La Paz is a fascinating vibrant city perched on the Altiplano in the high Andes of Bolivia. Wherever you look, you’ll surrounded by busy cityscapes backed by dramatic mountain peaks!
The amazing view from our apartment of La Paz city and Mount Illimani
Altitude ranges from around 4000m in the northern suburbs to 3000m – lower altitudes are typically more affluent. We find an excellent aparthotel somewhere in the centre in an area called Sopocachi. It’s strange to realise we’re about three times as high as Ben Nevis, the highest point in the UK!
Martin, Ben and Zoe arrive first on 21 January and have a few days to look around, check our the old city centre, find some lovely restaurants, a great park and a megacentre offering skating, bowling, climbing and rolling around in orbs on a pool in the southern end of the city.
Climbing and orbing at the megacentre in La Paz
Then Lara and I arrive and we’re treated to a welcome spag bol in our apartment and those fabulous views of the city and snowy Illimani which stands majestically at 6460m
Then the wonderful Bremner family arrive too, another British gap year family exploring South America but heading north from Argentina and Chile. Thanks to blogging, we’ve stumbled upon one another and been exchanging journey tips ever since!
The kids hit it off immediately as do the grown ups! its like we’ve known each other for years! After drinks in our apartment we go to La Comedie restaurant and have a fabulous evening together.
A fabulous night at La Comedie in La Paz with our wonderful new friends the Bremners
Day 1 we all head up to the centre of la Paz, finding en route, perhaps 500 or 1000 human zebras and donkeys, or more, surround us, celebrating Free Hug Day!!
Free hugs day in central La Paz 26 Jan 2013
After the first hug or ten and Martin getting over the idea that it was an elaborate pickpocketing scam, we get into the spirit of the celebrations and have a wonderful, hug filled walk via a gorgeous art museum up to the old town where we need coffee before we drag the kids into the ‘interesting for adults boring for kids’ Coca museum and then explore the bizarre witches market! A street with shops and stalls selling weird and wonderful herbs and potions alongside various charms, dead baby llamas and even llama fetuses, critical to pop into the foundations of a new dwelling apparently!!
Outside the coca museum near the witches market, with the weird and wonderful products for sale in the witches market!
Then taxis off to afternoon at the megacentre which Ben and Zoe were eager to show us and where they play in orbs and go ice skating with Sarina as a patient coach to Ben and Zoe!
Lara tries to orb and Sarina Ben and Zoe ice skate
Our evening is a great change too as we all stay in – the kids making pizzas for themselves in our apartment whilst Andrea prepares Thai curry for us four adults in theirs! Unfortunately the altitude is getting me a bit and my appetite is wrecked!
Next day we hire a minivan for both families and head out to Tiwanaku, a major pre Inca site thought to be the oldest and most important site in Bolivia. The kids love exploring with friends and Mark makes a great guide as he thumbs through the lonely planet pages and gives us the critical low down:)
Exploring at Tiwanaku and Zoe buys a necklace from the lovely old woman
After we’ve wondered at some of the very hobbit like houses along the way, we drive back through El Alto, the sprawling suburb of La Paz that sits even higher up on the altiplano.
The classic hobbit houses
We see buzzing markets and colourful traditional characters everywhere, stuffed figures (a little like the guys we make for Guy Fawkes) hanging from lamp posts to ward off robbers.
We stop for coffee and cakes in a high street panaderia that I am sure has never seen a tourist. The cakes are gooy and sweet, one is like rock requiring pick axe technology – lets say they’re ‘unusual’ and the coffee is lovely. 4 coffees and 4 slabs of ‘cake’ cost a total of about £1.40. There’s no banos so Ben and I have to traipse up the colourful street in search of a public one which is an interesting experience. Most bathrooms in S America are pleasantly ‘western’ clean and flush. Holes in ground with water and scoops tucked between shops still amuse!
Finally we stop to experience some top Sunday night El Alto family entertainment – a night at the wrestling! Front row seats with free coke and popcorn!
A wrestler from the dead gets into the crowd an d the cholitas really get into the fight!
Men dress up in masks and costumes and wrestle inside and out of the ring – then the women come out and wrestle in their traditional bolvian skirts! They take off their bowler hats and pop their jewellery and shawls inside and then get serious!! They even wrestle with the men!! Hilarious entertainment for all, although one woman who ended up with a bloody face was a bit much for some of the kids!! They throw each other off the ring, chase one another around the stadium past the audience, smack each other over the head with crates and fight with the referees! Another woman limped off with an injured ankle and a man was carried off with a neck or shoulder injury. It’s amazing they don’t kill each other!!
Zoe gets a hug from the winner and there’s lots of posing for photos at the end!
The Bremners leave in a fabulous 4 wheel drive hire car next morning and we wave goodbye sadly, hoping we’ll meet up again further south in a few days! The kids look longingly from our hotel window at the car rushing by on the main road. ”Is that them?” they cry! Or ‘I wish I was them – they’re SO lucky having a car and we have to go on horrible buses! I later hear from Andrea that their kids are looking back at the hotel saying how lucky our 3 are still being there!!!
Saying goodbye to the Bremners – with a possible stowaway!