As many of you know, Jim and I landed in La Paz in the wee hours of April 30th, and did not do much of anything except try to catch our breath, and toast the local glacier, Illimani. At over 11,000 feet (with an airport at over 12,000 feet), just breathing is a major accomplishment. Add 24 hours of travel, and I’d say we had a good first day!
On Friday, May 1st (happy birthday, Meredith!!!), we joined up with our tour group in the afternoon , and did a walking tour around the downtown area of La Paz. Some cool architecture, but we’re still dragging our butts around. More tomorrow! Okay, here’s the real scoop on La Paz … besides the elevation; a very interesting city, which exists at all different levels (social, economic and altitude-wise).
Just for starters, the city of La Paz encompasses an elevation differential of over 3,000 feet. We started our day with a drive up to the look out point at Killi Killi, from which you could see the vastness which is La Paz. Sadly, much of the urban forest has been lost in the last 40 years to rapid population growth. To its credit, though, the government seems to realize the value of preserving its eco-system (or repairing the ravages of the past), and has committed to planting 10 million trees per year. We don’t know what the score is on that, but we see evidence of a lot of planting efforts in and around the city.
Next, we went to the main plaza in La Paz, where the government offices sit right next door to the main cathedral, San Franciscito.
The plaza was lovely, with great restored colonial architecture, and we squatted for about a half hour waiting for the appearance of the President, Evo Morales. The cool thing is that anyone can come out to watch him, and security is pretty light. The bad thing is that like most of South America, things seem to happen on their own time schedule. In short, we never got to see him. Given his avowed dislike of Americans, this may not have been a bad thing.
Next we went on a driving tour of different neighborhoods in La Paz. Rich or poor, there’s a ton of building activity going on in La Paz, which the people all seem to view positively. Unlike most of the world, the majority of the poorer population seem to live on the highest points in the city (with the best views) while the wealthy folks live at the lowest elevations. Like Lima, one of the richest neighborhoods in town was called Miraflores.
From there, we drove to a fabulous geological formation called Valle de La Luna (Valley of the Moon). This is an other-worldly formation of sandstone formations that all look like fingers pointing at the sky. Needless to say, this was an important spiritual site for the indigenous population. Sadly, much of this area has been sacrificed to development, but the remaining area was designated a national heritage site and is now protected.
Following lunch, we went back to the market area of La Paz, where we saw what is know as the “Witches Market” where indigenous charms and spiritual aids are sold along with herbal remedies. Seeing this, we could not help but compare the spiritual practices here with those of Peru and also the Candomblé in Brazil.
This area also offers some great examples of the better Bolivian handicrafts, which, like Perú, focus heavily on woven arts made from alpaca wool and silver.
After returning to our hotel, we dragged ourselves up a couple of streets to a local Italian restaurant, Pronto, and then got ready to leave for our expedition to Lake Titicaca tomorrow.
Ever since I saw the Jacques Cousteau special on this high Andean lake, I’ve been curious to see it. Let’s see what tomorrow brings!