City of contrasts
27.04.2013 - 30.04.2013
Sitting on a bus bound from La Paz to Arequipa, I have a distinct twinge of sadness in my chest.
(And, knowing that there won't be a bathroom for another couple of hours at the least, a distinct twinge of neediness in a lower region of my body as well. Go figure.)
Anyway, I LOVE Bolivia and as much as I am looking forward to the final stage of our trip (whut?! Final stage?! Denial!!) in Peru, I am sore to leave this country.
Bolivia is difficult to describe. It is a land of contrasts for sure, but not in the same way that say, Rio, is a city of contrasts between the poor and the wealthy. Bolivia is more complex than that. And at the same time, more simple and down-to-earth (or should I say up-to-earth as basically the whole county is half as high as airplanes fly..).
Bolivia is wild and wonderful, high altitudes, bright sun, hot days, cold nights, fresh air, dry, arid land surrounded by giant snow-capped peaks, with humid, mosquito-filled jungle and pampas nestled in behind.
The people are hard-working, traditional, short and darker-skinned, friendly, fair, and eager to help or give advice.
The atmosphere and society is that of a survival of the strongest, working around the clock, alcohol and drugs, misery, danger, garbage-littered streets, robbery and scams. Being one of the most dangerous places in the world, we have taken the strongest precautions so far to be safe (not carry valuables, hiding money in different places all over our bodies, researching bus companies thoroughly before buying tickets, etc) but still, I have yet to feel unsafe.
La Paz is like a manifestation of all of this. Everywhere you look, women and men are dressed in traditional garb, the women with large colorful skirts and shawls and hats on their heads, their thick black hair in long braids on their backs tied together with ribbons. The thing about Bolivia is that all of this is real, it's not for show, it's not exotic, they're not trying to impress tourists or give them the thrill of feeling that they are abroad for sure. Actually, most people go about their business without giving a rat's ass about tourists. It is so refreshing, so different from everywhere else in South America. It's like being accepted, in a strange sense of the word.
Man, I'm getting myself all mixed up and tongue-twisted but then again, that is exactly what Bolivia does to you.
Coming back from the jungle, we had a happy reunion with our crazy Irish friend Karol and the four of us proceeded to have a great last evening together that sadly ended a bit early due to the altitude and the boys' very early wake-up call the next morning. (Altitude is a crazy thing for sure ).
The next two days were a blast. Asia and I stayed in a hotel cheaper than the largest, cheapest dorms in Brazil, we pulled out ALL of our clothes and did LAUNDRY and OMG IT WAS AMAZING! Clean clothes for the first time in about two-three weeks!! We walked up and up and up until we got to a vantage pint where we could see large parts of La Paz sprawling beneath us. The sheer size and spread of that city never seizes to amaze me, and has to be experienced. It goes and goes and goes and goes, dense and toppling up and down the mountain slopes, into valleys and along high ridges. It is beautiful in a wild, rustic, red-dirt way. And if the view isn't enough to take your breath away, the walk up there certainly will. Or the walk just about anywhere for that matter. I try to tell myself that I am doing good/"working out" just functioning and walking around at 3600 m, and sometimes I even believe it (generally before deciding to eat some delicious chocolate cake or equivalent ).
By the way - the food here is AMAZING. Bolivia is another bread nation meaning that not only is it everywhere in abundance (little booths with signs saying "Hay pan" (=there is bread) always make me laugh as that would be the understatement of the year for Bolivia) but the quality and taste is excellent. For breakfast every morning at our hotel we only get bread, butter and jam. This sounds boring until you realize that that particular bread is in the form of hard-crusted rolls with puffy soft insides that would make the best French bakers cry in despair and envy. And in Bolivia that is just cheap any-old-bread bought right off the street.
Following the breakfast, we have had coffee of stunning quality and the adequate fika-pastries and cakes to go with it. Cooked meals are just as delicious, we have yet to be disappointed with anything we've eaten at a restaurant in La Paz. As if all this wasn't enough, fresh fruits and veggies are everywhere. PILES of them. (No really, a little lady will be sitting in the middle if a 1-2 meter high x 5 meters-in-diameter ocean of oranges, selling them).
La Paz is a city of abundance, you can get everything and anything from whatever foods, groceries, spices or produce you desire to hiking boots (Asia and I are now prepared for trekking in Peru!), yards of fabric, toys or why not a faucet or a toilet seat? All sold directly on the street.
Oh, and did I also mention that everything is dirt cheap? Dinner with a bottle of wine and two courses rarely exceeds 70 kr/US$10 per person.
I love Bolivia so much, I will miss it incredibly, I can't wait to come back, but in the meantime at least I have bought about half of La Paz to bring home and remind me of it. (Or maybe I'll set up my own little booth selling gorgeous, woven alpaca scarves in bright colours. God knows I have enough of them for that ).
Bolivia is wild and wonderful, it makes my heart soar to the sky and I can't wait to come back. I do not want to live here, but I love it more fiercely than any other place in South America. A country of contrasts for sure.
PS The over-abundance of activities such as mountains to climb, jungle to discover, tours to take and much much more is implied by the other blog-posts about what we've actually been doing in Bolivia. (Though truthfully I forgot to write about that fact until now).