One of the fun parts of travelling is negotiating prices of things. In Bolivia it seems you can haggle on just about anything so the following morning we (Alex, Lottie, Matthias and I) haggled our way onto a cheap bus to La Paz for the bargain price of 18 Bolivianos (about $4AUD). The bus ride itself was long and bumpy but certainly entertaining in parts. One particular part was when we had to cross a river and learnt that instead of a bridge, they simply drive the bus onto a wooden barge that doesn’t look it would carry people, let alone a huge bus!
Inside the bus we watched in amazement (and terror) as we slowly chugged along the brown water to the other side. This was only the beginning of our understanding of Bolivia’s attitude to safety, or their lack of. We reached La Paz after zig-zagging down the mountain to the city centre. It was an awesome way to be introduced to a city, the views from the top of the mountain were amazing and I was so excited to finally be here! The bus dropped us off close to the centre of the city so we decided to walk to our hostel, which turned out to be a massive hike! We planned to stay at the notorious Wild Rover hostel because after a couple of chilled out days in Copacabana, it was time to party again!
We reached Wild Rover hot and sweaty and thankful they had some beds left for us. Dumping our gear in the rooms, we settled in and then went for exploring around the city. La Paz is crazy, messy and chaotic. Crossing the road is a potential life risk and playing dodge the Bolivian is the norm. It was quite more developed than I imagined but the poverty-stricken way of life was definitely apparent. Finding a café on top of a six-story building, we had coffee and watched the city go by down below. It was a constant flurry of activity and car alarms. After the caffeine hit, we went out in search of alcohol and finally came across a supermarket, which not only had ridiculously cheap alcohol but real food! I’d been shopping in mini-markets for the past week or so and finding a proper supermarket was a dream come true! I stocked up on the necessities (peanut butter and bananas) and we headed back to the hostel to start the night. I won’t bore you with details of the nighttime shenanigans but it was a massive night.
Waking late the next day we decided to do the afternoon free walking tour of the city, which highlights some of the main parts of the city. Starting in the park right by San Pedro jail we learnt all about Bolivia’s most scandalous and corrupted jail. San Pedro is infamous for having an entire society inside the prison where prisoners pay rent, have jobs and ample amounts of freedom, largely due to the mass of cocaine sales in the city. There are about 1,500 inmates in the prison, as well as many of their families and additional guests. San Pedro is similar in how it runs to Kerobokan prison in Bali where the rich run the prison, can afford to pimp out their cells and roam freely and the poor are squashed into tiny cells with several others. It’s a well-known fact that cocaine is produced within the jail and sold to both the inside and the outside of the prison. It used to be possible to visit the jail and see what life is like on the inside, but these tours are forbidden now after several tourists were attacked there.
We continued onto the produce markets, which was a mess of colourful fruits and vegetables and bantering vendors. All sorts of things were available at the market and I made a mental note to return. We walked on to El Mercado de las Brujas, the famous witches market, that weren’t as scary as the ones in Lima. These markets were aimed more towards tourists and had the dried llama fetuses and everything, but mainly focused on selling souvenirs such as those popular alpaca sweaters every single tourist has (including yours truly!) We finished the tour at the food market where I found my new favourite food – papa rellena! These stuffed potatoes are produce from the heavens I tell you! Potato stuffed with meat, spices, eggs and olives and then deep fried and smothered in aji sauce. Paired with a fresh peach, banana and mango juice and its basically the best lunch ever!
After the tour we headed back to the hostel to chill out for the afternoon and gear up for the night ahead. Firstly however, dinner was needed so with Alex and her pal Tommy, I headed up the street to a local pollería. Essentially a chicken shop, we had a feast of pollo, noodles and salad – all for 15 Bolivianos! Bargain! Heading back to the hostel ready for another big night, let me tell you that we definitely succeeded in doing just that. I did visit the infamous Route 36, otherwise known as the ‘cocaine bar’ whose specialty was cocktails sided with cocaine. I didn’t indulge in the cocaine (you’re welcome Mum!) but I did have an interesting mojito garnished with coca leaves instead of mint!
The next day was half over by the time everyone surfaced so we spent the afternoon wandering through the streets and trying not to spend money at the markets. I was unsuccessful but is now a proud owner of a gorgeous navy alpaca cardigan! Alex and I headed back to the food market for another papa rellena before heading back to the Wild Rover for a nap. Walking around was hard work! Another big night was had by all of us and another visit to Route 36 occurred, it was just the thing to do in La Paz!
Our final day in La Paz and we finally found the time and stamina to go up the cable car to view the city from above. I’d been so caught up in eating papa rellena and drinking that I had forgotten all about what I had wanted to do so badly in the first place! However first we discovered the best coffee in La Paz and possibly South America. The Writers Café was on the same street as the Wild Rover and looked like it should have been on the streets of London. After dying internally from happiness from the delicious coffee we walked across the city to the cable car and paid our 6 Bolivianos for the return trip. As per usual when it comes to awesome views, I got a tad overly excited and nerded out at the glorious view – but it was incredible!
We reached the top and had a look around at the flea markets that were held every Thursday and Sunday. These markets seemed more for the locals and it sold everything from socks to engine parts. We couldn’t find anything we needed so we headed back down the cable car to find something for lunch. Stopping for a chorizo sandwich on the street (delicious!) and followed up by a pizza, we spent the rest of the afternoon lounging around watching the new Star Wars movie – which much to my disdain, I actually enjoyed.
Unfortunately we had to leave for the night bus that night so after saying our goodbyes to all our new friends, Alex, Tommy and two Austrian twin sisters Marina and Isa and I headed to the bus station for our 12 hour bus ride to Sucre. I was sad to leave La Paz; I’d had so much fun in the past four days that I didn’t want to leave but was keen to see more of Bolivia!