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Malegria In La Paz

Por la calle del desengaño
Esta mañana yo pasé
Con malegría otra vez

Bolivian River-crossing
Bolivian River-crossing

I’m cold, I’m tired, my clothes are dirty and I can barely breathe. One of these days I guess.

We arrived in La Paz from Copacabana. We left early, once again. Barely awake, we stored our bags in the bus and tried to make ourselves comfortable. Maybe even sleep a bit. But the bus was old, the seats dirty and small. As soon as we left, the driver set the radio at full volume. So much for sleep.

A couple of hours later, the bus stopped in front of a river. We took a small boat and our bus was driven onto another one. This is river-crossing in Bolivia. The ride made us feel slightly dizzy. Back on the bus. Only a few more hours to La Paz.

We climbed higher and higher in the mountains and eventually reached the capital. The first view is breathtaking. Nested in a valley, the highest capital in the world is best seen from above.

First View Of La Paz
First View Of La Paz

Soon enough, our bus was blocked by a demonstration. A common occurrence in Evo Morales´country apparently. We stayed stuck for a good hour before the driver finally gave up, parked the bus and let us go. Feng and I took a few minutes to read the map and figure out where we were (hint: in a dodgy neighbourhood). Meanwhile, one of the bus passengers, an old man, lowered his pants and started pissing behind the bus, in the middle of the street. What the fuck is wrong with Bolivian men? This wasn’t the first time I saw that. Earlier in Bolivia, I was queuing for the female bathroom at a bus station when a guy came around and pissed a few meters from us. Was it that difficult to open the bathroom door and do his business inside?

Demonstrating In La Paz
Demonstrating In La Paz

We eventually found our way and checked in a hostel for the night. We cleaned up a bit and decided to go eat.

We walked along a busy street. The sidewalk was tiny and already busy with vendors selling anything from hair clips to incense. It felt more crowded than in China. Meanwhile, cars, buses, trucks were driving at full speed, on the road, on the sidewalk, through red lights. It was already hard to breathe because of the altitude but the pollution made it worse.

The streets were a total chaos. Vendors, pedestrians, tourists, heavily armed military and police, cars, buses, trucks, bikes, bumping into each other, yelling, screaming, pushing. And meanwhile, not a single food place to be seen. Sure enough, there were a local market. A few food stalls along the busy road; ham covered with flies rotting in the sun, black bread supposed to be white, unidentified meat and dairy products. I will pass, really. I don’t think I’m too picky but I draw the line at fighting with insects to eat my food. Hygiene is not one of Bolivia’s strength… We eventually found a fast food and settled for it.

We had hoped to find a supermarket, or even a convenience store – i.e. not street food. Water is not drinkable in most of Latin America and we were used to buy bottled water, but in Bolivia, half of the time, even bottled water was not drinkable. We suspected that bottle were refilled, or left in the sun for too long. We walked quite far but did not find a supermarket. We came back to the hostel tired and somewhat frustrated.

I don’t understand people in Bolivia. Sure, I’m not fluent in Spanish, but I have always managed to talk with locals just fine. Most people love to chat. But not in Bolivia. We would ask directions and people would sight and not reply. The only time I saw people smile was when we were at the tourist market. Suddenly, people were very interested in us. Money talks I guess.

I realize I’m probably not fair. After all, I know very little of Bolivia and I have no right to judge the people. Maybe it’s a culture shock. I must admit I found it hard to see people sitting on the dirty roads selling stuffs, kids begging or working, older people looking sick and helpless. I have not seen this kind of poverty anywhere else for far in this trip. And somewhat, the harsh weather and the altitude seem to make poverty even worse in my eyes.

Or it might be another kind of culture shock. I grew up by the sea and I’m not an highland person. Life is different up there and maybe I just don’t get it.

Landscapes are amazing in Bolivia and it`s a colourful and interested country. I’m glad we travelled through. But La Paz… most chaotic capital ever.

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