La Paz (in and around)

June 19, 2008 - La Paz, Bolivia

After returning from Rurrenabaque we landed back in La Paz which is a busy city around similar size to that of dublin its built in a natural bowl shape valley in the andes with an altitude of around 3,600 metres it is the highest capital city in the world (its the de facto capital of bolivia but Sucre still retains the judiciary capital status) and it also has the highest football stadium and highest landing strip (airport) in the world and interestingly this landing strip is also the longest in the world and the 3rd location for space landing, after the two American locations. So you get the picture its pretty high up. It also has a part of the city up on the altiplano which is higher than the main area of the city - this is called El Alto. With all this altitude comes the inevitable shortness of breath whilst walking around the hilly streets until you acclimatise - but after spending alot of time in bolivia at altitude it only took me less than a day to get used to the altitude again from being down low in the jungle.

We met up with a few other backpackers we'd bumped into along our travels in la paz so it was good fun . There isn't that much to do in the city except wander around the city's famous witches market and street markets - which are I have to say very interesting to browse around - supermarkets don't really exist in around the city centre in la paz - its all stalls selling everything from fruit and veg to electronics and its very hustle and bustle and its a little bit smoggy and local ways of doing things can seem convoluted - but i have to say i really liked this city its got a unique atmosphere and the locals are hard working and no nonsense kind of folk. Also one of the evenings on our way back to the hostel we stumbled upon street dancing (practice) in preparation for the Ayamar new year which is celebrated on the winter solstice (21st of june) - some fairly impressive moves and it was infectious.

One of the activities which we where keen to do but also quite scares you at the thought of it was mountain biking down the death road (el camino de la muerte) outside la paz - this road from la paz to coroico is so called the death road as it was statisically the most dangerous road in the world from when it was built in the 1930s up until 2005 when a new road was built - during this time it averaged 200 - 300 deaths a year. It was built by Paraguayan prisoners of war in the 1930s during the Bolivia - Paraguay war (and there has been more deaths on the road alone than occurred in that war) In 1995 the Inter-American Development Bank (a statistics agency I think) christened it the 'worlds most dangerous road' although i'm lead to believe there is more hairy roads to travel on in south america!

So no wonder it has become a tourist attraction!  There is a number of companies that rent out mountain bikes and take you down the road - which is fairly long takes about 3-4 hour descent (thats alot of concentration) We went down it with a good company called downhill madness and the mountain biking aspect of it isn't that difficult but you do reach high speeds and have to be careful as any mistake would be very very bad with drops of upto 1000 feet just a metre or inches away at times. It was enjoyable i have to say - plenty of stops along the way for info about accidents and photo opps (it is a real touristy thing...) One of our group had a spill off his bike near the top and got a bit scared understandably i suppose so sat out the rest of way down in the van - i myself nearly lost control on a corner after hitting a big rock which slightly buckled my wheel for the rest of the way down but that was my only scare - the company we went with haven't had any deaths to tourists yet - but there has been a few that we heard about from our guide so it made you respect the danger!! I survived anyways to tell the tale (so been there done that got the t-shirt - no need to do it again!)

Other than that we eat out some quality food - three course meals for absolutely nothing and also got to watch some of the euro championship - there is a tourist attraction in La Paz - in which you ring up some guy who can get you into the san pedro prison and been shown around by prisoners its meant to be well weird and the lads wanted to do it but we never got round to it (not sure if it would be my cup of tea to be honest - strange tourist attraction if you ask me - but never did it anyways suppose it might have been good to freak yourself out a bit but no big loss missing it i didn't think - maybe that show prison break has made dodgey prisons all the rage!) 

Next stop after La Paz would be Copacabana on shores of lake titikaka right beside the peruvian border.


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