Day 1 – 8 Dec 2016
We landed in La Paz around 22:00 last night and this time our flight was smooth. We took a taxi to our hostel and in the meantime we passed by Plaza Major with Iglesia de San Francisco and the plaza had a big lighted Christmas tree. There were Christmas decorations all over the town and looked very nice. We were quite tired so we went directly to bed.
Day 2 – 9 Dec 2016
This morning during breakfast we checked if there was a walking tour of the town and found that there is! We had time until 11 to catch the tour and we needed to arrange our bus ticket to Copacabana. From our hostel the Hop On Bolivia busses were suggested to us. M also found another company, so we decided to check those two. But our first stop was the tourist info where we got a map of the city to orient ourselves and got an idea about the teleferico (cable car) system. Then we went by Plaza Major where there are tour companies going to Copacabana. The lady at the tourist info told us that there are local busses for 20-30 Bolivianos but we wanted to check if the tour companies can arrange a pick-up for us. The first one was not really helpful especially because we don’t have time to stop at Puno. Then we went to the Hop-On Bolivia and their schedule fit ours quite nicely, so we booked our busses all the way to Cusco with them. These companies were also close to the famous witches market of La Paz, so we walked through it on our way to meeting with the walking tour. The hop on / off busses would pay off even better if you would like to stay some time on certain cities that you are not sure how long you will stay. The idea is there is always a bus from the city you are staying and you can always hop on to the next one.
Here, we did the walking tour with Red Cap. Our guide was very nice with interesting and also funny stories about the culture and history of the town and the country. We met at San Pedro Square, whose official name is Sucre Square with the statue of Sucre, the liberator of the country, but the local name of the square got its name from the San Pedro Church and the prison. Apparently San Pedro Prison is very famous. It seems like a small prison, but 1895 inmates live here with their families. There are different sectors in the prison, and there is a delegate of each sector. You need to pay for entrance to the prison. Some sections are with shared rooms but others have private rooms. There are usual ways to make money like running a shop, a restaurant, a hairdresser etc, but also there are bad ways, too. Our guide told us that they produce the purest “sugar”, they wrap it in diapers, throw it out of the prison from the ceiling in the middle of the night, and certain people like to pick up these “dirty” diapers. Apparently it is a city in a city. We were quite surprised how they don’t escape because there are no guards inside, only waiting outside. Our guide, Jorge, suggested reading The Marching Powder to learn about the life in this prison.
Then we headed towards Mercado Rodriguez. This local market covers many streets with women selling all kinds of fruits, vegetables, and meat. We weren’t even there on one of the two days that the market gets even bigger! Our guide got a bag of tatairu fruits and as we tasted this tropical fruit, he told us about the casera, who is the lady from whom you always shop, and about yapa, which is what casera gives some extra when you always buy from her. Bolivia is very rich with the varieties of potatoes. In particular we saw tunta (white) and chunto (black) potatoes that are dehydrated. When they eat, they put yahua, the red or green sauce to flavor the potato.
He also told us about Cholitas, whom we saw everywhere we went in Bolivia. These women with typical outfit are originally from the high lands of Bolivia and are of Aymara ethnicity. They wear big puffed skirts, which show their hips big which means that they can have more babies to work for the family. They must also have a big calf, which means they can carry babies one in the back one in the front and and roots in one hand and vegetables in the other and still can walk fast. They are known for their typical bowler hats (think Charlie Chaplin). Around 1900s, the railroad workers used to wear these hats. Then an Italian brand, Borcelino, made the bowler hats for the British railroad workers. However, their hats were too small and brown, in wrong color. These hats were then given to cholitas. If she wears it on top, she is married; if to the side, she is divorced, widow, or single. We are just conveying the story told by our tour guide here…
From there, we headed to the famous Witches Market. Here our guide told us about the old traditions and ceremonies some of which still exists till our day. The offerings are mainly given to the Pachamama, Mother Earth. The Yatiri, shaman (who must be struck by lightning and get back to life) prepares the Mesa (the offering with confetti, candies, alcohol, sweets, and coca), and burns them as an offering to the Pachamama. The ancestors know what one needs because the offering has a small statue of what is needed. Their motto is “dont lie, don’t steal and don’t be lazy.” Then our guide started to explain the baby llamas and llama fetuses that we have been seeing in this market. When there is an house built or something important, they bury a baby or fetus of llama in the ground as an extra offering to Pachamama. The story got creepier after this point, and we were quite shocked with what we have heard. For a big construction, like tall buildings and bridges, a baby llama is not enough, and one must make a human sacrifice, but it must be someone who nobody will miss. A yatiri goes to the poorest parts of the town and finds an alcoholic and gets them drunk. Then they carry him to the construction site and put concrete on him while he is passed out but still alive, so his soul can give life to the building. The proof is that sometimes human remains are found when a big construction needs to be demolished. At least this is the story we have been told. We had hard time believing in it and we have doubts that this might be a soft version of it. Still our guide warned us that we are chocitos, the blondies, and we don’t look like we belong, so be careful! Switching to more fun stories, he told us that there are also all sorts of love potions for all sorts of complicated relationships available in this witches market.
