Fresh squeezed donkey milk.

La Paz Bolivia – The Worlds Highest Capital.

La Paz Bolivia – The Worlds Highest Capital.

June 28, 2014 – July 5, 2014

Full La Paz Photo Gallery Here.

Our next stop was La Paz, a city of massive markets, witchdoctors, superstitions, and buildings as far as the eye can see. It is also the administrative capital of Bolivia.  At 3,650 m (11,975 ft) above sea level, La Paz is the highest capital city in the world.  Despite being so high it is still set deep in a valley with buildings growing and spreading up the sides and boiling over the top in all directions.  Standing in the center of the city it looks like you are standing in a bowl of red roofed buildings.

La Paz Bolivia
La Paz, Bolivia

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Downtown La Paz is densely crowded and filled with traffic, as explained to us it is home of some of the worst traffic on the planet.  With a constant line of unmoving cars throughout the city, all furiously honking their horns, we believe it.

City center, traffic in the background.
City center, traffic in the background.

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The cities buses are classics from the 50's and 60's.
The city’s buses are classics from the 50’s and 60’s.
The city still has many colonial streets and buildings.
The city still has many colonial streets and buildings.

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Plaza Murillo, home of many government buildings and government coups.
Plaza Murillo, home of many government buildings and government coups.
The presidents office, many presidents who worked here ended their careers by being thrown off the balcony by angry mobs.
The presidents office, many presidents careers ended here by being thrown off the balcony by angry mobs.

 La Paz Free Walking tour

Many cities we have visited have free walking tours, and we have tried to take as many of these tours as we can.  We have found them to be a great introduction to each place we visit and we highly recommend them, and they’re free!  They offer the free tour in hopes of getting a tip at the end, and since they are working for these tips we have found the free walking tours to be very entertaining.

San Pedro Prison

One of our stops on the walking tour was the famous San Pedro Prison.  This unassuming old white building is La Paz’s oldest prison, and it is still in operation.  This prison is unlike any modern prison, with its own self governed society inside the walls the guards only patrol the outside of the prison and never go inside.  Inmates must ‘rent’ their cells from others and many businesses including coffee shops have sprung up inside.  Wealthy inmates can even bribe their way outside with the promise of returning later, and most do.  The biggest business inside however is making drugs, with packages of drugs being tossed over the walls.  A great book which Krista really enjoyed, and soon to be movie on the prison is Marching Powder by Rusty Young, a true story about a British man who was imprisoned at San Pedro in this strange self contained and self sustained world.

San Pedro Prison.
San Pedro Prison.
Visitors freely come to the front gate to speak with inmates inside or pass things through the bars, no guards were in sight anywhere.
Visitors freely come to the front gate to speak with inmates inside or pass things through the bars.

The Witches Market

Witchcraft, magic potions and superstitions are very big here. We toured through the Witches Market downtown, where one can find little potions for nearly every conceivable ailment.  The cure for STD’s, cancer, heart disease, impotence, love potions, spells to get rich, to be successful at business or to get your revenge along with countless others can be found for just a few dollars in mysterious powder form from those in the witches market.

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A common and perhaps disturbing sight for some were the many llama fetuses for sale around the witches market.

Llama fetuses at the witches market.
Llama fetuses at the witches market.

A very superstitious culture, particularly in the past, the construction workers before starting any project would bury a llama fetus to ensure that the project would be safe and successful.  For larger projects however, like a multistory building such as an apartment buildings a simple llama fetus would not be enough, for these larger projects a human sacrifice would be needed – as was explained to us.  The witchdoctors would lure a homeless person to the construction sight and he or she would be buried beneath the foundation.  Many say that this is just a rumor and gossip but as La Paz has grown and old buildings have been torn down to make room for new modern skyscrapers, many sacrificed bodies have been found beneath the old building’s foundations…

The zebras can be seen all over the city teaching children how to safely cross the road, and teaching drivers how to stop for children.
The zebras can be seen all over the city teaching children how to safely cross the road, and teaching drivers how to stop for children.
The masked shoeshines can be seen all over the city.
The masked shoeshiners can be seen all over the city.  Shoeshining is considered a low career choice so they hide their identities even from each other.

The San Francisco church, the oldest church in the city sits right in the town center.  When the Catholics first built the church they had a problem converting the local indigenous people, who did not seem interested.  Not to be deterred the priests were able to find an ethical loop hole and put up mirrors in the church and told the locals to go inside and have a look.  Once they saw their reflections in the mirrors the priests explained that their souls were now trapped inside and they would need to come and visit often, and of course convert.

The San Francisco church.  The many small mirrors are meant to capture the souls of the indigenous population.
The San Francisco church. The many small mirrors are meant to capture the souls of the indigenous population, if they wanted their souls to be safe they would have to come back and pray.
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We stopped at the main cemetery in La Paz, which is as impressive as cemeteries in New Orleans or Buenos Aires. People pay up to US$50,000 for a plot.

 

A typical telephone pole with unique take on electrical wiring.
A typical telephone pole with a unique take on electrical wiring.

