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Another day of trying to orientate ourselves this city takes some sussing. We managed to at least find one recommended eating spot, 100% Natural, which does great cheap breakfasts. For a quid we got a natural juice, Muesli and yoghurt and fruit and honey, Whole meal toast with butter and jam, scrabbled eggs, and coffee. Pretty good, and they seem to be pretty hygienic using bottled water and the like. Best breakfast for a long time. We still managed not to find the museum of Coca though which was apparently near by, save that for later.

It obviously was a holiday yesterday as today there is more traffic and there are a few people going around in suits and kids in school uniform. The men still relieve themselves in the street though, so can’t be blamed on drink. The funny thing is, there are actually public toilets here.

We meet a couple of lads, Martin and Alan, at the Viedma meeting way back in December and knew they were in La Paz and finally managed to make contact.

They are riding around the world on GS1150s and came up through the east of Bolivia a few weeks ago, slap bang in the rainy season. They had some truly atrocious conditions, the roads thereabouts not actually really being able to be classified as roads. In the conditions they were washed out and boggy to extreme. They had harder riding than they ever encountered in Africa, to give you some idea. Had a look at their pictures on the web and it looked real bad. They are here as Alan’s bike needs a clutch repair - currently trying to find the parts that have been shipped from England! They have found a great repair shop here though, the details somewhere on Horizons Unlimited if anyone needs them.

It was obvious it was brewing up for a storm here - at least that might take some of the stale urine smells away we hope - so we back tracked to the hotel, just in nick of time. Apparently it's quite normal for afternoon storms, we must have been lucky yesterday. Clearly the wet season hasn't quite finished with here yet. We might not stay so lucky.

La Paz is famed for being hot sunshine, cool in the shade, and cold at night. Certainly everyone local is well wrapped up most of the time. We have been wandering around in shirt, trousers and sandals and quite comfortable, but the locals obviously don't think that's enough. This shower perhaps paints the other side, we'll have our cags and the little brolley with us now I think! The rain was actually mainly pretty large hale, and accompanied by lighting and thunder.

I keep forgetting to mention what the altitude is like here. If we come up the two flights of steps to the landing our room is on we are short of breath and you need a few moments to recompose. In the morning, we had a very quite nights sleep last night which was a pleasant surprise, you get up as normal then realise there is the altitude, it's quite a surprise. Neither of us has suffered headaches or the like, but our skin in drier and you need the water.

There are more people here that approach you for money, but not so far a huge amount. Even in Chile kids would come into restaurants from table to table with outstretched hands which show the marked difference in wealth there. Here there are clearly people with more, and people with less, but the difference is not as marked I think. It's still a surprise that virtually everyone here is indigenous. The only pale faces, are the pale faces, of which there are many here, but generally always congregated in the same backpacker area.

No idea how long the rain will last but I guess it will be time to see a museum or similar, unfortunately the close 12.30 to 15.00 but at least they're open until 7.

We're meeting Martin and Alan in an English style pub tonight so that might be an experience.

If I were honest, well we, as it's how we both feel, we are really not sure we are going to enjoy some of this leg of our journey as the contrast between heavy tourism and crime and poverty is an unhealthy mix. The guidebook warns of all sorts of hazards and dangers, and many of them are in places we want to visit. In the past we have heeded warnings but tried not to let them spoil our fun, but maybe it's a general malaise we are suffering just now.

Although we will live La Paz and as often stated we prefer the sticks, many of the 'big' things to see are in dubious areas and it does take the edge off it. I guess we will judge it as and when, there would be no point in not going to these places. The sad fact is we both, at this precise moment, wish we weren't here, and don't really fancy going to the places we intended. With hindsight, we should have come this way round first, better weather, and the culture shock would be wearing off, rather than on.

Well we found an interesting museum to while away the time, the Coca Museum. It is based on the background and use of both Coca leaf, and the slightly different derivative, Cocaine. The museum is was jointly set up by government department’s rehabilitation centres and other interested parties. It generally sets out I would say to show that Coca leaves are something not to be confused with the more additive and stronger relation and in fact makes a strong case for Coca leaves and their uses. This is understandable as the leaves have an ancient history and the stronger product is in fact quite new. There were lots of interesting facts, a few of which I can remember. Coca Cola originally did have cocaine in it, but I thought the modern day product bore no Coca relation - wrong, Coca Cola still incorporates Coca leaves as part of the flavour. Sigmund Freud was the first person to take cocaine as a drug. Bolivia is not a member of the Cocaine Club - the League of Nations who is allowed to produce cocaine for medical and other uses. It was all rather fascinating, and a small but very well considered display. We had a booklet with English translations for the whole display which helps enormously. On completion we were given a coca leaf cookie to try. Quite herby and not unpleasant, but not enough to ward off the effects of altitude I doubt. I would actually like to try some of the Coca leaf in tea or chewing form, but the opportunity has never really arisen, and besides which we don't really suffer too many side effects of altitude.

