The bus stop in Copacabana was just a couple of blocks from our hostel and the street was chalked full of mini-vans known as micro-buses and full size buses. We asked a few of the drivers to find the correct departure time and to confirm that the bus would take us all the way to the bus station in La Paz. The bus ride itself was a beautiful trip skirting the perimeter of Lake Titicaca for the first hour or two. At one point the bus assistant walked down the aisle telling everyone it was time to get off the bus. The road from Copacabana intersects with the lake and both the passengers and the bus itself are put on ferries to get to the other side. Due to weight restrictions the passengers have to ride apart from the bus. We watched our bus float across the water and hoped that it would make it safely to the other side with all of our gear packed on the underside of the bus. After re-boarding the bus we made our way away from the lake and towards the city.
About an hour away from our scheduled arrival time in La Paz we were passing through a small town when the bus pulled to the side of the road and stopped for a few minutes. The bus then made a u-turn and proceeded back a dozen or so blocks the direction that we had come before making a turn down a side street. Due to protests blocking the road we were forced off the “freeway” and down multiple dirt roads around the town before meeting back up with the freeway miles out of our way. Thankfully the detour wasn’t too far out of the way and we arrived in La Paz only about an hour after scheduled.
Unfortunately, when we arrived to La Paz the driver of the bus decided that we were not going to go to the city center and dropped us off at the cemetery on the outskirts of the city. We were able to find a tourist information center and found out how to use public transportation to get from where the bus left us to the center of the city. Normally we find a hostel prior to traveling to each location, but the Internet was dead the entire time that we were in Copacabana so we were forced to look for a coffee shop in the center of town equipped with Internet. Luckily, we found a hostal that was reasonably priced and only a few blocks from where we stopped for coffee.
Our time in La Paz was mainly spent walking the city. One day we did a walking tour and learned a lot about the people, politics, and culture of Pacenos (the term for people from La Paz) as well as a great deal about the city itself. One of the highlights of the tour was passing through the witches market where vendors had assortments of different powders and potions for a host of different effects from more traditional herbal pain remedies, to love potions and curses.
Another highlight was visiting Valle de la Luna (valley of the moon) which is a landscape shaped by erosion and devoid of almost all plant life that looks feels like you are walking on the moon.
La Paz also has three telefericos (gondolas) that run across the city and up the mountains on the side of the city. We went up to the top of two of the telefericos and were rewarded with spectacular views of the enormous city. The telefericos are also a great way to get around the city because aside from the views the offer, they fly rapidly over the traffic congestion below.
Traveling for an extended time means that we need to budget our money carefully. One of the places where try to save money is on food. In each town we look for budget options where we can get a good meal for a small price. In La Paz there was a multi-level shopping center a few blocks from our hostal with various stalls selling a wide variety of foods including full meals, sandwiches, bunuelos, fruit salads, smoothies, and almost anything else you could want. We found ourselves eating at these stalls at least once a day. The challenge was that the entire shopping center was a series of ramps, and the stalls sat on these ramps. If you saw the stall where you wanted to eat it could still be an adventure wandering the maze of ramps to try to arrive at your destination. Our time in La Paz also reunited Kevin with one of his favorite foods, the salteña. Salteñas are folded dough similar to an empanada, but inside they contain hot soup along with the usual meat and veggies of an empanada (we found vegetarian-friendly ones for Lisa too). Salteñas are delicious but take some practice to be able to eat without burning your mouth or making a complete mess of yourself.
Kevin had also met a few people from Bolivia when he was living in Spain. Alex and Veronica were two of these friends who both lived in La Paz. Both Alex and Veronica were kind enough to free up their afternoons and evenings to spend time with us while we were in La Paz. It was great to get to spend time reconnecting with both of them as well as having personal tour guides of the city. Veronica’s family runs a chocolate company called Para Ti, so we stopped by the store and sampled some of the chocolate. Alex works freelance designing comics and animations. Alex gave us a tour of the comic library where she spends much of her time as well as an animation studio where she works from time to time. It was interesting getting to see some of the projects that she has worked on and to see the development of the very young animation industry within Bolivia.
One afternoon, while walking around La Paz we got stuck in one of the most impressive hail storms any of us had ever seen. Luckily we found a little cafe with a covered terrace that allowed us to enjoy the storm from the warmth and comfort of our glass enclosure.
Sadly, La Paz was the last stop on Caroll’s tour with us. We greatly enjoyed having a third travel partner to share in our travels, especially her sense of humor. We were all sad to say goodbye to each other, but Lisa and Kevin will fly home for Christmas for another friend’s wedding, so we will be reunited soon.
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