La Paz - big trip - diary - bolivia - may 2003

Dogs and beggars line the road

Plenty of lorry piggybacks

Up on the altiplano the rain comes down

Saturday 17 - Tuesday 20 May

Driving out of Cochabamba we left the stringy suburbs and were on the open road. A coach cruised passed us as usual but then, further ahead at a small dip in the road near some adobe houses, slammed on his brakes and horn right in the middle of the road. The landy's brakes are in a bit of a state at the moment (rear drums again!) and we had to steer round the obstruction. Smack in front of the bus was a tiny child totally rooted to the spot staring at the huge thing bearing down upon him. Fortunately the bus stopped and the father of the kid scooped him to safety.

The road climbed through impressive hilly scenery and had a dog posted on every corner. As the landy drove past they swivel their heads in approval before we meet the next one 100m further on, very strange. Also for the first time we encountered the campesinos children begging with their proffered hats by the side of the road, of course all they got was a mouthful of diesel fumes.

Colourful locals at...

...Pongo market - check the hat

La Paz


Night view from our hotel

Don't dump rubbish

Now up on the altiplano the sun was hidden behind clouds and, combined with the altitude, made life a bit chilly. We stopped at a small village called Pongo which was full of locals from all around who'd been at the market. Everybody had incredibly colourful clothes, lots of the guys were wearing mad pointy hats with no trace of embarrassment, except when we asked to take a photo. We went into the tiny restaurant which was full of the same types of guys. They were staring at us the same as we were at them, their clothes straight out of a touristy festival, wicked. Paying the $1.50 bill for a couple of two course meals, we left and continued on the high road to the capital.

Barry tries it on


Chola hats, well stylish

As with most of Bolivia, La Paz is at altitude, 3636m making it the highest capital city in the world. We descended the main road into the big basin of the city after getting through an enormous minibus jam in an outlying area. Then began the traffic nightmare trying to find a hotel. The usual one way systems were made more complex by the super steep hills and the market stalls lining many of the streets in the south west part of the centre. We passed some cheap looking hotels but continued in our quest for one that had been recommended on Calle Sagarnaga that was supposed to have a garage too. After almost two hours stuck in the packed market stall-lined streets behind a load of buses we made it to the hotel (about 1km). A quick enquiry revealed no garage and a ridiculous price of $20 a room. We drove round the main road to the cheap hotels we'd passed hours earlier and got a decent room with parking for $6. A lesson was re-learnt.

Cholas demonstrate...

...and still have time for an ice cream


Walking around La Paz we noticed a fair few other tourists, all wearing the standard fleeces and carrying the ubiquitous bottles of water around. I wonder how many people carry bottles of water around their home town? The people are relaxed and there's loads of cheap stuff to buy. We bought the brightly coloured cloths that the cholas wrap their babies up in and loads of other little things to keep friends and family happy when we get back.

Shoe shine boys here all wear full balaclavas, completely covering their faces, ideal for mugging the hostal types.

Nightlife was great with everybody up for a good time. We ended up in a banging electronic music club where the girls do the asking, what more could you want. The rest of our time in La Paz was spent making more purchases of wicked things that we'd spotted at the last minute. Next stop Copacabana.

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