Sunday, July 12, 2009

La Paz

Mirador Killi Killi, La Paz

Finding your way in La Paz is easy - because the city is in the bottom of a deep canyon, you just walk downhill and you´ll be in the Prado, the main street. At least that was the theory on my last visit in 1983, so when the minivan from Coroico dropped me off at the outskirts of the city, I just started walking down hill. After half an hour (and an interesting interlude watching mass Saturday afternoon line dancing in a public park) I realised that the crater rim was still not that far above me, I hadn´t got anywhere I recognised, and it was starting to get dark. I hailed a taxi, and after a while realised that it was just as well - my downhill route was taking me into a different canyon, probably undeveloped in 1983.

For all that La Paz has changed, the traveller nexus of Sagarnaga Street and the witches´market is still the well tried combination of pie shops, ethnic clothing, and cheap(ish) hotels. You can purchase all the freeze dried llama fetuses you need, just next to the ATM and around the corner from the Internet Cafe.

Another change is the indigenous renaissance. The dress style of the traditional Aymara woman, the Chola, has become chic, and Bolivia has an indigenous president, Evo Morales, an Aymara coca farmer. In NZ terms, this is a bit like Pita Sharples becoming prime minister - assuming Pita had a background in marijuana growing!

In preparation for moving on, I decided to let get my shoes cleaned professionally. La Paz shoeshine boys are a daunting breed. They patrol the main plazas in squadrons of half a dozen or so, dressed in black, with black balaclavas so that only their hands and eyes are visible. The practitioner who tackled my walking shoes, bearing the dust of several days of mountain biking and hill walking, did an excellent job - a stiff brushing, application of a special potion to restore the nap, and a retouching of the rubber edges. I was impressed, though less so when I discovered that the price he´d quoted me in pesos was actually dollars, rather than the Boliviano rate that I´d thought was remarkably cheap.

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