A week in La Paz

Due to the potential for strike in Oruro province the town has been forced to skip a few days of riding and drive straight to La Paz. Our difficult decision indeed, but ultimately the wisest, given all the factors at play. With mixed emotions we loaded into the trucks and a rental van and made the long drive from Salinas Garci Mendonza to La Paz. It was with no small amount of relief that we finally squeezed through the suburb of El Alto and with darkness quickly descending lay our eyes on  La Paz.  

Is there a city in the world that lays before the visitor with such an awe inspiring sweep of display as the city of La Paz? Most cities are entered at eye level; the alignment and scope remain a mystery to the first time visitor before the city is properly explored. But from El Alto we were treated to a Condor´s eye view of the city; a spreading cluster of brick and metal  climbing the steep cliffs of the valley, before making the dizzying descent into the core.  

The lasting impressions and images of the city are only made once entered. From a distance the city seems almost entirely composed of brick, but that brick holds surprising colour; political grafitti wishes Evo long life, and vivid murals portray some of the country´s social issues. Aymara women in bowler hats and Easter egg pink and blue shawls share their toothless secrets as they peddle fresh squeezed orange juice and designer shoes.  

The sensory overload is by no means limited to the visual. The smells of roasted chicken and deep fried potatoes taunt us on every corner. The smell of the market with it´s pungent cheese and fresh fish wafts through the streets and blends with the smell of fresh sticky saltenas. And the sounds! The valley transforms the city into a natural auditorium and at all hours the sounds of the city can be heard; honking horns and sirens, fireworks and live music. There is no excuse for boredom in this city that never seems to stop.  

In many ways the city is a microcosm of everything we´ve come to expect from the continent; colour and noise, political activism, exotic foods, friendly people, adventure and the potential for a great night out. Everyone in the group approached the city differently, each pursuing their own interests. Here´s what rider Bill Clelland had to say about his time in La Paz:   

There could be much worse big cities to be stuck in than La Paz. The mild unrest in Bolivia has forced us to zip across much of the southern part of the country – a logistical triumph for the staff – missing 4 days of cycling to avoid road closures. We find ourselves in a big bustling city of over 2 million for almost a week – a long time in any adventure travel tour.  

So what do 23 active cyclists and 6 staff do in La Paz for a week. For starters Bolivia's "Death Road" was a day tour that most of us took – 3500 meters of descent through rain and clouds in 60 kms – that's right we only descend (have a look at the images on Google and Michel Savoie's helmet cam video link below). Seven of us climbed Huyana Potosi – a 6000+ meter mountain 25 kms from La Paz – a 2 day climb. Many took a tour to the pre Columbian city of Tiwanaku which predates and rivals in sophistication the Inca Empire's technology. Shopping on the streets of La Paz for beautiful alpaca garments, silver jewelry, fresh mangos… anything at all at the market stalls on the sidewalks that overflow into the streets and the frenetic traffic!   Here's the Death Road video:  

That's all very well and good for daytime activities, but what happens at night? Could it be that a dozen or so staff and cyclists end up at a local bar/pub to watch an American football game. Then could it be that the bar manager asks at 11:30 "Who wants to dress up as Spiderman?" Would you guess that everyone wanted to dress up as Spiderman? Then would you think that the bar manager announces that he has 30 complete Spiderman outfits. It was a rare night in La Paz!!  

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