GENERAL FACTS OF BOLIVIA:
- AIRPORT: El Alto International Airport is the main airport, located in the capital city of La Paz. At an altitude of 4,061.5 m (13,325 ft), it is the highest international airport in the world, doing it justice to its name (“Alto” means high or tall in Spanish).
- CURRENCY: Bolivian Boliviano
- LANGUAGE: Bolivia has many official languages due to the many indigenous groups living around the country, but the common language is Spanish followed by Quechua the main language of the Inca Empire (how awesome is that?!). English is often used in touristic places but is always good to learn a couple of useful Spanish sentences.
We didn’t really consciously planned our trip to Bolivia, and made the mistake of staying in Miami (sea level) for a couple of days. So we really felt the altitude difference when we landed at El Alto Internacional Airport. I felt mostly numbed, as if I had had a couple of wine glasses, but my boyfriend really struggled with bad headaches and dizziness most of our time in La Paz, it is after all the highest capital city in the world and it will make sure you feel it. We were there at the beginning of November and it was a little bit chilly, with temperatures around 5ºC to 10ºC but some days all the way up to 17ºC. Most of the hotels have some kind of heating system and tons of alpaca blankets so be ready for cold, cozy nights.
For us, La Paz was just a stop before our Uyuni adventure and the beginning of our South American adventure so we decided to explore mainly the city center and the famous Witches Market where herbs, remedies as well as other ingredients used in Aymara traditions are sold. I thought it sounded interesting and creepy, and not something you would usually see everywhere so, why not? Also, the little streets leading to the market are very colourful and full of hand made crafts and all alpaca everything, which is very charming.
And then you will surely notice when you are in witch territory, because you will start to see all kinds of herbs, dried frogs, little potion bottles, medicinal plants, talismans, powder for virility, beauty and luck and last but not least llama foetuses, dried just hanging there, like it is no big deal. According to the internet, the llama foetuses are often buried under the foundations of many Bolivian houses as a sacred offering to the goddess Pachamama which is the Mother Earth. Is really interesting to think about how these old traditions are still present in a capital city, but La Paz has stayed somehow true to its ancient beliefs and customs.
After a walk through the market’s streets we had to stop for a very much needed coca tea.
The coca tea is an infusion made using raw coca plant leaves which is native to South America. It is very bitter and no really pleasant to drink but it is usually recommended for travellers to prevent altitude sickness. I don’t know if it has been proved or if it works as a placebo but personally I did feel a difference every time I drank one. And before you ask, yes, the coca leaves is what after a long chemical process, becomes cocaine, you know, the drug. However, the amount of coca alkaloid in the raw leaves is small, and it has the same stimulant effect as drinking a cup of coffee.
Our second day at La Paz we decided to go even higher, to El Alto, the highest city which is somehow connected to La Paz and we just needed to take a cable car all the way up, which was very cheap.
El Alto is the highest major metropolis in the world, with an average elevation of 4,150 m (13,615 ft). I guess people are used to live like this, but you can really feel the pressure, and everything goes upwards, so is very hard to walk around without feeling exhausted after just a couple of minutes, but the view was well worth it.
I love how the mountains surround the city, always protecting it.
La Paz was a very busy city with a lot of crazy traffic. You kinda feel tired soon, it could be a combination of the altitude, the fumes and the fast pace, so after a couple of days we were more than ready to go somewhere more quiet.
Our bus leaving to Uyuni was leaving at 21:00 from the bus station, so we took a taxi and my boyfriend dropped his phone in it and when he realised half a second after, we yelled and ran after the taxi but it wouldn’t stop. The police at the station asked us what had happened and started to radio everyone and really tried to help us but with no luck, because we didn’t have the taxi’s licence plate, our bad. The police even checked the bus station’s security cameras and told us they could clearly see how the taxi driver noticed the phone and drove as fast as possible, so it wasn’t very probable that we would get it back. Oh well, shit happens. After all that odyssey we were more than ready to leave La Paz. Uyuni next…