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La Paz and Parting Thoughts...

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After our four day tour of the salt flats, we were beat. The combination of sun, wind, altitude and cold really started to wear on us. To make matters worse, at the conclusion of the tour, we immediately caught an overnight bus to La Paz (i.e., tried to sleep sitting up on a bouncy road in the freezing cold). So even though La Paz was our last stop in South America, we took it pretty easy.
La Paz is one of the highest cities in the world at an altitude of over 10,000 feet. Even more impressive is the fact that the city itself sits in a canyon. Of all the places we’ve been in South America, it seemed to have the least Western influence. There are definitely people wearing jeans and other western clothes, but there are also lots of women in traditional clothing selling anything and everything. For example, in the Witches Market, these traditionally dressed women sold dried llama fetuses. No joke. Apparently, it is considered good luck for Bolivians to bury a dried llama fetus under a new home.
On our first day in La Paz we visited the oldest church in town, even hanging out for Mass (we had no idea what was going on, but it seemed pretty standard). We also stopped by the main square for some people watching and saw the bullet-ridden presidential palace. In the afternoon, we checked out the Coca Museum which was very interesting. The Coca Leaf is a very big deal in Bolivia and is considered a part of their national heritage. Coca leaves are “macerated, not chewed” by most of the population. The chemicals in the leaf act as a stimulant and historically, the Spanish forced the indigenous population to consume coca leaves in order to increase stamina and production. The Bolivian government actually expelled the American Ambassador around 2008 after the US and Bolivia got in a dispute over the growing of coca leaves and US drug enforcement efforts.
3IMG_2207.jpg Alleyway in La Paz
IMG_2216.jpg Classic Bolivian woman in front of the Presidential Palace
IMG_2238.jpg The Witches Market (the small items on the rights are llama fetuses)
On day two, we took a taxi to a lookout point where we got some nice views of the city and the surrounding mountains. We then walked to a small square in a less touristy/business part of town and got some Mexican food for lunch (Jeff was ecstatic!). We also stopped by the Black Market, which wasn’t as shady as it sounds - pretty much a big market selling every kind of good imaginable. We called it an early day and headed back to our hostel to pack up and get some sleep.
We parted Bolivia via Aerosur, Bolivia’s national airline. I have to say, I was a bit skeptical about flying a non-US carrier (I know it sounds a bit snobby, but flying is not my favorite thing to begin with). Moreover, taking off from La Paz, one of the highest airports in the world is pretty crazy in and of itself. However, after two flights on Aerosur, I was pleasantly surprised. When we took off from La Paz, we just barely cleared a mountain range (see picture). Almost as shocking as the take off was the fact that Aerosur served us meals, drinks and fudge for dessert on both our flights (the first flight was only 50-minutes). After two Aerosur flights, we ended back where our South American journey started, Sao Paolo, Brazil.
IMG_2251.jpg Taking in a view of the city
IMG_2265.jpg The Black Market
IMG_2279.jpg Just after take off...the mountain range we just cleared
Now that the first leg of our trip is over, we have been very reflective about our time in South America and journey so far. South America definitely has a lot to offer. It could keep a traveler occupied for far longer than our 40-days. The terrain, climate, cultural and activities change with each country, and even several times within some counties. Having never been to Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina or Bolivia before, we can safely say that they are all very captivating in their own ways. We found it pretty easy to navigate South America thanks to good public transportation. The South American infrastructure, while better in some countries than others, was reasonable, even on a tight budget. We exceeded our budget in Brazil and saved a lot of money in Bolivia, but for the most part, travelling was affordable in all of the countries we visited. Despite our lack of Spanish and Portuguese, we managed to get around just fine by using short phrases and talking with our hands - most people were sympathetic. Highlights for us include seeing Rio de Janeiro and the Iguassu Falls, spending time with Jeff’s family in Buenos Aires, and exploring the Bolivian Salt Flats. In the end, it was an unforgettably experience!
We are off to Johannesburg, South Africa and a whole new chapter in our travels! We will write more soon…

Posted by geldere 03:54 Archived in Bolivia Tagged mountains market high cold altitude witches

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