From Carnival in Cochabamba, in mid-February I caught a day bus to La Paz, Bolivia’s political (but not judicial) capital and most famous city.
Bolivian buses often feature salespeople temporarily coming on board to sell their wares, usually drinks or snacks. However, I have also been in the audience of a man selling a tonic (ginseng?) and cookbooks and a boy busker singing. On the Cochabamba-La Paz bus I bought Charque de Llama from a woman. Charque de Llama is a traditional Bolivian meal featuring dried llama meat, white cheese, corn kernels, boiled potato and hard boiled egg.
Charque de Llama on the bus from Cochabamba to La Paz
The road to La Paz passes by spectacular Andes scenery and high mountain passes, including one over 4,500 metres above sea level, or twice as high as Australia’s highest mountain, Mount Kosciuszko.
My phone screenshot showing an altitude of 4,535 metres
Llamas and sheep near a small village cemetery high up in the Andes Mountains, between Cochabamba and La Paz, Bolivia
During the journey the movie Escape Plan showed, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. In a first for me, the English language movie was dubbed into Spanish but featured English subtitles!
La Paz is amazingly situated, located in a valley 3,800 metres high, surrounded by steep hill sides leading to the neighbouring El Alto, at 4,100 metres. The metropolitan area is ringed by several mountains, some over 6,000 metres high. If there is a hillier city in the world I would be surprised.
La Paz is clogged by polluting traffic and this combined with the high altitude and hills does not make for a relaxing city.
One day I visited La Paz General Cemetery. To minimise space requirements, most graves are stacked on top of each other, with some even then grouped up to three stories high and accessible by stairs. Each grave is usually decorated with flowers and things associated with the person, including small bottles of alcohol, fake money and, for children, toys.
Graves at the La Paz General Cemetery with the climbing city visible in the background
To reduce congestion and move people around the city, La Paz has innovatively installed chair lifts (telefericas) as a form of public transport. The chair lifts not only take vehicles off the roads, but they have also become major tourist attractions, providing wonderful views of the city.
This La Paz General Cemetery headstone gives the illusion it is looking up at the red chair lift silently travelling across the sky
A woman maintaining gravestone flowers
Although not at colourful as in Cochabamba, La Paz buses still add to the city’s spectacle
La Paz’s central streets are covered in stalls selling almost everything including traditional medicines. Although largely Christian, many Bolivians also share indigenous beliefs originating from pre-Columbian times. One area of central La Paz has multiple stall selling bread rolls for 0.50 bolivianos each. In comparison, posting a postcard to Australia costs 20 bolivianos.
A La Paz stall selling traditional medicines including llama foetuses
The yellow cable car travels high above La Paz and provides fantastic views of surrounding snow-capped mountains
A late afternoon silhouette of the yellow cable car
While in La Paz I took a local bus to Tiwanaku, a world heritage site of ancient, pre-incan ruins. While the ruins, including those of an ancient pyramid, were interesting, the associated museums contained more complete objects.
A statue in front of the ancient pyramid, Tiwanaku
Sheep in the background behind a Tiahuanaco sign, an alternative spelling for Tiwanaku
My La Paz adventures also included a day trip to the former Chacaltaya ski resort and Moon Valley and referendum day. These will be covered in separate blog posts.