Post for October 7-8, 2010.
La Paz, for the second time. Mixed feelings after the experiences that brought me there last time, but at least this time I was able to anticipate the spectacular view as you come through the slums of El Alto, over the rise and the valley opens out infront of you to reveal – the world’s highest capital city, jam-packed into a river valley with the spectacular mountainous backdrop.
Finally free of our bus, we’d booked The Point hostel in La Paz, the same place Blair and I had stayed at last time, because frankly it was a great hostel, save for the wifi. We started walking and immediately were aware of the altitude. Coming from sea level to La Paz overnight hurt, and my head was throbbing. Fortunately it was a short walk, and we felt confident we were also very overtired from the long ride. Very impressively, upon arrival the front staff remembered me from two months beforehand, and put us in the same room as last time. We also had some cocoa tea to try and help with our heads, and some food from the hostel bar – very good value considering it’s in a hostel!
Headed out in the evening to find ourselves some alpaca. Fortunately a restaurant in the back streets not too far from our hostel had such a thing, which we were pleased to locate, until we were joined by the giant mostly-Aussie tour group at the next table. So much for off-the-beaten-track! Verdict: Alpaca is delicious! Not very fatty, and really quite good. We also tried Cusqueña beer. That was not good beer – its slogan is something like ‘Gold of the Incas’, and fortunately for the Incas it was only a slogan.
Next day we felt better, which seemed like an appropriate time to spring the idea of mountain biking on Andrew. He didn’t seem that keen on the idea of exercise at altitude, so I established that it was mostly downhill. That part I said loudly. The 64km distance and the bit about it being the most dangerous road in the world, I said slightly more quietly. It didn’t go down too well. I sent him off to the St Francisco cathedral in town which Blair and I had seen last time, while I headed to the funeral parlour from two months previously to thank them for everything. They seemed (understandably) concerned to see me initially but happy in the end.
Meeting up with Andrew again, we did a walk around the main area of La Paz, and checked out the perhaps-unfairly-named Witches Market. Technically it’s historical remedies and locals’ cures, herbal treatments and so on, but most tourists go check it out for the dried, bottled or hanging llama fetuses. Seriously. You can even get postcards.
The other tourist attraction that felt a bit ‘different’ was the cocoa museum. You can’t avoid hearing about cocoa in Bolivia – the plantations are everywhere, and of course tourists get excited or worried that cocoa can produce cocaine and some will refuse to touch the leaves. The museum costs 10 Bolivianos – about a pound, and I’d recommend it to anyone – very interesting. Plus you get some cocoa leaves. Which don’t affect you at all. At all.
Now that Andrew was high, we went to Gravity Bolivia – the Kiwi-Bolivian run and original company to start… The Death Road mountain biking experience, and signed up for the next day’s ride. As I’d signed before and not been able to do it (despite paying – no refunds!), they kindly gave me a discount for my return. They also remembered me! Checked helmet and shirt sizes, confirmed which side we’d like our brakes on (Americans are reversed apparently, and worked out where to meet the next morning.
We then headed up to Plaza Murillo, where the city cathedral and government buildings are located. A lot of locals hanging out in the sun, and not unlike Trafalgar Square in London used to be before the ban, is filled with pigeons and people feeding them.
To celebrate signing our lives away, we found a restaurant for dinner. Utama restaurant, at the top of the Plaza Hotel, was in a different league to us backpackers. Past diners include Fideo Castro and Alberto Fujimori (former president of Peru). Piano music, fine cutlery, views over the city. Very impressive. And there we were in our backpacker clothes, getting withering looks from the waiters. The main dishes in the restaurant are around Bs 50 (5 pounds), and we took full advantage of this!
Next time…The Most Dangerous Road in the World…
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