The highest capital city in the world

Daybreak and we are just arriving at the outskirts of La Paz which at an altitude of around 3700m and is the highest capital city in the world (that’s if you take La Paz as the capital of Bolivia and not Sucre – a touchy subject here!). In fact as we wake up we are just passing the airport which is the highest international airport in the world at over 4000m.

La Paz is one of those places that has a reputation on the traveller circuit for being somewhat unsafe – people grabbing at your bags trying to relieve you of you gear when you arrive etc. Accordingly, we are on guard when we pull into the bus station – however, for us at least, the reputation seems unfounded. The only people in the bus station seem to be other bus users and all is calm and safe. The one bad thing we do notice is that it is really cold!!

Our hostel is about 10 blocks so rather than hike in a strange city and at altitude, first thing in the morning we a share a cab with Sven & Delphine who are going a couple of streets further on – costs us a massive 10Bs (£1). On arrival at the Cruz de Los Andes everything is a bit chaotic with early morning arrivals and departures all trying to get sorted out. We are told our room will be ready in 30 mins – not bad considering it is 0730 in the morning. We have some breakfast while we wait.

The room we are given is on the 4th floor which is great for views and it is the one place wifi is available in the rooms – on the downside we are quickly reminded how little air there is at this altitude – as we wheeze our way up the stairs. The room itself is a disappointment as they have crammed a double and two single beds into the room leaving virtually no floor space. On the upside it is clean, Wi-Fi appears to work and we have a balcony.

Our first mission is to go and find the camera repair shop we have heard about to see whether it is worth getting the SLR repaired – the lens is still sticking.

We get advice from the Receptionist at the hostel re. the best route to the repair shop – it is about 10 blocks away (oh BTW I know ‘blocks’ is an Americanism to sensitive British ears but all these places are laid out in grids of about 100m so a block actually turns out to be a useful measure!). Still being slightly unsure of how safe the streets are we set off!

As has been the case in every place we’ve been to so far – the city is as safe (or dangerous depending on your perspective) as anywhere else, i.e. In general people are friendly, helpful whilst at the same time caught up in their own lives and as long as you don´t flaunt your belongings nothing untoward should happen to you. We don’t sense any threat walking around, in fact much the opposite. Fingers crossed it stays that way x.

The city has a great vibe to it – lots of traffic, horns blaring, pavements full to overflowing, stacks of colour and life – one of our fellow travellers reckons it the nearest to Asia he has seen outside Asia!!

When we find the repair shop (http://www.tecnologiafotografica.com/) the owner Rolando takes a look at the camera and asks to keep it overnight to provide a quote for repair. However, he warns us that he is really busy and that it might take a couple of weeks before he can fix it!! We can come back in the morning and depending on cost decide whether or not to go ahead and let him take it apart to fix it. After he has provided us with a very reassuring, comprehensive receipt, we leave the camera with him (another traveller “story” about La Paz is where someone leaves a camera for repair but when they return in an hour the shop denies all knowledge of having it!! Yet again our experience is the opposite).

After finding a nice café it´s salteñas for lunch, and then we head back up the hill towards the hostel contemplating what sticking around for two weeks in La Paz might mean. We are not happy with the hostel mostly because of the lack of space in the room, and it´s more expensive than anywhere else in Bolivia so far, so we need to sort this as a priority. We also figure that we would be as well using our time to learn some more Spanish and pop into a school to see what’s on offer. It is a bit more expensive than Sucre but still good value and they seem really nice people.

The way back also takes us past the Museo de Arte (Museum of Contemporary Art) and there´s a portrait exhibition on so we pop in for a look around. There is a good collection of work by Bolivian artists including the portrait exhibition by Hans Hoffman (no not Hans Hofman). All of which is housed in a lovely old colonial building.

By now the effects of the bus journey are catching up with us and we are drooping fast – even so we still manage to find the energy to check out a couple of tour agencies to see how much it will cost to do some of La Paz’s (in)famous activities. First stop is Gravity Assisted Bikes the best known of the companies offering a mountain bike ride down the “World’s Most Dangerous Road”. It is a 65km downhill ride three quarters of which is unpaved, with shear drops into the valley below. It’s reputation comes from when it used to be a major route out of La Paz and two way traffic fought for space on the road leading to regular fatalities. It is now only open to traffic travelling downhill as a new highway has been opened. Apparently it was featured on Top Gear at Xmas??! The price is 720Bs, Bernice is not interested in doing it at all and Huw is not sure how good a ride it will be given the large numbers that do it every day – maybe it would be better to just go and do some single track rides??

In the next place we ask about climbing Huayna Potosi, which at 6088m is one of the highest mountains that you can ‘trek’ up without mountain climbing. It is a two or three day trip and costs between 750 – 1000Bs. Huw had promised Paul he would look into it as Paul was really keen on the trek. Also, we ask about getting across Lake Titcaca to Peru via boat rather than the usual bus.

Back at the hostel, we plan to spend some time searching for a new place or apartment if we end up staying two weeks, but the Internet is down :-/ and the room is cold 🙁 so we resort to having a power nap. The only thing we managed to get off the email was an invite from Sven & Delphine to join them and some others for dinner.

We are due to meet at their hostel and take the opportunity to have a look at the rooms there which appear to be quite nice. We also bump into Nish and Rachael from Wasi Masi who are one of the couples joining us for dinner – apparently there is a table booked at La Paz’s British Curry House – “The Star of India”. A German couple Tobi & Julia (??) make up the rest of the group.

The table at the Indian is booked for 6 people but we reckoned that they would be able to squeeze in the 8 of us. Uh huh! Apparently not!! We try to convince the rest to stay and enjoy their curry but they are having none of it and insist on us all going to look for somewhere else – which is lovely but leaves us feeling like we’ve spoiled their evening. In the end, Tobi and Julia stay and the rest of us set off the find something else. You´d have thought that the likelihood of 8 people walking out they would have found space or at least said come back in 30 mins or similar, nope, not in Bolivia!

The something else turns out to be a cosy little Mexican – “La Cueva” – which is followed up by an old colonial place that is full of character – “Angelo Colonial” in fact – before calling it a night and heading off to bed.

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