 Urban Rush – Building Rappel

One of the activities Krista had been looking forward to, even before our trip started was the Urban Rush, La Paz, building rappel.  Going to the capital of La Paz, Bolivia, finding a tall building and going to top and stepping off, was admittedly not my first thought when La Paz came to mind but Krista was very excited!

Krista getting dressed for the rappel.
Krista getting dressed for the rappel.
All dressed and ready to jump off a building.
All dressed and ready to jump off a building.
You can choose many different ways to reach the bottom (with varying speeds), Krista chose the down (or forward) facing rappel.
You can choose many different ways to reach the bottom (with varying speeds), Krista chose the down (or forward) facing rappel.
The view from the top!
The view from the top!

Krista was on her own for this one… because someone had to take the pictures!

Krista at the top!
Krista at the top!
She walked slowly down much of the building then began jumping, I guess to test the strength of the ropes or something.
She walked slowly down much of the building, but then began jumping, I guess to test the strength of the ropes or something.

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Having safely made it to the bottom she was exhilarated and asked me if I wanted to try, however I explained that we were already at the bottom and for me to go we would have to go all the way back up to the top so…

The Museum of Musical Instruments

One afternoon we checked out this small but interesting museum about musical instruments.

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Bolivian instrument called a charango
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This looks like a star charango
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Guitars made with animals!

El Alto – The top of La Paz

On the rim of the bowl shaped valley that makes up La Paz is an area called El Alto.  It is one of the poorer areas, probably more dangerous and has an amazing view of the city below, so of course we had to go there!   Being a fan of our free walking tour from a previous day we signed up again with the same company – Red Hat Tours – for a guided tour of El Alto.

The view of La Paz from El Alto.
The view of La Paz from El Alto.

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At the top there was of course a lady selling fresh squeezed donkey milk, so obviously I had to try it!

Fresh squeezed donkey milk.
Fresh squeezed donkey milk.
It tastes like warm watered down milk... and I don't recommend it.
It tastes like warm watered down milk… and I don’t recommend it.

Krista did not join me in trying the shot glass of donkey milk, so I had it all to myself! :(

Refreshed, energized and ready to get far away from the donkeys we started our tour of El Alto!

Cholita's repairing the stone roads.
Cholita’s repairing the stone roads.
There is a huge market in El Alto, selling just about anything you can imagine.
There is a huge market in El Alto, selling just about anything you can imagine.
I stopped for some street food, some of the best I've had in a long time!
I stopped for some street food, some of the best I’ve had in a long time!
We  came across this sweat shirt for sale.  It poses a good question.
We came across this sweat shirt for sale. It poses a good question.
If you have had your cell phone stolen or lost, you can find it here.  Most of these phones come preloaded with someone elses pictures.
If you have had your cell phone lost or stolen, you can find it here. Most of these phones come preloaded with someone elses pictures.
Huge bags of coca leaves, you can legally buy coca leaves by the pound.
Huge bags of coca leaves, you can legally buy coca leaves by the pound.
Need some pig fat? Theres half a dozen cauldrons of it bubbling away waiting for you here.
Need some pig fat? There’s half a dozen cauldrons of it bubbling away waiting for you here.

Visiting a witchdoctor

High atop the hill overlooking the city – literally right on the rim – is a street full of witchdoctors.  Rows of tiny dilapidated numbered structures each with a witchdoctor ready to read your fortune, tell you the secrets to a happy and wealthy life or even cure you of any disease or ailment you might have, for a small fee of course.

The street of witchdoctors in La Paz.
The street of witchdoctors in La Paz.

How does one become a Bolivian witchdoctor you might ask?  Well I’m sure most people already know, but just in case you don’t and your thinking about switching your career – You have to pass a test.  You must be struck by lightning twice.  Its not entirely clear who administers this test or how its graded but apparently once you have passed you get your  medical degree in witchdoctory.

We paid one of the witchdoctors a visit and had our fortunes read.  Fortunes for the group ranged from “All is good” to “somebody out there hates you.” And for me “Something weighs heavily on your mind.” With our futures safely nailed down we thanked the witchdoctor and went out into the evening to ponder the good doctors words.

The views out the back door of the witchdoctor huts, which butt up against a 200 foot vertical cliff, with no fence.

View of La Paz from the back of the witchdoctors hut.
View of La Paz from the back of the witchdoctors hut.

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Its hard to see in the picture but this is a perfectly vertical 200+ foot drop a few feet out the backdoor of the witchdoctors hut.
Its hard to see in the picture but this is a perfectly vertical 200+ foot drop a few feet out the backdoor of the witchdoctors hut.
So we had our picture taken.
So we had our picture taken.
The witchdoctor street at night, the fires are sacrifices and offerings.
The witchdoctor street at night, the fires are sacrifices and offerings.

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We ended up spending a week in La Paz because Krista was sick with a nasty cold.  Normally three days would be sufficient for checking out this city.

On our way back down into the city we rode the new gondola system that was built to give the low income residents in the hills quick access to the city below.

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