Cuzco is sublime, but its neighbors also have charm. In June Walter, David, and I made a trip to La Paz in nearby Bolivia. We had an unforgettable experience seeing new things, laughing, and playing in the streets of La Paz.
I was drawn to the people with their charismatic and happy smiles. It was like being in Cuzco. The main difference I saw was in the dress of the women. They were like gems with their attractive dresses and shawls with shining threads and decorations of embroidered flowers. Their ears gleamed with with their earrings of silver and gold, as well as sometimes imitation metals.
Of course their dress varied according to social status. But still the people seemed the same as those in Cuzco. The main difference was their accent on speaking and the typical woman’s dress that in Bolivia they call “cholita” with their shawls and brightly colored skirts.
During our whole stay I was delighted with the Eastern Andean mountain range. These beautiful white mountains, covered with snow, illuminated our stay. You could see them from any part of El Alto, the city that grows on the flat altiplano, and you could not stop looking at them since they transmit peace with their snowy costume.
To go from El Alto to the city of La Paz proper is a small tip of some forty-five minutes to an hour. On the way down they entire city of La Paz opens before you with its homes filling the valley’s sides and on the main streets are high rises grow in chains. Some of them are forty floors high. The roads are filled with cars and traffic is thick.
Above the city you see a spectacular view of the Apu Illimani (the mountain Lord) who throughout the whole trip shared its beauty with us.
La Paz is a city that is modernizing quickly. It is a large city and a bit of a disorderly city. It seems like an ants nest with all its cars and all the pedestrians walking everywhere. Its drivers often don’t seem to respect the bus stops and the traffic signs.
I was very curious when I saw in the midst of all this traffic people dressed as zebras and donkeys. They were trying to bring and maintain order in the streets. I asked myself why they were taking the responsibility for a seemingly impossible task both int he city and in El Alto.
We met David’s nephew, Joaquin, who is from La Paz. He told us the zebra is white and black just like the colors of the pedestrian crosswalks. These personages have the difficult task of making everyone aware that the black and white lines were not painted in vain. About the donkey, he said that this personage had the task of embarrassing the persons who do not obey the cross walks.
In the middle of this city we saw merchants scattered all over the place. There were large fairs and markets where you could find everything from a needle to the latest in technology and fashion. There were also food sellers in the fairs who offered passersby many different dishes.
I was intrigued by Bolivia’s broad and varied gastronomy, but like so many other things it reminded me of my Peru. The dishes had different names and the ingredients would vary. For example, pique a lo macho a great dish in Bolivia reminded me a lot of our lomo saltado. It had the same ingredients, with the main difference that the Bolivians added olives.
In La Paz’s southern zone is located the mall. There you can find many games. clothing stores, automobile vendors and much more. It is a palce where you can spend time with your friends and family members whether by watching a movie together, playing billiards of bowling, ice skating, or even soccer on an artificial football court.
A place is not just buildings and mountains, it is people. We spent some wonderful moments with David’s family, especially with Joaquin who became a wonderful friend. He showed us the Plaza Murillo, the Calle Camacho, and many other places. In our small tour we saw sculptors working in stone, wood, and metal.
Some showed amazing work made from things people throw away. We saw a well made black dog as well as a gigantic black spider made from discarded metal. They impressed us.
The night before returning to Cuzco we went out with David’s family to eat. We went to a place on the Prado, the beautiful strip of sidewalks and gardens in the middle of the main street. It was next to one of La Paz’s old movie theatre’s, the Monje Campero. David’s family likes to eat there as do many other people because the place was filled with Bolivians.
The waiter was telling us about a colleague who had worked there for decades and was well known by the family and who had recently passed away. That is how established this place is in the life of La Paz.
Downstairs, where we sat, the walls are filled with photographs of movie stars connecting the cafe, named Elys, with the movie theatre and the culture of cinema.
The food was good, but most importantly we enjoyed talking with the family. Then we went to a movie, though not at the theatre on the Prado but one in the mall. and the next morning we got up early to continue on our way to our much loved Cuzco.
We had a great time in La Paz. It was a marvelous stay, filled with feeling, and we left with strong hopes of returning to this city so much like Cuzco and yet still very much itself.