We managed to meet Martin and Alan in the 'English Pub' later, true, it was just about all English in there, quite small, and beer in pints (including Guinness and Boddingtons)

As we arrived first we ordered a local 'Bock' unaware that it was 7% - not ideal for altitude. We only found this out when the guys arrived. We had a good evening chatting away about our various travels and challenges and heard about their adventures here as they have had to stay a while as Alan is having work done on his bike. They had taken part in the downhill mountain bike ride that is now world famous as it takes the route of the 'Road of Death' - once considered the most dangerous road in the world. Now it's a major attraction as you are taken by bus to the top at about 4800m and then you descend to 1100m - it's all down hill except for 16kms. The road is so feared as there is one particular section that has drop offs of 900 odd metres - no barrier, slippery unsurfaced road and very narrow. The other thing is, due to the narrowness and severity, you descend on the left (not right as here normally) the reason being you must give way to uphill traffic, which is buses and the like that don't have room to maneuver. It was one route we wanted to ride on the bike, but have decided to err on the side of safety and not bother. Call us wusses if you want, but that's the way it's staying. Martin had also scaled a 6000m peak which sounded very tempting to me indeed, but really it's not the season for it, and our insurance doesn't cover it. Both options are relatively cheap, no, they are cheap, and that's the real benefit on La Paz, access to these kinds of deals.

We soon discovered whether La Paz was safe at night or not as when we went to meet them it was fully dark, but the streets were busy and there was no feeling of danger whatsoever. When we left, near midnight (after a pub curry which was pretty good actually) the streets were pretty empty, just a few folk around, and a few worse for wear folk too. There was no feeling of concern and in fact it felt safer than many a UK street at that time of night.

Couple of things we have noticed further during our stay, there are far fewer dogs here than anywhere else we've been (no jokes about them being eaten please). The litter and piles of rubbish do seem to often disappear between nightfall and morning. And the traditional ladies who sit on the streets selling wears that look like they bed down there for the night, don't - don't know were they go, but they're not there at night. On that subject, there are supermarkets here - if you can find them - but otherwise everything is sold on the street generally by these ladies, and I mean everything. There are a few stalls selling DVDs - you can choose one as they have TV’s plugging into the numerous sockets hanging off the streetlights. We also discovered the style of skirt, or the jaunty angle of the bowler hats tell you whether the women are married or not.

Thursday 2nd March 2006

La Paz

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I don't know how we can explain our general malaise here, there are so many tour options etc and the like, but we don't really do tours, we make our own which is perhaps the issue. As I've said many times we don't like big cities either, which would explain a lot, and we have perhaps suffered quite a bit of culture shock here. As we are here longer it's more usual what we see, but we still aren't happy here and so I think we must leave. We can see how we feel it we go to say the Yungas which is only 70 or so kms away, and see if we find something else for us to appreciate, or whether we really want to just see the famous tourist sights closer to us here like Lake Titicaca and Machu Picchu and then bugger off back to NW Argentina as quick as we reasonably can.

Your average Bolivia crowd

I think it's often the case that when you're travelling your perspectives change. Depending on a lot of factors you can really change emotionally regarding were you are travelling. That's perhaps why our feelings are so up and down here, probably a similar thing as to when we were travelling through N Chile - there we were bored, here it's something else.....it's a strange old game. Travelling on your own must be a lot more difficult, at least there are two of us.

Today we could have blamed it on our slightly thick heads! I was a bit misty, and Bev was more foggy. Drinking at altitude (as we know....but do we learn?) is not a great idea.

Our traditional breakfast helped things and a wander around the stalls helped clear the mist. The stuff on sale is generally what you expect, no end of very good value Alpaca goods and weavings and the like, but they're not really to our taste, although Bev is looking for a nice sweater with a pixie hood, maybe they're Peruvian. The other things on offer are from the sublime to the ridiculous. There is fruit and nuts and various types of potatoes (been very disappointed with not finding loads of tatties on the menu, chips yes, but other spuds no) fossils and figurines and Llama foetuses.

Yes, you read that right! They dry the Llama foetus and I think they're for good luck. There are also dried frogs, Armadillos and birds and other things - quite what for we don't know. Sure no one back home would appreciate one as a gift!

The brown things middle top are llama fetuses - sacrifice for luck

We started our preliminary emailing to arrange return shipping for the bike today too, which is marked step in the trip, and not one you really want to think about, but must be done, and in time.

We had a wander up to Calle Jaen this aftie which has some great old Colonial buildings with wonderful courtyards and houses 4 museums you can enter on a joint ticket, all of 60p. They varied in interest, but the highlights of the collections were the various Fiesta costumes which are down right bizarre, and the Inca gold work.

Police Harleys?...look closer, Chinese 250s!

This afternoons storm was much shorted lived than yesterdays - but much longer than the none existent one we had on arrival so we dodged most of the weather.

Presidential palace guards

We were in the area of the Congress Building and Presidential Palace and it was looking like there was to be some action up there as there were a lot of police, including riot police and SWAT teams. The riot police had a nice touch, their shields had protective blue film still on...helps stop them getting scratched during action! There were some with tear gas and pump action shotguns, sub-machine guns, and some dressed like Ninja turtles with the body armour.

Riot police with protective blue film on shields - wouldn´t want to scratch em would you ?

You are a bit hesitant in taking photo’s at such times, but it has to be done. I haven't carried my digi SLR around the streets - though in reality I'm sure it wouldn't be an issue and it's my loss, so all the pics are courtesy of Bevs compact which is more discreet.

Ninja biker riot police

Whatever the presumed possibility of trouble was 'nothing happened' as far as we could see. It might have been interesting to have witnessed some sudden Latino outpouring of emotions, but I think we'd prefer not to be tear gassed today thank you!