La Paz and our tiny taste of the Amazon Basin

27 Sep

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La Paz was… an expected adventure. At this point, I had really done no research on this city, and knew very little of what was to come. We hoped on a bus, loaded up with food, just in case (this situation taught us the importance of preparation for bus rides in Latin America), and headed to La Paz. We arrived a few hours later, in a bustling city centre, with the usual greeting of taxi drivers vying for your attention/money. La Paz is the capital of Bolivia, and it feels strangely small. I think that’s got a lot to do with the landscape. It has a population of under 1 million, but you don’t fully understand it’s size until you ride one of the Telefericos – or cable cars. A surprisingly first world feature of the city, these cable cars allow people to get from one side of the city to the other, at a very low cost (even for Bolivian standards), and in a much quicker manner than driving or *gasp* walking. This is because La Paz is a city in a valley. The altitude ranges from 4,058m to 3,100m, and is the highest national capital in the world. When you fly into (or in our case out of) the city, you see the sprawling shantytowns which sit on flat plains around the edge of the city, and as you get to the centre, the hub of the city dips into a really big canyon, and the city itself is based around a really big and disgusting river. You can see how it was once majestic and a source of life though. There are parts of the city in which no housing exists, because it looks like something out of a space movie. Just outside of La Paz is the Valle de La Luna (Valley of the Moon) and parts of this area run into the city. These areas are surreal, weathered rock formations, which are like giant spikes out of the ground. Beyond the flats, at the top and outer most edges of the city, the Andes stand snow capped, and create a stunning backdrop to this mysterious and unique capital.

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We stayed in an AirBnB here with the most entrepreneurial host, who greeted us, and his 52 hundred other guests, with jokes and laughter each morning. Here we had the most beautiful views of the city, as we slept on the top floor, and watched the sun set over the mountains every night. We visited the famous Witch markets, where shops sold all manner or trinkets and tricks, llama fetuses and dried frogs for rituals, figurines and aphrodisiac formulas and of course, palo santo. While it was definitely bizarre (and added fuel to our vego fire), it was a sight for eyes that thought they’d seen it all.

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Walking the streets of La Paz, especially when you’re staying in the centre of the city, is. tough. work. Coupled with the altitude, once you’re on the main street, the only way is up, and it’s a workout. In fact, in a regular city at sea level, these streets would be tough on the legs. I have no doubt our photos only give you a taste of those endless stairs. We did find ourselves feeling a little less like fat pieces of lard, when we passed a few locals who were just as breathless as ourselves. Every few hundred metres up each hill, you’d find a strategically placed milk bar, convenient positioned for rest stops. We also had our first, and only, issue with an ATM here. We drew out money, about $300 AUD, which never actually came out of the machine. After a translator from our AirBnB helped us out at the bank in question, and we had a lengthy called to our bank in Australia, the money was put back into our account, but it sure was a stressful few days there.

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Just a few days before we were set to head for Brazil, we decided that this might be our one and only chance to get a taste of the Amazon, even if it was only to be the basin, and I desperately wanted to see a Capybara. We decided to visit Coroico, and found ourselves shoved into the tiniest bus, which turned out to be the smelliest ride of our lives. There were many unwashed bodies on that tiny bus, and no one wanted to open the windows, which just made the condensation dripping down the glass all the more disgusting. I can’t say for certain, but I’m fairly sure there was a dead llama fetus being transported on that bus. One hour in and all four of our legs were numb, Josh had ripped off some bread from our stash and shoved it up his nostrils, and we giggled at the rosary beads that were hanging from the drivers rear view mirror, as we zoomed around a few corners and hung on for our lives, Latino style. This bus ride, while painful in many ways, was one of the most beautiful trips. From the depths of the city of La Paz, we spent the first hour of the ride climbing the mountain side, and then platoing before we climbed again up and in between those snow capped Andes we’d been admiring all week. Once we started decending, the condensation got worse, and the heat that had been missing from our lives the past few months, suddenly arrived. We found ourselves in a tiny town nestled into the side of the mountains, and the view was nothing but rain forest. We didn’t spend long in this sweet town, in fact it was only a day and a half, but it was long enough for some relief from the altitude, some humid warm air, and a whole lot of jungle. We went for a hike to find some waterfalls, and although we never found them, the Bolivian country side, full of marvellous butterflies and endless tea and coca plantations, was breathtaking. I really wanted to see some animals, so we paid a visit to Sende Verde, an animal rescue centre where the animals roam free and the people are in cages. And we finally saw our Capybara, which is basically a sweet natured, giant guinea pig with webbed feet, and coupled with the ridiculously cute monkeys and gorgeous macaws, it was everything I could have hoped for.

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We did have to make the horrid trip back up through the mountains again, in the tiny little bus, but the flight out was beautiful as the Andes disappeared from underneath us, and the winding rivers that flow through the mighty Amazon took their place, as we headed toward Brazil.