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La Paz = Love

Our first day in La Paz was fabulous. We had planned to spend the day running errands, gathering gear we couldn’t bring on the plane (fuel for the camp stove), things we’d forgotten (gloves for Mike, contact solution for me), and of course, taking it easy so we could acclimate to the altitude. The airport in La Paz is the highest airport in the world at 13,000 feet. The city itself ranges between 10,000 and 13,000 feet, depending on where you are. Our hotel was at about 11,000 feet. So we took it easy. We woke up early, ate the free breakfast at our hotel (coca mate, fried eggs, fresh yogurt, peeled fruit, and French toast with strong, sticky honey instead of syrup), then we set out for the day.

la paz waking up

street 01

When I wrote this at the end of our first day in the city, I couldn’t find words to describe it. I still can’t, not really, nothing that comes to mind is even close to accurate. It’s not a particularly beautiful city, though the old Spanish colonials, decrepit and grimy, are still lovely. It’s not a clean city with green parks or shining skyscrapers. It’s gritty and dark in places, woven with narrow cobbled streets draped in bad wiring. But it throbs with the heartbeat of life, pulsing with so many hopeful, hardworking people. Once a grand metropolis, it is terribly aged and crumbling, yet surviving, living, breathing, strong and proud.

streets 1

streets 2

For all our years in New York, Mike and I were stunned by the cavalier way in which the people dart across the street, weaving between cars, no mind at all for oncoming traffic. We saw few streetlights, no stop signs at all, and no one gave any thought to the hundreds of cars barreling down the streets. Men, women, children alike walked directly in front of oncoming traffic, expecting drivers to slam on their brakes, and they did. Then the pedestrians, placing a hand on the car that had stopped for them, would continue on like nothing. Dogs would run back and forth, across streets, and the cars would slow, stop, let them pass. The sidewalks are lined with stalls selling everything from sweaters to toilet paper, so there is no room to walk on the sidewalk. You walk on the streets and by god the vehicles make room for you. They better, as they are outnumbered a hundred to one by the people. So many people! I’ve never seen so many people in one place in my life. Like Times Square on New Years Eve, only every day, all over the streets of La Paz. It was breathtaking.

I tried to photograph it, wanted so badly to capture the frenetic energy and the masses of people, but you can’t really tell. In person, trust me, it is much more impressive.

streets 3

streets 4

We wandered. We explored. We walked across the city to the Casa de Cambio to change our U.S. dollars to bolivianos. For lunch we ate salteñas and drank Fanta at a little place in the fancy shopping district, across the street from a men’s underwear store called “Adam”.

This one is for you, Adam.

We walked to the bus station to try and buy tickets to Copacabana for the next day, but the bus station was only a collection of privately run tourist companies selling tickets at inflated rates. We wanted to take public transportation, like the locals, not a tourist bus. If we wanted to take a tourist bus, we could take the bus our hotel ran every day at 7 a.m., at a much better rate than anything we would find at the station.

We visited the cementerio district, where we would need to pick up our bus to Charazani later in the week, but couldn’t find any place that looked even remotely like a bus stop. The cementerio, however, was beautiful.

We sampled street food, peeked into the witch’s market, and ate dinner at a little chicken stall where we were the only tourists and the waitress (who was also the cook) clearly did not care to have our business. We ate the Bolivian special, broasted chicken with peeled fried potatoes, rice, and citrus mayonaise. We fell asleep that night with full bellies, happy, showered, and eager for the next day’s adventures.




The mannequins in La Paz had the strangest faces (and the largest breasts) of any mannequin I’ve ever seen ever.


elephant door

zebra traffic control

The guys in the zebra suits are Bolivian traffic control. Bolivians like a little comedy with their traffic.

evening street scene


good night la paz

L.A. to Mexico City to Tapachula…

…to Lima to Santa Cruz to La Paz

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  • Marie
    4- XS
    6 – S
    8- M
    I have three pairs…

    Great photos! I cant wait to hear about the trip!


  • I’m having a mild panic attack just looking at the crowds.

    • Yeah… if I hadn’t lived in New York City for four years, I don’t think I would have been able to manage the crowds. But I did, so it kind of felt like home. 

  • I’m impressed.  The narrow streets full of people remind me of a few villages in Israel.

    Also, those mannequins freak me out. But I love the zebra traffic controllers (though in person, they’d probably freak me out too)!

    • You’d have loved the mannequins with zombie faces. Wish I’d snapped a photo of them.