- Sucre – La Paz
- Wild Rover Hostel
It was the first time I’d struggled to sleep on an overnight bus, despite going with full cama this time around. To make things worse, our bus broke down on the road leading in to La Paz city. After 2 hours of trying, we finally all loaded off the bus and the 4 of us hopped in a taxi down to Wild Rover in the city centre.
We finally got to the hostel about 9.30am and went up to the bar/restaurant to grab some breakfast. It was here that we saw Eddie, looking withered and yet to sleep (probably all weekend) since it had been St.Paddy’s and he was Irish. Wild Rover soon delivered with a lovely hash brown breakfast, fabulous hot and clean shower and even a make-up room with straighteners and hair dryers. Just what every girl wants when you’ve had an over night bus and 2 months of looking particularly dog-like!
Once we were a little more human, we head out to wonder around the city. I’d been told by my Spanish teacher in Sucre that they had a witches market in La Paz and so we head in that direction. Upon arrival, it just kind of looked like your standard souvenir shop. But then looking up, you saw many hanging lama foetus’, apparently given as a sacrifice during a ritual of the native religion. Not particularly a pleasant site but apparently since Bolivians eat lama meat, so must their Gods.
On our way back towards the hostel, we stopped to eat at an Indian nearby. Actually, I was so impressed with the quality of the food and hadn’t had an Indian since way before first leaving home, all those days ago, so it was a welcomed meal. We ended up having to rush back to the hostel because we had booked to go to Cholita wrestling at 3.30pm and were still eating at 3.10.
Cholita wrestling was a 45 minute bus away. The group from our hostel filled a bus and made a stop off at The Adventure Bar hostel for drinks, before continuing up to El Alto city on top of the hills. El Alto is in La Paz state but technically separate to the city itself and where the slightly poorer people live, being so cold and windy on top of those mountains. Cholita is the name of the traditional Bolivian woman, with her bowlers style hat, big skirts and pig tails with tassels hanging at the bottom. Also typically, they’re rather larger than your standard British woman.
We entered Cholita wrestling fairly sober and didn’t exactly know what we’d let ourselves in for. The first few performances (of wrestlers) weren’t terribly impressive and being my first time at wrestling, I didn’t even know what to expect. Naomi and I decided it was time to go in search of some beer to make the whole thing 10x better. We maps.me’d a local supermarket although never actually found it. Instead, we found a Bolivian Fathers Day party and a big outside bar/festival type thing.
I purchased 4 litres of beer but we were then prohibited from exiting with the bottle in our hands, so stayed to drink one between us. We ended up chatting to a group of Bolivians who actually approached us (rather than just stare at the young Gringo girls), and we took selfies and danced with them for half an hour! As we walked back to the Cholita’s, we couldn’t stop laughing at the absurdity of what had just unfolded.
Back inside the arena with Rhona and Fran, it soon became obvious that the four of us were the only drunk people in there. But it certainly made everything much more enjoyable! And we even purchased wrestling masks to get in the spirit of it all. Everyone else in the crowd was laughing at us getting so involved and asking us where to buy beer so that they could too.
As the ladies finished up, we ran over to get some pictures with them and then spotted Trent and Rocky (from Florianopolis) with front row seats. We head over to join them for the last male show, which actually ended up climaxing in the rails right in front of us, and then went out to get the bus back to Wild Rover. The bus journey home was thoroughly entertaining for us 4, and everyone else laughing at us in our wrestling masks, with wrestling names (The Golden Shower, Rhona don Boner, Franyo Baño and Gab the Fab).
Back at the hostel, we ate some dinner, purchased some drinks and very much continued our night in good fashion! The hostel had a St.Paddys day festival all weekend and it was the final day so the bar was heaving. Our night there continued with many a beer, cocktail, shot and dancing on the bar! All of which then culminated in a trip to Route 36, with anyone and everyone from the hostel.
Route 36 is a secret Bolivian club which sells things that it shouldn’t, alongside a classic bar menu. Because of this, it changes venue often so that the police don’t find out. Only the taxi drivers actually know it’s whereabouts. When we arrived, it was quite empty and quietly playing some Justin Beiber. But by the time the whole group had arrived, we ended up taking over an entire area of the club and thoroughly improving the ambience of the place.
As the night went on, and being able to smoke inside got too much for me in that busy corner, Naomi and I found some other friends to talk to (ended up actually being our roommates) and then a group that Naomi had met previously in Chile. The four of us girls, along with Aussie Luke (also from Flori) and his friends were the first to leave at 3.30am, chatting in the courtyard when we got back. Turns out everyone else eventually made it home about 7am! But honestly, what a fun day that Sunday in La Paz was!
Following our heavy day and night session, none of us surfaced before 11.30am the next morning. Naomi had spent much of the morning being ill, as had another girl in our room, and everyone was sufficiently hungover. I certainly hadn’t missed that feeling during my recovery month!
We had planned to go see Crazy Dave that day and luckily for us, he didn’t start until 1pm. Crazy Dave is an ex-convict of the San Pedro prison in La Paz, charged with drug trafficking. He’s an original New Yorker but now lives in Bolivia and gives talks on what prison life is like. He’s also a drug dealer, cocaine addict and, suitably crazy. Everything seems to be about drugs in La Paz!
