April 1, 2012

La Paz’s Bowl

To get to La Paz, we took a memorable bus ride from Uyuni. The roads in Bolivia are horrible. For 11 hours it felt like we were riding a washboard, and at special times it felt like we were four-wheeling in our 50-person bus.

La Paz is Bolivia’s administrative capital and a bustling city that with a breathtaking landscape. At 11,975 feet, the city is in the shape of a bowl at the top and then narrows into a long canyon that follows an old riverbed.

The hillside homes are juxtaposed against eroded rock formations, culminating at the end of the canyon with the Valley of the Moon.

The rocks themselves aren’t unique; it’s the proximity of the rocks within this massive capital that are like nothing we’ve ever seen before. In-person with a 360 degree view, this has got to be one of the world’s most beautiful cityscapes.

Unlike in America where wealthy people tend to live up higher for the views, in La Paz the poor people live at the top of the bowl and the rich people live at the bottom. The weather at the top is 10 degrees cooler and much more unpredictable. Because of the altitude, and the fact that we’re here at the end of the rainy season, the weather has been impossible to read. It could be sunny, cloudy and rainy all at the same time depending on which direction of the bowl we looked. During the entire week we were here, we only caught a slight glimpse of snowy Mount Illimani, which towers over the city.

We stayed about a block away from the Mercado de Hechiceria or “Witches Market”, a small set of streets that are packed with vendors selling everything from alpaca clothing to love potions and llama fetuses.

Llama fetuses are used as sacrifices for small buildings such as homes. Larger buildings call for larger sacrifices. The rumor is that two drunken people were tossed in the foundation and sacrificed during the construction of La Paz’s tallest building, which is only 32 stories high.

One of La Paz’s main attractions is the Iglesia de San Francisco, a beautiful Franciscan church/monastery that we toured with a wonderful English-speaking guide.

The best part was that we were seemly granted access to everywhere! We traipsed around the monk’s living quarters and into the “punishment rooms”, where monks who broke their sacred vows might have been placed for up to 2 years.

We scurried up to the bell tower, where the ropes connecting the bells are made out of braided cow’s hide. We even went underground into the catacombs wherein lie the ashes of Bolivia’s revolutionaries who were hung by the Spanish in the town square in 1810. At first glance the terracotta roof tiles of the church looked pretty standard, but of course, everything’s got a story. At the time of construction, they would find large men and have them shape the roof tiles with their thighs. Each tile is unique.

We’ve eaten well in La Paz. You can get what would be considered an upscale meal in the US for less than $10. Every dinner we’ve had has been by candlelight. We’re not ones to frequent the same restaurant multiple times because we like variety, but we broke our rule with La Casona. It’s a historic carriage house set less than a block away from Iglesia San Francisco and designed by the same architect. We really recommend this place for lunch (4 courses for $4) or dinner (entrees for $7).

La Paz is a quirky city for inspired public gardeners, shoe shiners, traditionally-dressed women hawking fruit and nuts, and retro-looking buses.

The only thing I really regretted not getting to see in La Paz was the Fighting Cholitas. These are a group of female lucha libre wrestlers who perform on Sundays. We weren’t in town on a Sunday or else that would have been a sure thing. If you ever come to La Paz, please go see the Fighting Cholitas for me and let me know how it is!

1 comment:

  1. Hi kids! Glad to see you're still alive and kickin'. Love your posts! Sher and I wish you both the best!