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El Alto

desolate beauty

We left Copacabana around 2 p.m. and rode the tourist bus four hours back to La Paz. Just outside of La Paz is El Alto, a new city founded in 1987. If La Paz is crumbling, El Alto is ramshackle. Built from steel rods and hollow ceramic brick, the structures are simple and utilitarian. Many of the buildings are unfinished. Windows and roofs are amenities most people don’t have. Those who can’t afford an apartment with finished windows live in tents. Where there are rooftops, there are dogs pacing across them. Security? Who knows.  As in the outskirts of Copacabana, livestock grazes in dusty, garbage-strewn fields.


When I asked Mike how he would describe El Alto he said, “Windswept. Desolate. Bleak. Bustling and abandoned.”


The population of El Alto is around a million. It is the actual location of the La Paz airport, and seemed to me to be the gate of entry to La Paz. We were told the people say, “El Alto is not Bolivia’s problem. El Alto is the solution.” We drove through El Alto at least a half a dozen times, maybe more. On this particular afternoon, there were people dancing in the streets.


Over the course of our time in Bolivia we would come to believe that always, somewhere, it was festival. Nearly every town and village we visited was celebrating a festival. This was El Alto’s.

dancing in blue


The road that leads to La Paz is edged by a great wall painted blue and decorated with the most provocative murals. I tried to snap them but it was difficult on a moving bus. Here are two:

el alto graffiti


I don’t know if you know this, but the great Che Guevara was executed and buried in Bolivia. Months before his death he wrote his own epitaph: “Wherever death may surprise us, let it be welcome, provided that this our battle cry may have reached some receptive ear and another hand may be extended to wield our weapons.” In 1997 Che’s remains were found in a mass grave. That October he was laid to rest with military honors in Cuba.


Che is beloved by the Bolivian people today. This statue welcomes all who cross from El Alto to La Paz.

L.A. to Mexico City to Tapachula…

…to Lima to Santa Cruz to La Paz

La Paz = Love

Cementario del Distrito


Isla del Sol en las Fotografias

Trekking Isla del Sol

Trekking Isla del Sol, One Step at a Time

Evening in Yampupata

The Village Awakens

Trucha Frita

Back in Copacabana (Finally)


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  • ‘Cita

    Very interesting!  People can make a life in the bleakest of places, and we do.

    • Even though it was bleak, I still thought it was beautiful.