Viva La Paz, countdown to departure

La Paz is a city like no other. Snow-capped mountains form a surreal backdrop to the city, while gravity-defying houses tumble down the side of the crater in a way that is both beautiful and terrifying. In the bottom of the crater the city sprawls north and south down roads clogged with fume-belching, horn-blaring buses and taxis, the drivers of which have absolutely no respect for pedestrians or other vehicles. Its a miracle there aren’t more fatalities.

Bolivian coat of arms, Plaza Murillo, La Paz, Bolivia
Bolivian coat of arms, Plaza Murillo, La Paz, Bolivia
La Paz with Illimani in the background, Bolivia
La Paz with Illimani in the background, Bolivia
Houses and Illimani at sunset, La Paz, Bolivia
Houses and Illimani at sunset, La Paz, Bolivia

The streets are filled with bowler hatted chollas, their huge skirts swishing as they walk; coca leaf-chewing campesinos rub shoulders with suited businesspeople; tattooed and pierced young people fill restaurants to eat traditional food; shoeshine boys inquire about polishing your Habanas; and the street markets sell everything from a hundred types of potato to dried llama fetuses and magical powders that make people fall in love with you.

A woman walks past street art, La Paz, Bolivia
A woman walks past street art, La Paz, Bolivia
Bowler-hatted Chollas in La Paz, Bolivia
Bowler-hatted Chollas in La Paz, Bolivia
La Paz street scene, Bolivia
La Paz street scene, Bolivia
La Paz street art, Bolivia
La Paz street art, Bolivia

All of this frenetic activity takes place at the breathless altitude of 3600m. In winter it is bitterly cold once the sun disappears, in summer it rains so hard that almost every year houses and roads are washed away – often with the loss of life. There is great poverty, especially in El Alto, and extravagant wealth on display almost everywhere you look. My first few days in the city left me feeling disoriented.

Posing for a photograph with pigeons in Plaza Murillo, La Paz, Bolivia
Posing for a photograph with pigeons in Plaza Murillo, La Paz, Bolivia
Street art, La Paz, Bolivia
Street art, La Paz, Bolivia
A woman sits outside a church in Plaza San Pedro, La Paz, Bolivia
A woman sits outside a church in Plaza San Pedro, La Paz, Bolivia
X-ray llama, La Paz, Bolivia
X-ray llama, La Paz, Bolivia
Campesino women with children, La Paz, Bolivia
Campesino women with children, La Paz, Bolivia
Electrical cables, La Paz, Bolivia
Electrical cables, La Paz, Bolivia
Alcohol and sex sell, La Paz, Bolivia
Alcohol and sex sell, La Paz, Bolivia

The more time I’ve spent here though, the more I have grown to love the city and its people. It is a place that slowly gains your affection, and although we chose to live in more genteel Sucre, it is La Paz that, to me, encompasses and defines all of Bolivia. It is also a city where you don’t have to look far for a photo opportunity. I spent a couple of days just wandering the streets in-between packing our bags in preparation for our return to London.

Street art, La Paz, Bolivia
Street art, La Paz, Bolivia
Posters, La Paz, Bolivia
Posters, La Paz, Bolivia
A bar advertising John Lennon's "Let it beer", La Paz, Bolivia
A bar advertising John Lennon’s “Let it beer”, La Paz, Bolivia
Street advertising, La Paz, Bolivia
Street advertising, La Paz, Bolivia
Chollas and street food, La Paz, Bolivia
Chollas and street food, La Paz, Bolivia

The other great thing about La Paz is that you can walk around and suddenly find yourself embroiled in a local fiesta. Several times we came across bands and costumed performers playing and parading just in their own barrios. These events are frequently accompanied by heavy drinking; there was one man in the fiesta below who, despite the best efforts of his family to sober him up, was so drunk he could barely walk.

They like to party in La Paz…viva Bolivia.

Fiesta, La Paz, Bolivia
Fiesta, La Paz, Bolivia
Fiesta, La Paz, Bolivia
Fiesta, La Paz, Bolivia
Fiesta, La Paz, Bolivia
Fiesta, La Paz, Bolivia
Fiesta, La Paz, Bolivia
Fiesta, La Paz, Bolivia
Fiesta, La Paz, Bolivia
Fiesta, La Paz, Bolivia
Fiesta, La Paz, Bolivia
Fiesta, La Paz, Bolivia

The drunkest man in the parade…moments after this he just collapsed and the parade went on without him.

Fiesta, La Paz, Bolivia
Fiesta, La Paz, Bolivia

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