.

No Route 36 for us – we’d be tempted to pop in just to see it in action, but we’d both be nervous about being slammed away in San Pedro prison for the next EIGHT YEARS. Can you even imagine that phone call home?? “Hi Mum, Dad… I’ve got some bad news…”

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