La Paz. Don’t be fooled by its name. As two Paceños told me, contrary to its name, La Paz is not so peaceful and serene. It has the hustle and bustle of any capital city. And , they noted, there is always a protest somewhere about something, so there are always police in the street. Sure enough, the day I arrived, when I turned onto the street with my hostel, two blocks of the road were blocked off, full of tents blocking the street. Miners had camped out in the street to hold a demonstration, (and they were still there when I left a few days later). But at the same time, besides it being full of people like any big city, it wasn’t NOT a peaceful place, that’s to say it didn’t feel dangerous or violent; on the contrary it felt fairly welcoming and relatively safe, for a large city.
La Paz. The capital of Boliva. Nope. Another misconception. Sucre is the capital of Bolivia and home to the judicial power of Bolivia, while La Paz is the government seat, home to the executive and legislative power, but is NOT the capital, as the (biased?) tour guide from Sucre emphasized to us. Meanwhile, many will say that La Paz is highest capital city in the world, at 3,600 meters (11,800 ft) above sea level, saying that La Paz is the “second capital” or “the de facto capital” of Bolivia since it is home to the executive and legislative powers. You decide.
La Paz. Where you go to get a good butt. Every street is either a steep climb or a steep descent. Most sidewalks are actually stairs, or they have steps every few meters. You really have to pay attention to where you’re walking just walking down the sidewalk.
In just 5 minutes walking down the street I saw two blind men passing with their guide sticks and I thought, wow, what an extra challenge to be blind AND live in La Paz.
La Paz. Good people. Like any big city, no one pays you any attention while you’re just walking along (unless they are vendors trying to sell you something), but every time I did have the opportunity to talk to someone everyone was incredibly helpful and friendly. (Don’t get me wrong, there is crime and there are parts of the city that are more dangerous than others, so like any big city I had to be aware of my surroundings, but also like any big city, I got the vibe that most people are just busy trying to do life and happy to help someone out if they can.)
La Paz. The streets of La Paz (some cobblestone streets but mostly paved) are filled with traffic – cars, taxis, and mostly mass transit minivans, and a ton of foot traffic too. But the traffic would be a lot worse if it weren’t for the teleferico… why dig a tunnel to have a subway when you can do mass transit by air?
La Paz. Space is at a premium, and every little bit space is used. From the ground I noticed this, but from the air, it was truly obvious. “From the air?” you ask.
If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it. The “teleferico” is a recently-installed form of public mass transit using ski-lift style cable car pods. It was like a scene out of a futuristic movie, as the pods smoothly sailed across the air, crossing the city like floating pods. It was so cool to watch them from the ground advancing towards the station and then docking smoothly like a space ship into the platform.
And then to ride in the pods above the city! I did a kind of loop around the city, taking the white, orange, red, silver, and then purple line.
I haven’t been this awestruck in a while. (And I have taken the teleferico across the green hills in Chachapoyas to see the Kuelap ruins!) I was overwhelmed by the sheer density and expansiveness of the city. I was amazed that I was looking down at the city from above. I was envious that some people ride in this every day to commute to work! I was trying to take it all in…and then the setting sun casting it glow on the snow-capped and colorful mountains in the distance.
I was so awestruck, I admit I was giddy. The enginerd in me was fascinated with the brilliant transportation solution, the curious explorer in me was enthralled at being able to explore the city from above, the geek in me felt like I was a star in a futuristic sci fi movie.
In that hour in the teleferico, I fell in love with La Paz. (I have never met a city without trees (or with so few trees) that I loved, but La Paz might be opening my mind.) I felt like I was part of the future. In La Paz, the sort-of capital of Bolivia.
Bonus Content: Food in Bolivia
Chatting with a Paceña friend I made in the hostel, I learned about a few of the typical foods unique to La Paz and Bolivia. Gracias Valeria!
-“Api” is a blue corn drink (like chicha morada for you Peruvians), but it’s often served warm and thick and with a pastry (pastel o buñuelo which is like a sopapillo – fried dough with honey)
-“Plato paceño” is usually comprised of fried cheese, potatoes, corn, habas, and often a slice of beef, and it’s often served with “chairo” soup.
-“Chairo” is a soup that usually has “chuño” (a black native potato), turnip, habas, carrot, peeled corn, barley, finely chopped potatoes, and the secret ingredient yerba buena
-“Fricasé” in Bolivia is a yellow stew of aji (chile), native potato (chuño), Andean corn (mote), with chicken or pork
-“Sopa de maní” is peanut soup, which is a soup with a peanut-based broth and potatoes and vegetables
-“P’esque” is a thick quinoa with milk, sometimes topped cheese or with tomato and onion on top.
In addition to the traditional foods, I had the honor of eating at an exquisite vegan restaurant, Ali Pacha, with an incredibly sweet and amazing friend of a friend. (Thank you, Gabriela!)
There they used local foods and did vegan twists on typical foods too. It was great!
And they had the fanciest bathroom I’ve ever seen.
*”Paceños” are people from La Paz
**There are a lot of really cool things to do in La Paz besides the teleferico and eating, I just didn’t get a chance to check them all out. Stay tuned for a list of cool things to do in La Paz that I hope to do if I ever (when I) return!