Low on
Breath in
La Paz...
March 19, 2007

Let me start by saying that I had absolutely no idea what to expect from La Paz. I didn’t have any expectations – high or low. What
did know was that I have met several people who really enjoyed this city and others who couldn’t complain enough about it. Now
it was time for me to form my own opinion…

The first thing that I noticed as the bus was making its way to La Paz was that despite being the highest capital city in the world, I
was looking down on the city. It turns out that it sits in a canyon which makes it look a bit like it is in a big bowl. Buildings are jam-
packed in this ‘bowl’ and climb their way up all along the sides. Okay, I was now seeing that this is a somewhat hilly city. All of this
was news to me.

Hills are normally not a problem for me or my lungs. But that was before I was in a city that is situated over 10,000 feet above sea
level. I can barely walk a few steps up a hill without stopping to collect my breath. Hell, even walking on the main street that has
absolutely no incline tends to cause a slight challenge.

There was a term that came to mind while walking through the markets. It was a term that the author of ‘Inheritance of Loss’ used
in the book. For some reason, I remembered the two words well simply because I felt there was a lot truth in them. The term was
‘picturesque poverty’. I feel bad admitting that when seeing a lot of developing countries, this term is pretty spot-on. There are
colors and traditional clothing that a person would be hard-pressed to ever find in a developed nation. This country is so poor but
there is something so beautiful and fascinating about it. That being said, I know many people at home who would absolutely hate it
here. But I haven’t experienced culture shock since I was in Vietnam about four months ago so I am really enjoying this.   

I had heard from many people that Bolivian food sucks. I have to disagree with this. I have been having fun sampling the street
food – and I have not been disappointed. The salteñas that this city is known for are absolutely delicious. I also ate a tamale-like
thing made of sweet corn – oh so scrumptious! And if you want juice, this is your place. I opted for the pink grapefruit variety and
stood there while he pressed several pieces of fruit into a cup…and voila! A glass of pink grapefruit juice was served.

Maybe this is also a good time to talk about how fortunate foreigners are out here because it is quite easy on the wallet. The street
food that I ate all cost anywhere from $.20 -$.25. And I was serious when I said how delish it was. The sad thing about it is that I
know down the road I will be craving salteñas yet will have no access to Bolivian food.

‘Team Fast-Track’ (the Uyuni crew) all met up for dinner. We found a great, cozy place lit by candlelight. We even tried Bolivian
wine (I, for one, had no idea Bolivia produced such a thing) and it turned out to be to all of our likings! It was a cab called ‘La
Concepcion’. I need to remember that in case I ever stumble across a Bolivian wine section (because these are so common) when at
a shop at home. After a delicious dinner (so much for the Bolivian food-haters) and a few bottles of wine, we made our way down to
a bar for some more Bolivian wine.

March 20, 2007

I needed to get in as much La Paz as possible today since I am heading onward tomorrow. There is only one way to do this and that
is by wandering up and down the streets and through the different markets.

This was another thing that was news to me – how much shopping there is to be done here! They sell literally everything under the
sun out here. That being said, I’m not talking about ‘shopping’ relating to the sports bandages or batteries or llama fetuses
(absolutely as wrong and disgusting as it sounds) that are being sold on the streets. I am talking about the alpaca-wool scarves,
gloves and hats. The jewelry. The illegal-at-home DVDs. I have already bought four scarves and a pair of earrings. Considering I am
heading out in a few minutes, I know that I will increase my Bolivian goods by the time I leave tomorrow. Quite dangerous – not to
the wallet (at all) but because I have nowhere to put the stuff!

This afternoon I went to the Coca Museum where I learned more about cocaine. I guess I have never read too much on it so I wasn’
t aware that back in the late 1800s, doctors and dentists used this as an anesthetic. I always knew that there was some relationship
between cocaine and Coca Cola. I learned that there was a guy from Atlanta who came up with a wine that incorporated coca into it.
Once prohibition started, that was where Coca Cola came along. People still wanted some of the effect that they got from the wine.
There was a period of time where Coke actually consisted of some cocaine. That obviously came to an end – yet it said that they still
use coca leaves for flavor. They had coca leaves to sample on the way out. I grabbed a few and using the procedures that I learned
in the museum, I started chewing away. It tastes like tea leaves. You leave it in your mouth and it is supposed to bring on a mild
state of euphoria in about 45 minutes. It is definitely an ‘indigenous’ thing to do. But it is also supposed to help with the altitude.
That’s my excuse. I can use all the help I can get – if I can walk up a flight of stairs without wheezing after chewing on the stuff,
bring it on.

I think I am craving a salteña right now. Gotta get these things while I can. And I’m off…


Crap. I just got home. And I need to wake up at 6:30am to catch my bus. Crap. I am still wondering if I should pull an all-nighter
considering I have a habit of sleeping through the alarm on my watch. Hmmm… But then again, I can just consider it a ‘nap’. Maybe
that will work.

All I know is that the lack of sleep tonight will be worth it. What a fun night! I met up with Lindsey, Robin and their friend Jon (who
just came in today) at dinner and then we met up with the rest of Team Fast-Track at a bar. Tonight was Tuesday therefore it was
salsa night. I have never attempted salsa in my life. That was until I met my new Bolivian friend, Carlos. He was so good that it
almost looked like I knew what I was doing.
Almost. In any case, all of us had a great time. Emily, who has expressed her dislike of
physical contact with people, even gave me and Robin unsolicited hugs. This might not sound like a lot but it is. Anyway, we would
probably still be at the bar if we didn’t get shown the door at 3:00am when they closed.

The plan is to hopefully meet up in Copacabaña after Emily, Marc and Karl finish their trek. A Team Fast-Track reunion. I like the
sound of that...  
Back to Bolivia.
In the main square of La Paz.
Bolivian woman selling fruit.

The hills of La Paz.