Friday, July 16, 2010

La Paz

After Uyuni, we took the overnight train to Oruro, which is sort of the in-between stop between Uyuni and La Paz. Our friend Anna joined us, who was on the Uyuni trip with us, and happend to be going in the same direction. The train was nice because it was a lot easier on the nerves than a bus over bumpy dirt roads for 10 hours. Then we took a bus to La Paz that went much faster over paved roads. Took about 12 hours overall. We tried to get a hostel that doubled as a brew pub next to the train station, but it was full, as our travel book warned us would happen. Instead, we got a hostel on the main road that looks a little scary from the outside--sitting between a couple hardware stores with peeling stucco walls is a corrugated orange door that leads to our hostel. As seems to be the case of many hostels and hotels in Latin America, the insides can be surprisingly nice compared to the outsides, and this one is a little oasis here in the city with sunrooms, fast internet, a kitchenette, and friendly staff. The bathrooms are shared and the electrically-heated showers not quite wired right, which gets you shocked (also unfortunately common in Latin America) if you touch metal while showering. But not bad for the equivalent of $10 per person a night.

So we dropped all our stuff off at the hostel and headed out into town to get lunch and stretch our legs. Right next to where we had lunch, we found out the famous "witch market" was just down the street, so we had to pay a visit. There are lots of scenes like this, with ladies selling thousands of little charms and talismans for whatever might ail you:
Of course, it's hard to pay a visit to the witch market without noticing the mummified llama fetuses everywhere. Apparently it's a good luck thing to bury them in the foundation of your house, and certainly there are other great uses for mummified llama fetuses, but for us they were just interesting eye candy. I promised to bring some back home as gifts, but I'm afraid I'll have trouble in Customs, so hopefully the pictures will have to suffice. I had a few more graphic pictures, but I was encouraged to go with a more friendly one, which includes them in all shapes and sizes:
On our way back, we saw that the streets were closed and there were thousands of police and military people everywhere. We finally learned that we had arrived the evening before July 16, which is a type of indepencence day for La Paz--actually it's the day they declared war to get independence from Spain, but it was a huge celebration. Did I mention our hostel was on the main road? Well, by evening it had become the staging ground for parades that would last for at least 24 hours. This is the view from our hostel of the streets below:
After a loud night, we got up early to see Anna off to Copacabana and to catch our tour bus to Tiahuanaco, a small town about 50 miles from La Paz where one of the oldest ruins of early american civilizations can be found. Of course, the folks of Tiahuanaco were also partying and parading through town, fully dressed up in their traditional clothes:
Even on normal days, you see a lot of the native women here in their shawls, fancy skirts, and bowler hats. Often they have a bright woven blanket with a baby or other stuff inside. Arond Sucre, the hats seemed to be shorter with a wider brim, but the women around La Paz wear a tall bowler hat with a short upturned brim. Here were a couple women walking by to watch the parade: Tiahuanaco was a big site with lots of interesting ruins in different stages of restoration. The biggest part was a sort of step pyramid-like structure that was used as an observatory:
The most famous part of the ruins was the sun gate. The tiahuanacos worshiped the sun, which is represented by the carved guy in the middle, surrounded by I believe 48 figures representing the weeks in their calendar:
There was a temple dug into the ground that had over 700 carved heads built into the wall, each representing important people or animals. There was even an alien head (not shown here), that had some people confused for a while. The underground portion was also a nice break from this frigid wind that was blasting us with dust throughout the whole tour:
Kate posed in front of the main gate to one of the temples, showing just how bundled up we were. This is also the gate where Evo Morales, the current Bolivian president, was inagurated. He is their first native president and has done a lot to advocate for native tribes and cultural heritage in the country, although there are a lot of strong opinions on both sides about him. They kept the largest monolithic statue of a priest in an indoor museum near the archeological site. It was probably 20-30 feet tall and fairly tastefully set up in a room to itself with aesthetic lighting. Of course, the tour guide told us later that we weren't supposed to take pictures of it, but it was way too late by the time we got the news. It was the last stop before having lunch and heading back to La Paz.
On the way back to La Paz, you pass through El Alto, which is appropriately named because it is extremely high elevation (it's where the airport was that I flew into, where almost everybody gets altitude sickness upon arriving), along the highest point of the Altiplano. The edge of El Alto breaks downward into a steep bowl where La Paz is located, so as you descend into the bowl, you get amazing views of La Paz with its surrounding mountains. You also see the houses that are precariously stacked up the hillside, just waiting for a mudslide to carry them away. I'm not sure if this picture does justice to the size and dizzying depth of the city, but it was about the best we could do. You can also see the glacier-capped mount Illimani in the background, which is over 21,000 feet in elevation, so it still towers above the 14,000 foot Altiplano and La Paz just below: We went back into town for a walk to see the town plaza and get a cup of coffee. Parades were still going on, so we watched what appeared to be a memorial service parade and then hung around the square and watched the kids play: I wasn't feeling so well, as I think I caught Kate's cold, and had some food that didn't sit so well the day before, so we decided to stay an extra day and take it easy and maybe see the Valle de la Luna. So it's our second full day in La Paz right now, we just finished a great breakfast in the Plaza with a salteñas and
an omlette, and we're continuing to update our internet stuff before lunch and hopefully an afternoon trip. We also brought 22 pounds of dirty clothes to the laundry service that should be ready tonight. Our plan is to continue on to Copacabana tomorrow. It's a little quiet town on the edge of Lake Titicaca, from which we hope to embark on a one or two day trip to the Isla del Sol, an island in the lake that is supposed to have some nice ruins and be a little less touristy than some of the other Titicaca tours. There are some famous floating islands (manmade out of reeds) that are apparently quite the tourist trap, and a more of an artificial remake of the historic lake people, so we will probably avoid that. After that, we're on the border of Peru, and we're hoping to head down toward the coast to see some monster sand dunes, oases, and other interesting stuff. Don't know the next time we'll be able to get pictures updated, but we'll try to keep in touch occasionally. Hasta luego!

1 comment:

  1. Hey guys,
    Sounds like a cool trip. In '97 I found myself on the main road in La Paz on July 16 too, not knowing it was going to be this big thing. I remember people drinking this frothy, bubbly moonshine. It looked like people were being served dishwashing water.

    Re: the reed island. Total tourist trap, but there was some other island a bit futher a field from Puno (it was a real island) that I remember being pretty cool. Nothing really to see there, just a beautiful place (other tourists were there too of course, but we're everywhere!).