La Paz, Bolivia – September 4, 2018
After ten days of living in La Paz, Bolivia at 11,180 feet (3,404 meters), it was time to bring my lungs on a walking tour of parts of the city. The Community Liaison Officer (CLO) organized a walking tour on the Labor Day holiday.
About 20 people met at the U. S. Embassy to begin the adventure. A station on the light blue line of the Teleférico (Linea Celeste) was a little more than a block beyond the starting point. It took several gondolas to get the group to the end of the light blue line. Once at the end of the line, the group transferred to the orange line (Linea Naranja).
The orange line “flies” quite high above the never-ending city of La Paz. The views of the town are stunning. It is impressive to see just how many homes and businesses are packed into an area delimited by steep hills and cliffs. It seems one can look in any direction and see hundreds and hundreds of red brick structures clinging to any area of soil that seems as though it may support a structure. Some look rather doubtful, but that does not seem to deter the owners and builders.
In our direction of travel, the orange line drops passengers off near the old train depot. While it is still known as the train depot, no trains originate from the depot. For some reason, service was suspended years ago. The only remnants today are the old building and a couple of train cars sitting on display on tracks that lead nowhere.
Departing the orange line terminus, the group walked along Avenida Buenos Aires. In front of a building under construction, there were a half-dozen burros. It is uncertain for what they were being used or whether there are others in the city. These are the only burros I have personally seen here.
A few bends along the Avenida later, CLO announced we were at our first destination. The destination was not readily apparent. CLO pointed to a small opening off the side of the road and proclaimed, “There is the entry to Uyustus Market (Mercado Uyustus).” At first sight, it did not appear that it was an entry to anything. But, sure enough, once through the entrance, one found all sorts of shops on both sides of a tiny aisle. The aisle could not have been more than three feet wide. Regardless, it was open to travel in either direction. There were not many people in the market when we arrived. Several of the shops were not yet open. Some experienced people in the group said the aisle was very difficult to traverse when all the shops are open, and the market is packed.
Walking through the market, one passes numerous shops. Some of the shops are no more than a stall about eight feet by eight feet (2.4 meters by 2.4 meters). One can buy shoes, backpacks, cosmetics, underwear, shirts, pants, electronics, household appliances, and more. Now and then there was a small opening between shops. Walking through those, one entered the ground floor of the buildings which line the street. That was entirely another maze of shops offering everything one can imagine. If an item cannot be found at Uyustus Market, it is not something one needs anyway.
A quarter-mile (434 meters) up the market road, thankfully at the end of the upward march, both my lungs began to complain about the 12,300-foot (3,749 meters) elevation. I was happy to stand still and search for available atoms of oxygen while my companions looked for bargains. Looking up, I saw the tangled mess that delivers power, cable TV, and telephone. I am not sure how one could decipher where to begin if one of the utilities stopped working at a nearby home.
Above the ground floor shops were another four or five floors of apartments. Probably 95 percent of the buildings appear to be unfinished. In other words, the exterior is frequently just red brick. The interiors are finished and undoubtedly livable. One Bolivian told me there is no sense in making the exterior walls “pretty.” They are outside.
Soon it was time to walk back downhill toward Avenida Buenos Aires; hooray!!
In the middle of Calle Uyustus was a sleeping dog. Since this is a market street, the majority of the traffic is pedestrian. The dog was unfazed by any of the activities. On that note, there are thousands of dogs roaming throughout the city. Some are turned out by their owners for the day. Regardless, it makes walking dangerous. Not because of packs of dogs growling at passersby, but because of the “gifts” left behind by the dogs. Picking up dog feces does not appear to be in vogue in La Paz. Therefore, when walking, one has to be constantly aware lest one acquires an odorous gift on the bottom of one’s shoe.
This situation reminded me of our time in Madrid. While living there, the city faced a similar problem of people not picking up after their dogs. The city’s campaign designed to turn the problem around was simple. They put up signs throughout the city that stated; bolsa caca. Loosely translated, it means to bag the crap! Maybe a similar campaign could gain traction in La Paz.
The other hazard when walking in La Paz is uneven terrain and holes. By rough terrain, it is not a reference to the broader terrain of the steep hills and cliffs; but, rather the sidewalks and streets. There is any number of trip hazards in every few yards or meters one travels. It is unsafe to walk and look about at the sights. It is much safer to pay attention to the path to ensure one does not encounter holes, unexpected curbs, sudden inclines or declines, and the occasional dog gift. If one wishes to see the sights, it is best to cease walking and then look.
Back on Avenida Buenos Aires, it is impressive to see the amount of vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Often the cars and the humans are separated by mere centimeters. Luckily, there were no mishaps spotted.
On the way to the Witches Market, we walked through yet another market along Pasaje el Rosario. There were many shops open; however, it was not overly crowded with people. Interestingly, there are so many shops in the area. They seem to be sectioned off, for example, one area deals primarily in sewing and knitting supplies. Another area features mainly electronics and appliances while yet another deals in aquariums and aquarium supplies.
We walked into another such area, the “Home Depot.” This street has every type of hardware or hardware related item one can imagine. There is a similar area near where I live. This particular street with the shops is a busy road. It is a one-way road. The vehicles have to negotiate with shoppers while being inconvenienced by a car stopping to take on a large load of something. That sets off the horns on the other vehicles for blocks.
Not long after the “Home Depot,” we made it to Calle Sagarnaga. That meant we were very close to the Witches Market (Mercado de las Brujas). Finally, at the intersection of Calle Sagarnaga and Calle Linares, we found ourselves in the middle of the Witches Market. The market is so named because, in addition to selling the standard tourist fare, one can also buy many spells and potions. I did not buy any tourist items or medicines, preferring to defer my purchases until I return with Leslie and Lorraine. However, upon my return, I doubt any potions will find their way into my shopping bag.
About an hour of shopping later, the group met for lunch at a Cuban restaurant. I opted not to join the group. I had to return to San Miguel to go to the Tigo store.
I walked down Sagarnaga toward the San Francisco Basilica. I would have liked to have gone in, but I had to keep my errand in mind. Walking from the basilica to the Teleférico, I caught several glimpses of Mount Illimani. That mountain is about 21,122 feet (6,438 meters) high. It is visible from many of the higher points of La Paz; including from the Teleférico.
I still had to settle my bill for cable and internet after the previous facility manager departed. I took the Teleférico back to the end of the green line. From there I taxied to Tigo. Once I paid my bill, I decided to walk home. As I walked, I passed a dentist’s office. It was apparent they were trying to use a clever combination of the words teeth and health. Unfortunately, in retrospect, maybe the “H” should have been lowercase… I’m just sayin’.