The talk took place in the square in front of the prison. Dave was on fantastic crazy form, telling us his stories from the inside. He was friends with the author of ‘Marching Powder’, the book about life inside San Pedro prison. During his talk, we learnt that life in a Bolivian prison is pretty sweet. The convicts are allowed their families to live in, their kids can go to school, the guards all deal drugs to them, there’s different quarters for different social classes, and pretty much anything goes. In fact, life is so a-okay that the prison is actually super easy to escape from, made with mud walls and a corrugated iron roof, but no one wants to leave as outside life is nowhere near as fun for them.
Dave continued with his stories about 3 successful previous escapes, how they used to run tours and deal the tourists the best cocaine in Bolivia, make their own drugs inside, have BBQs, and all other kinds of wild things that would absolutely not go in the UK or US. During our talk, the prison gates opened for family visiting time which meant we could poke our heads in to seethe courtyard and all the convicts (who were shouting at us for money). Apparently now you can pay to get in for a tour but there’s no guarantee you’ll get out again, and I didn’t fancy that risk! Instead, Crazy Dave treated us to two awful rock songs and one hilarious hip hop one, before concluding his talk. We were left baffled at what we’d just experienced and yet so happy we’d gone to put a smile on our hungover faces!
Naomi was still ill and the rest of us were tired so we head back for lunch and an afternoon nap, making plans for later in the afternoon. About 5pm, we jumped in a cab to the bottom of one of La Paz’s teleferico’s. To you and I, that is a cable car, and La Paz are very proud of their cable car systems because they use them as public transport. It’s a very clever idea since the city is built in the mountains and has made them a heap of money.
We took the green line up the mountain for an unbelievable view of the city. Sadly, the sun was setting so much of the city was in shadow, but La Paz from above is really something. It almost looks like a giant shanty town with a few sky scrapers in the southern parts of the city. Once we felt we’d truly appreciated the view, we hopped back in a car and head downtown once more.
At the bottom, we hailed a cab and head to the city centre. The girls wanted to book their Death Road tour and there was a Moroccan restaurant nearby which we wanted to try out. The restaurant was quaint, with only 4 table, but the food was lovely. We started with a hummus plate to share and then I had beef skewers with onion and potato omelette, stuffed peppers and spicy tomato sauce. We were even given free mint tea to finish which made me very happy!
Aubrey had stopped over in La Paz for a night before flying to Cuzco the next day. She joined us in the tv room that evening for Harry Potter. Note the lack of alcohol considering how big our Sunday had been! All of us were in bed before 11pm that night, including all the girls in our room and almost everyone that had been with us the night before!
I didn’t have too much of a plan for my third day in La Paz. The morning was spent booking tours for the girls and then we grabbed some lunch at the hostel. We had planned to head out to Valle de la Luna that afternoon (it’s similar to San Pedro de Atacama’s) but the lady at reception told us we needed to go in the morning as there wouldn’t be any transport to get us home again.
Instead, she suggested Jaen Street which is a mix of La Boca (the colourful neighbourhood in Buenos Aires) and a Brighton lane! Rhona and Fran didn’t fancy the museums so Naomi and I roamed around; first the costumbrista, then the one about Tiwanku culture and lastly the ex-house of a Bolivian president turned in to a museum about Bolivia’s colonial history. All were quite small, but interesting, and the little cobbled lane they were in just added to the experience.
We finished up our afternoon of culture by treating ourselves to a crepe at one of the cute little cafes along the street. I of course went for the God that is ‘Dulce de Leche’ and we sat to use decent wifi (finally) for a solid hour!
Back at the hostel with Fran and Rhona, we spent the evening chilling out, catching up with various people, eating dinner and having a glass of wine. Dangerously, Wild Rover offered tabs for food and drink and I honestly had no idea what mine had reached by this point.
Randomly, I bumped in to Floss, Lettie and Willa that evening and they’d just returned from the jungle. It sounded like an awesome trip but what wasn’t quite so awesome was their Death Road experience. Turns out that a few days before we had arrived, a bus driver had died by the bus rolling off the cliff face during one of the tours. The company they had gone with were the most trusted and asked to deal with the aftermath of the accident. Apparently their guide had to abseil down to retrieve the body whilst the rest of the group had to pull up a rope with the body and guide attached. And then they had to continue cycling home! I’ve never been so glad to not enjoy cycling and therefore not book on to a tour myself. There’s obviously a reason it’s coined ‘Death Road’; you only have to have watched that Top Gear episode to understand why!
For my last day in La Paz, the girls had head out to complete Death Road early in the morning. I ventured out on a walking tour of the city. As it turns out, I was the only one who showed up so was given a private tour! It was most probably due to the rain coming down, but it did mean I was treated to a Salteña (kind of like an empenada that Bolivian’s eat for brunch) at the best spot in town. We then took a local bus up to El Alto, visiting the largest market I’ve honestly ever seen, the “real” witches market and then seeing where the shamans work. All of the little ritual plates were outside their offices, burning away the sugar and lama foetus’ before some kind of voodoo type magic was performance inside.
We got the red cable car back down the mountain, stopping off at the graveyard. The native religion believes in another life rather than after life and so each grave had food and drink left in it for the person to be consuming in their next life. Apparently it’s also tradition to follow a visit to the cemetery by eating cinnamon ice cream and so there were plenty of stalls lined up outside. Very bizarre!
For our last evening in La Paz, afterthe girls returned (and had survived) death road, we had a BBQ at the hostel. Lorna and Beth, two girls from our room, joined us and then Eddie also came down. It was lovely to have a relaxed, social evening for the last night in this great city.
So, 147 days in to ‘life from a bag’ and I’m now a keen wrestling enthusiast, a fan of Bolivian fathers, and in love with the beautiful, crazy and absurd city that is La Paz.