Then we walked back to San Francisco Church. Here we were explained that there used to be Chicollapu river, which means the river of gold, along the main avenue of the town. Hearing the name, Spaniards came and split the town from the river into the Spanish and indigenous regions and built the church. In 1744 it was completely rebuilt. The indigenous workers that worked on the construction of the church, inscribed their original beliefs on the façade of the church. We could see the sun god Inti and Pachamama figures. Indeed, the Christians used the similarity between the Inti, the sun god, and the Christian god; and also likened Pachamama to the Virgin Mary to convert the indigenous people to Christianity. Unfortunately we couldn’t see the inside of the church as it was closed at that time.
Right across the square there is Mercado Lanza, which is a mixture of a parking lot and a market. Here we bought baked potatoes with cheese and meat, and delicious freshly squeezed fruit juice and you can select which fruits you want in your juice. We were getting quite hungry so we really liked this small break.
Finally we went to Plaza Murillo. Murillo led the revolution against Spain and he was hanged here giving the square his name. The Cathedral of La Paz is also in this square. It took around 150 years to build the cathedral, so in 1989 when the church finished and the pope visited the town, apparently he didn’t dare to enter :). This square also hosts the presidential palace and the parliament. It has been 191 years since Bolivia got its independence in 1825. Here our tour guide told us several stories about previous presidents and how Pantanal was given to Brazil, because Brazil gave a white horse as a present to the president of the time; or how San Pedro de Atacama was lost to Chile because of the British minerals. Finally the last president also made a change in the square. The clock on the parliament is now going from left to right and is called el tiempo del sur, the time of the south, because the natural events are backwards in the Southern Hemisphere and so should be the time. We were also told how much Bolivians like to protest. As an example, once they protested because Pollos Copacabana, which is like a local KFC, was closing down and everyone started to go there and now it is a chain where you can see in many places in the city :) We have experienced how Bolivians like to protest first hand, so we understood.
We finished the tour at Sol y Luna Bar drinking yunganito, a local drink made of orange juice and cingani, which is made of grapes. We were quite tired of walking and decided to have a beer and rest here.
After being recharged, we headed back to the Witches Market, where they also sell a lot of souvenirs. We wanted to shop a bit here and the dresses and scarves made of alpaca wool looked really nice.
Finally we headed to the teleferico to see the view of the city from above. We took linea amarilla, the yellow line, as we were suggested by the lady at the tourist info. We took a cab to the Libertator stop and then took it all the way to El Alto. We entered the Pollos Copacabana there, which has a nice view of the town, and even considered eating there, but then decided to eat close to our hostel. We took the same line back to Sopocachi, where our hostel was. There is also a mirador (lookout) here, so getting out of the teleferico, we passed by Plaza España, saying hello to Cervantes, and went to Plaza del Monticulo to see the panoramic view of the city one last time. The view from the teleferico was really great, with the snow capped mountains at the background and the hills of the city with sharp-peaked rock formations and the houses filling the rest of the hills all the way to the top.
We ended the day eating at a restaurant that we found from trip advisor. It was of course full of tourists, but we were warned about eating out because of the drought that is happening in this region of the county. In the end the food was delicious. Finding an about-to-close market and buying water through the iron bars of the door, we headed back to our hostel. Tomorrow we will be up early to go to Copacabana by the Lake Titicaca.