Love and Street Food. This is how I will remember La Paz, along with the altitude, a wet and soapy Carnival parade, being afraid of little boys with water guns, and one very Bolivian night out learning dance moves from the locals- “Sí, eso! Uno, dos, tres!” And of course, for the start of a new and exciting chapter of traveling with Chris, who flew in from Colombia after 5 weeks of traveling.
I arrived in La Paz after a beautiful 17 hour bus ride winding through rolling mountains and across high plains, nearly spanning all of Bolivia from Tarija. Chris flew in a couple days later and we spent the weekend happily catching up on the last few months we’ve been apart.
La Paz can be described as extreme Bolivia- it’s bursting with colorful patterns, it’s hilly cobblestone streets are packed with vendors selling everything under the sun, ladies with bowler hats and long black braids sit with huge steaming pots of food along the sidewalks, men hang out of micro buses yelling out their destinations and prices, and the markets seem to go on and on for blocks and blocks, covered with blue tarps.
When Chris and I had the energy to leave the comfort of our hospedaje (it was wet, cold and at 3600 meters, it was difficult to find oxygen), we did as the Paceños do. We sat on tiny fold out stools on the sidewalk eating from the ladies’ pots- meals cost between $.50-$1 each and usually consisted of a hearty soup, rice or pasta, potatoes and sauce/salsa with a little salad (we opted for no meat). We wandered around huge markets, looking at handmade crafts and nibbling on local sweets. We drank Api, a local sweet treat made from blue corn, quinoa and spices, with fresh cheese empanadas. We watched the Carnival festivities and endured being sprayed with water and foam, as is tradition here. We enjoyed the local wines and Paceña beer (#5 beer in the world according to a proud Paceño- which means a La Paz native- with Budweiser and Heineken taking the lead). We found ourselves dancing in local pubs with Bolivians, feeling welcomed with enormous warmth and kindness, learning the dance moves with passion and laughter. We watched a group of men play wooden flutes and bang on fur covered animal skin drums in a traditional folk style. We shopped in the Witches’ Market, buying herbs to heal and holy wood to cleanse, crossing under hanging dried llama fetuses that are used for luck. We looked down on La Paz from a mirador and marveled at the valley it fills and at the surrounding mountains that it climbs.
Even though La Paz is a beautiful and energetic city, the altitude and craziness started wearing on us, so after the weekend we caught a ride with a nice young couple to a small town 2 1/2 hours east called Coroico. The drive was absolutely stunning. The road winds through the Bolivian Andes, waterfalls stream down the mountains and clouds float beside as you hug lush, green cliffs. It’s difficult to describe how shocking these mountains actually are, hopefully the picture below helps.
Coroico itself didn’t stand out as exceptional, aside from the scenery. We camped at a semi-remote place a gnarly 30-minute uphill walk from town. Thanks to a well equipped kitchen, we cooked pizzas and enjoyed pancakes for breakfast. We visited a small Buddhist temple further up the mountain and met a few wonderful people, but decided it wasn’t the right time/place to stay and volunteer. It was a peaceful few days, now we’re headed towards Cochabamba where we hope to find sunshine, warmth, rainforest and possibly camping on a wildlife refuge.
I’m ecstatic to be sharing Bolivia with Chris now, we make a fairly awesome traveling team 🙂 And like I’ve said before, beauty is always best when shared.