Monday, July 27, 2015

One Fine Day in La Paz, Bolivia

Next country: Bolivia.
Do you know anything about Bolivia? Nadah? That’s fine.
I didn’t associate Bolivia with anything either.
Then I learned about the Salt Flats from Matt Harding’s video in 2006.

When I saw this, I asked, IS THAT REALLY IN EARTH?

I am not kidding here. I got inspired and motivated to go to Bolivia because of this video. I saw this video in 2008. Seven years later, I stepped foot in Salar de Uyuni. 

But I'm getting ahead of the Bolivia series. Before that, La Paz first.

I was extremely happy that there was a direct flight from Cusco to La Paz. No need to fly back to Lima to catch an international flight Most backpackers, who have a lot of time, travel via bus. The bus does a stopover at Puno and some spend time in Lake Ticticaca. If you have time and you want to visit some places in between, then by all means, take the bus. 

Peruvian Air. 

I did not have time. So I spent $128 on a one way flight from Cusco to La Paz via Peruvian air. I left Kamila Lodge very early and hopped on the cab I pre-arraged the evening before that took me to the airport. Fix rate costs 10 soles.

Cusco airport was small and uneventful.
The plane ride only took an hour. I enjoyed looking over the terrain. 






The El Alto airport in Bolivia is also small and uneventful.




I didn’t find an ATM upon my way out to get some Bolivianos but I saw a money changer.
1 USD = BOB 6.88 and they took a 10 BOB commission charge.

100 dollars = 678 Bolivianos

I pre-arranged a taxi to take me to my hostel, which cost me 80 BOB. I know I know, I’ve been using pre-arranged cabs but this is the option recommended even by the backpackers that I met – they told me to just spend a little more to forego the hassle and inconvenience.

I got a hostel right at a preserved area of the city: Calle Jaen. I briefly rested in the hostel then got on my way. The guy at the reception also took his time warning me about possible tourist traps that happens in La Paz. 

One particular scam is the fake Bolivian police scam. Someone approaches you, claim they are also a tourist, chat will you, try to gain your favor, and they speak good English. Then a person pretending to be the Bolivian police approaches you and asks you guys to show him your passport for inspection. Your new tourist companion (the accomplice of the fake police) says that's normal and they do it all the time. They inspect your passport, your belongings, then return this to you. But you'll find some time later, that they took something - money, watch, or important items. Scary. 

I only had a day to explore La Paz before my flight to Uyuni early morning the next day.
Our street was picturesque to begin with. Bright. Cobblestones. Nooks.



UPHILL

Even though with a map, I somehow got lost trying to find my way going to Plaza Mayor. But I did find signs going to another landmark: Plaza Murillo. Aha! I can start there. The guy at the hostel reception that everything can be done by foot anyway.


I found Plaza Murillo filled with pigeons. Kinda like Plaza SanMarco in Venice and some landmark in London I haven’t been to.



It was nice to see that a lot of the people are locals hanging out with their family.

La Paz is turning out to be a pretty neat Spanish-influenced city. Again, I was struck how Bolivia maintained the Spanish architecture up to this day. 
Pigeons pigeons!

My motto in South America during winter: Do not be fooled by that bright shining sun. It is extremely cold. I had to wear my thick thermal jacket and keep my hands in my pocket. 

I think I had three layers on


The Battle for the Crumbs

I asked a nice-willing-to-help-local for assistance for my photo. The selfie stick was not doing it. To be fair, he was very enthusiastic and took lots of photos. But, he moved the camera even though I demonstrated what frame I wanted. #solotravelerproblems.
 

I
 tried four ATMs but I failed to withdraw Bolivianos. Most of the ATMs required a chip, which my BPI card didn’t have. I succeeded in the fifth ATM: BNB 24. Found it on my way to Plaza Mayor, which I eventually found. 

Was able to withdraw cash in the 5th ATM that I tried.

Cobblestone streets, with electrical wires flailing all around

Tired from the cold (mind you, from the cold and not from walking), I headed back to the hostel to take a quick nap. Past 1:30pm, I gathered my energy and walked going to Plaza San Pedro, the starting point of the La Paz City Walking Tour of Red Cap. I huffed and puffed up and down the hilly city of La Paz. Now when the hostel says it is a 20-minute walk on foot, that doesn’t mean on flat ground, okay?!!?!?! Okay.



I made it just as the tour was starting. Thankfully they were still at the starting point, briefing the crowd of the usual free walking tour basics: stay with the crowd, when and when not to take photos, and tell them if you are leaving the group so they won’t keep looking for you. 

They said that the tours used to be really free, but they really need the tips now because of the tax imposed. We were around 30, or maybe 40 in the group. 

The red guys in a cap in Plaza San Pedro
Plaza San Pedro

Near the plaza was the city market, so that was our first stop. We were warned not to take photos without asking permission first – lest we want to see flying tomatoes, potatoes and whatever animal in our cameras. I held on to my camera even when I saw the most hugest biggest giantest potato I’ve ever seen in my life. If US can supersize their fries, Bolivia can supersize their onions, peppers lemons, tomatoes and POTATOES. POTATOES! Our guide said they have 600 different kinds of potatoes. *idea explosion* Just think how many versions of fries I could make!

We zigged-zagged across the busy streets of La Paz. Felt like being in Quiapo, I say. I markets open public markets like those because they give you a real glimpse of the lives of the locals - not the supermarket market type kind of living. 

Winding streets. Don't get distracted by the shops or you may get lost

Check out those colorful and pretty guitar cases

Our guides mentioned that we should cross the street whenever we thing we can go for it. Allright! My Metro-Manila pedestrian skills were put into play!

Retro mini buses




We made a stop at a bar for some free drinks. The guys collected the tips here. I gave them a relatively high tip because I felt that the guys did a really good job of keeping us informed but making us laugh.






The tour continued after one drink at the bar. 

Do you want some imported gayuma? Then pick up your haul at the Witches’ Market. They have a variety of potions for your, ummmm, needs. While they may not understand English thoroughly, you can say “love”, “money” or “job” and they will understand you.

Souvenirs all around

After the tour, I went back to this area to get some souvenirs - accessories and shirts for my parents. No potions for me.




We stopped by the Mercato Lanza beside Plaza Mayor for some food and toilet break.
I got to try their avocado sandwich. OMG. Worth the calories.

And that was my day in La Paz. I didn’t bother going out at night because it was so cold and I wanted to rest before my early flight the next day (lola mode lang). If I had more time (my wish, as always, I would allot a day or two to do the death road tour).


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