Day 4 – High Up in La Paz

Some cocoa tea, diamox, a bit of breakfast, combined with Krista helping me through the rough morning of fevers, coughs, and altitude sickness brought me back to life and out of bed like a champion. I was ready for La Paz.

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We decided to join the Red Cap Walking Tour, because it’s always a great idea to learn about the city, versus just a look-see! We arrived at the gardens right outside San Pedro prison (again gasping for air from the 3 blocks of uphill climb), and were greeted by over 40 other tourists. I was the only Asian representative in this group… Yay! This walking tour was not only information, but all quite interesting….

1. A clock sits at the center of a plaza in front of the government office, ticking backwards to remind the Bolivians to think outside the box!

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2. With a bit over 10 million people and triple the size of Germany, Bolivia’s current indigenous President decided it would be a good idea to ban the use of condoms and to tax women aged 18 and above without kids. What he thought was a genius idea to increase the country’s population didn’t go over so well. He did however, bring back the indigenous culture with the ever fascinating cholitas, a type of indigenous women that wear puffy layered long skirts, British hats, and braid their hair into long pony tails and are accompanied with years of tradition.

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3. How do you woo one of the Cholitas if they are fully covered? Simple, a male catches their attention by throwing rocks at the Cholitas’ feet. After a bit of courting and chasing, if she’s interested, she’ll lift up her puffy skirt and show off her calf. The thicker and stronger, the better! Bolivians like their women chubby and curvaceous. Hilarious wooing aside, in this day and age, to have a country where both western and indigenous people live harmoniously in a community is a heart warming sight.

4. The witch’s market was filled with hanging dried up llama fetus. Yes, it’s a bit sad and disgusting at the same time, but Bolivians believe that offering a llama fetus to a new home owner brings them luck! Vials of potions and fairy dust can be found here to either make someone fall in love with you, have a baby with you, marry you, and all kinds of crazy things.

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5. San Pedro prison is an anomaly; a small self-contained dysfunctionally functional city where cocaine packets fly out of the prison’s open roof, and where sex and alcohol are all permitted. They work from inside the prison, make a living and pay to stay in the prison with all these conveniences (that’s where the flying packets of cocaine come into play). Also, Coca-Cola has a monopoly inside the prison. Prisoners can only drink Coca Cola as a choice of soft drink. Like I said, an anomaly.

6. Mercado Rodrigues full of odd vegetables and a variety of potatoes I could have hardly imagine existed. It’s also the perfect place to go spotting for Cholitas.

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7. Along the entire walk, we could see graffiti splashed across the entire city walls. Majority of the city is covered in beautiful expressive graffiti that will make you stop and stare at it for a while. It’s like walking through a never ending art gallery.

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I’m barely beginning to scratch the surface of the rich Bolivian culture. My first full day in La Paz, and any expectations that I did have, have been far exceeded.

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PS. Going uphill is still an extremely tough task at this point, even if it’s just 3 steps. Unfortunately the city is hilly, so there is no place that remains flat for longer than 100 meters. We always find ourselves walking downhill, and then the dreaded uphill. This is good practice for our Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu I’m sure, nonetheless it makes me nervous to even thing about that trek right now. Me and altitude aren’t friends just yet… hopefully soon though. It’s only been 30 hours since I’ve arrived anyways.

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