Thursday, February 9, 2012

La Paz is What You Make of It

I wanted to thank everyone that really set a low expectation for us about La Paz. You said it was large, it was loud, it was dirty, there were lots of people, there were lots of cars, it was polluted, there were people begging for money, it was cold, it was ugly, and it wasn't worth spending more than one day there.

Seriously, thank you. Because our expectations were so low, we were able to find things to do and see that exceeded any expectations, and we ended up staying 6 days in La Paz.

First, we started with a great home-base. The Hotel Rosario started out as a treat post-Salt Flats and post-jungle tour. We wanted a nice hotel, with hot water, clean accommodations and a soft bed. As you'll recall we had just done 3 days in the Salt Flats with really basic accommodations and no showers, followed shortly by 3 days in the jungle with little sleep and sweating profusely from the 90/90 (90F and 90% humidity).

After arriving last Wednesday night (Feb 1st) from Rurrenabaque the Hotel Rosario seemed like the Ritz. Friendly staff welcomed us at the door, a porter carried our bags up to our rooms and the room was spacious and well decorated. But best of all the shower had lots and lots of hot water.

The next morning we had the best breakfast buffet of all of Bolivia: fresh fruit, breads, meats, cheeses, yogurt, granola and delicious fruit juices.

Second, we went to places that interested us, not just the touristy sights. We walked to the San Francisco Church. We took in the Museo Nacional de Arte. We walked to Plaza Murillo, which is flanked by various government buildings. However, our first day, we headed straight for the Alasitas festival.

Alasitas: one of the oldest Bolivian holidays and traditions. It's a fair where you buy a miniature of everything you want the god Ekkekko to give you during the year.
Unfortunately, most of the shops were closed, but we were advised to come back on Saturday when Bolivians are off from work and would be flocking to the shops.

you can get miniatures of anything: diplomas, money, passports

even household items, livestock, houses, cars, you name it

After Alasitas we walked to Calle Jaen, a cobble stone street full of art galleries, shops and the Museo de Instrumetos Musicales.

That same museum had a free concert one night, where we got to see  traditional Bolivian instruments played (and when the internet is faster I'll upload a brief video so you can hear it for yourself).

Third, we walked around a lot. Walking around, especially up and down the same street several times gives a feeling of familiarity and makes you feel like you know the city. We walked around most of central La Paz, and after a few days had a good sense of where things were.

I ran into the one challenge of walking around La Paz the first day, and to some degree a few days after. The city is at a high altitude of 4,000 meters which is very high and causes altitude sickness. Unfortunately I had a mild of case of that, which mainly manifested in my inability to walk very far without getting winded. For example, seeing me after I had walked two flights to our room, you would have though I just went for a run. My body got used to it after a few days, and now I could walk around with no problem. But since one of the recommended cures of altitude sickness, in addition to drinking water, remembering to eat (people lose their appetite and don't eat) was taking it easy, I chilled in the hotel for one full day.

Fourth, we relaxed. We took it easy at the hotel, we went to the movies, we at delicious meals.

Fifth, we ate. Our hotel's restaurant had some of the best food in La Paz.

llama steak in berry sauce 
(note the design of the indigenous woman and mountains)

tres leches cake

Finally, we took great trips from La Paz. First, we went to Tiwanaku - fascinating ruins, which we'll post about later. We also went to Copacabana to see the famous Lake Titicaca. From our guide we also found out that from La Paz about 2hrs in any direction you can get to jungle, high mountains, desert, you name it.

More Pictures:

2012.1 La Paz, Bolivia

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