07.07.2012 - 07.10.2012 68 °F
La Paz July 7 – 10
We arrived at Quime’s central taxi stand around nine and were directed into the typical 8 person Toyota diesel van. The first sign that the morning might go differently than planned came when a large bus parked along-side of the van with exhaust pouring into our open door. As Anne and I scrambled to get outside for some air the driver jumped. As one of the passengers yelled, “Va, Va, Va”, and the kids, still in the van yelled, “Stop, Stop, Stop” Anne and I jumped in and the van roared off in a haze of diesel smoke. It quickly became clear that our driver had an acute and untreated case of ADHD doing his best to keep the over-taxed van revved to the maximum at all times. It wasn’t quite so bad going up the hill, but once we made the pass at 5000 meters and gravity became his friend our relative safety took on a higher state of urgency. Anne and the kids were completely petrified in the back as we roared around hairpin curves on our way to the plains far below. While it was a hair-raising ride, we arrived in one piece. I pretty well Zenned my way through it while Anne and the kids were completely shell shocked.
Once at Konani, the plan was to flag down one of the many buses headed to La Paz that must stop at the toll station there. We waited for 45 minutes or so, several buses passing through but with no seats to spare. Anne and the kids finally left to find a bathroom while I waited on the side of the road. About five minutes later a large tour bus came by with many seats to spare but Anne and the kids were nowhere in sight and I had to let it go by. After they returned, we waited another hour or so without a spare seat to be found. Finally a van driven by two middle aged fellows stopped and offered us a ride to La Paz for 100 bvs. We gladly jumped in. Within a few miles it quickly became clear that we had jumped straight from the frying pan into the fire. The driver Pedro and his side-kick Roby had clearly been drinking and admitted as much. Roby was hammered, fortunately Pedro was in better shape. They told us that they picked us up because they had just bought the van in Oruro and the owner’s manual was in English and perhaps we could help them figure out the controls.
All went smoothly until Roby started smoking. Fortunately, Bridget was somewhat conditioned after three days with Marko lighting up constantly. But when he lit the second one I told him that Bridget might puke all over their new van if he didn’t stop. That immediately got Pedro on our side and he made Roby stop smoking pronto. I got worried when they stopped at a roadside Almecen for “more drinks” and I told Pedro “no mas cerveca”. Fortunately, it was just a bottle of Fanta so we all drank some orange soda and trundled our way down the road. Despite the typical passing on blind hills that is the Bolivian way the 1 ½ hours to La Paz passed uneventfully, though Roby did make too many comments about how beautiful Bridget is and I concocted a plan to bring the whole show to a stop with a fire extinguisher that was mounted inside the car if it came to that. But we passed through El Alto, a city of 1 million that sits on the bench above La Paz and descended down into the city. They dropped us at the bus station and we all heaved a collective sigh of relief.
Our taxi driver seemed to actually know the city this time and drove us straight to the Hostal Blanquito recommended by Marko. It was full but our driver said that he knew of a good hotel nearby. The Hotel Florida was seven stories of dingy grime and after looking at a room we declined and decided to proceed on foot. Within a few blocks we found the Hotel Sayiri on Manco Kapac just up from the tourist district that was a huge improvement.
La Paz sits in a large bowl about the size of San Francisco with twice the population. Between the street vendors and general crush of humanity I imagine it is a very tame New Dehli or something of the kind.
We spent one day traveling out to Tiwanaku an archeological site near Lake Titicaca that was cool and interesting but not nearly as impressive as El Fuerte near Samaipata. We did laundry, caught some museums, and shopped for small gifts.