Tuesday, April 14, 2009

La Paz

Paz (peace) is defined in my spanish dictionary as a state of quiet, tranquility, solitude; without disturbances or agitation.

This word does not describe La Paz, the capitol city of Bolivia. La Paz is a city of chaos. The sidewalks are overflowing with vendors selling everything from tissue paper to DVDs to spatulas to bottled animal fetuses. Each stand is a virtual Mary Poppin's bag full of wea packed under under brightly colored tarps. Mobile hawkers pushing their goods (fossils and cocaine the most popular) take over where the fixed stands stop. Pedestrian traffic loses the battle and has to walk in the street. Walking against traffic seems to be the best bet for not getting clipped from behind with a car mirror. Follow a native to cross the roads.

The roads thrombose with traffic that sputters and jumps as it climbs the steep hills of the city, erupting with superfluous honks. Mini-buses full of people speed by with barkers hanging out of side doors shouting routes and prices. Guys dressed in zebra suits parade in the street doing...well, I´m not yet sure what they are doing. Some are directing traffic and some appear to be doing interpretive dance.

Songs blare from shop speakers, attempting to drown out the music of the institute to it´s right or left. Loud pops are heard over all the background noise every 20 minutes. We found out firsthand that these bangs are not cars backfiring or construction site noise, but the police firing tear gas into crowds of people marching or demonstrating in the streets. And demonstrating, as well as parading, seem to be favorite Bolivian past times.

From far off, even the buildings seem to be unorganized, tumbling down the cliffs that hold the city hostage. The city lies in a valley, and looking upwards you can see brown and red houses in all directions until the colors stop and are replaced by sharp gray rock. South of the city lies a large stretch of badlands, and you can see the snow-covered Andean peak of Illimani on a clear day.

La Paz has been the most interesting, yet intimidatingly inhospitable cities I have been in. I kept trying to talk myself into liking the city, because it just seemed like a city that I should like if I was an open-minded, adventurous person. I found it enthralling, but I could not embrace the chaos. I felt tired at the end of the day, jumped a little every time I heard the sound of a horn honking, and felt unsure of myself in my sleep. I don´t think it is La Paz´s fault exactly, just a fault of my own that I like green better than concrete and fresh air better than deisel fumes.

Never missing an opportunity for a march, in protest or otherwise. This one was complete with various military mucky-mucks shouting some orders to the contigent every 30 seconds.

Loving feeding the birds in the Plaza Murillo

Panorama of the infernal city from the one square of open, green space in La Paz.

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