Bolivia

La Paz, Bolivia. Summer 2017. 

Originally, Bolivia was not in the game plan. I have heard that it is the armpit of South America and friends were wondering why we ended up going there. Well, I am super grateful we did because Bolivia changed me. 

We were down in Patagonia before hand and the weather was getting really cold and rainy, so we found cheap flights and headed north. We were really excited because A) cheap and B) not rainy. As soon as we got off the plane and about to go into customs, the security eyed us Americans and made us leave the line. He pulled us to the side and explained how we had to pay for a visa. We thought this was Latin America corruption so we fought it but he explained how Bolivia wants a Visa from 2 countries: Israel and USA. We found out later: they think Israelis are terrorists and for Americans, it's a reciprocity fee aka we charge them the same amount to come to America. Sounds juvenile but if you don't believe me about Israel, peek at this. It's a 160$ visa and you have to pay in cash right then and there. They said they would send us back to Chile if we did not pay it. As we begrudgingly paid, they said, "Yes it is a lot but lucky for you it is good for 10 years." Wow so considerate thank you. 160$ might not seem like a lot for some travelers but for 2 girls living on street food and sleeping in hostels, it just about broke us. As soon as got through customs, it was a Sunday so we headed to the nearest LDS church. Going to church is one of my favorite things to do while traveling. It's a chance to slow down and learn as well as meet local families. Local congregations also love when visitors come. We walked in with leggings and shirts, the best we had and it was an amazing Sunday. A couple took us out to lunch afterwards, they were the cutest. This was our first intro to Bolivian food. A mess of sorts. And French fries, they always have fries. 

IMG_2422.jpeg

We found an ad for Cholita Wrestling. The name alone was enough to go. It is a bunch of local woman who wear their dresses but they fight in the ring. We thought it was casual but they were THROWING people around. Check this if you don't believe me. We learned it was a tourist trap and they charge the foreigners way more but it was still worth it. 

IMG_2430.jpeg

One thing we did not take seriously was altitude sickness. La Paz is the highest capital city in the world sitting just under 12,000 feet. We tried drinking water before hand to prepare but it hit us like a ton of bricks. If you ever decide to go, take your time and drink more water than you have ever wanted to. We got in at night and immediately a couple pulled us aside and told us to not stay out at night. They said to get to our Air BnB asap and don't linger around. They let us know that the locals has no mercy on tourists. We got a taxi from the main square and set off to find our place. Thirty minutes later we found ourselves in the back city of La Paz with no street lights and we were not feeling the best of vibes. We asked a lady on the street if we could use her phone, she held out her hand saying we had to pay her. We did not really have a choice so we handed over some coins, she closed her hand and walked away and did not even make the call. Hello Bolivia, mucho gusto can't wait for the next 2 weeks.

 

We gave up on our Air Bnb and found the closest place that felt safe-ish. The only hotel that was open only offered beds. Literally beds. No shower. Definitely no wifi. No drinking water. Oh also no locks on the doors. Strict beds only policy apparently. We were pretty scared that night so we said some prayers and just hoped no one knew about the extranjeras on the 2nd floor. 

IMG_2434.jpeg

La Paz was fascinating to us. I have never encountered a local population like these guys. No one wanted our money. They swatted at our hands anytime we would touch something to look at it and they were not up for bargaining. Rarely anyone cracked a smile and nobody said hello to us. I feel like usually when I travel, people are excited to take advantage of the token white girls but they wanted nothing to do with us. We could tell very quickly that we were not welcome. It kinda just made me love them even more. They had this Bolivian pride and they were not going to turn into sales people just to make money. It also taught me a lot about kindness and how to treat people. The ruder they were to me, the kinder I wanted to be to them. I am not kidding about the rudeness, they always gave us the moldy apples and the stale bread. Even if we tried to trade, they hit our hands and scowled and still gave us the bad veggies. 

Favorite parts of La Paz

San Pedro Prison

One thing we learned is that Bolivia is one of the largest producers in cocaine. Guess who the largest consumer is? USA. Which is why Bolivians hate Americans because we control a lot of their economy. Apparently we regulate their coca farms and put dealers in prison but yet we are their biggest customer. Which creates a national hate for us. We thought this was a joke until we learned about San Pedro Prison, one of the cocaine producers in La Paz. Funny thing is it's right in the middle town next to this really pretty park. Prisoners are allowed to leave the prison on a day to day basis and their families live inside with them. This is all true. We saw little kids in school uniforms waiting outside to see their dads. There is an amazing book called "Marching Powder" that talks all about it. We were obsessed with this prison and we sat outside of it for hours. Go check it out and find Crazy Dave in the park. He's from the U.S. but was an inmate at one point. You can't miss someone with an American accent. He will give you all the deets of that prison but will expect a tip at the end. We loved him. 

The Cemetery

I have a thing for cemeteries, I just love walking around them. Well if you feel the same, you should know that La Paz has one of the COOLEST cemeteries. It is practically a little city with street signs. If they have caskets stacked 6 high with rows further than you can see. If you have seen an old catholic cemetery then you will know what I am talking about. Families go there every Saturday to clean their head stone and celebrate their loved ones. There are mariachi bands walking around for hire to sing to the dead. There was a chapel in the middle of this all that had a funeral procession every 15 minutes. We were fascinated for hours. 

We did three major adventures in Bolivia:

- Salt Flats

- Isla Del Sol

- El Chorro hike

Originally, Bolivia was not in the game plan. I have heard that it is the armpit of South America and friends were wondering why we ended up going there. Well, I am super grateful we did because Bolivia changed me.