Approaching La Paz we have a mixed impression. The city sits in a spectacularly steep sided valley surrounded by stunning snow-capped mountains. Nice. But we also see a blanket of ‘clag’ hanging over its skyline. Not nice. Emission standards still have some way to go around here! We’re not great fans of mega-cities but we do have a few practicalities to sort out here and we are just a teeny bit interested to have a look around.
Our first ‘practicality mission’ in La Paz is to extend our imminently expiring visas. Can’t believe it’s a month since we left Brazil; tempus fugit as they say in… errr… nowhere. Unsurprisingly, the visa renewal turns out to be slightly less-than-organised chaos. When our turn comes the officer dismisses us saying we had no more days available to extend. Now… we know that Brits should be entitled to 90 days in Bolivia per year. We also know that we have so far had two stints in Bolivia: one of 14 days and one of 30 days. We’re no mathematicians, but we’re pretty sure that 14+30= less than 90. After a bit of polite cajoling, the chap saw the error of his ways and gave us an extra 30 days. Good man!
On our first night in town we meet the first Brits that we have come across in South America in a looong time! Mick and Geena are travelling the Americas from north to south in a beautiful ex-British Army Landy and we have a lovely evening with them in La Paz. We also meet a friendly Dutch-Kiwi family: Sally and Erwin are overlanding with their four (yes… four!) young children. By curious coincidence, it turns out that in 2009 we lived just down the road from each other in Doha and never met!!
Second mission in La Paz is to extend Cuthbert’s temporary import permit. This turns out to be an easy-peasy process with Customs. There are tales on the internet of travellers being put to extraordinary inconvenience here, but we were in and out within 10 minutes. Maybe they liked our faces? 🙂 Anyway… the three of us are all now fully legal again in Bolivia for another 30 days.
Mission No.3 is a bit of TLC for Cuthbert. On our way back from the Customs, Cuthbert hits a special milestone: 100,000km! La Paz is as good a place as any for Marcus to give Cuthbert his milestone service, oil change and all that stuff.
Another admin task in the city is to find insurance for Cuthbert ready for when we move on to Peru. Our initial ‘Mercosur’ insurance covered us all the way from Uruguay, through Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Bolivia, but it doesn’t cover Peru and it’s apparently not available at the border. In La Paz we find cover with a delayed start date ready for our arrival in Peru next month. Another mission ticked-off.
Finally, after the dull admin of laundry and food-shopping, we can have a look around La Paz at last! But after all that, we find that the city isn’t much to get excited about! We have no particular reason to dislike the place, but if it weren’t for the beauty of its location in the steep ravine, or the fascination of its thousands of dwellings clinging precariously to the cliff-sides around the city, La Paz would be wholly ‘overlook-able’. It’s a bustling city and the seat of the Bolivian Government (although not the constitutional capital) but it has little colonial architecture left and few attractions amongst its sprawling spread. One thing that we are happy to report is that the prevailing layer of murk that hung over the city as we originally approached it seems to be an occasional rather than a permanent stain on the environment here (although looking at what comes out the back of the vehicles, it may only be a matter of time before it becomes more permanent).
One thing that does impress us immensely in La Paz is some of its public transport. From the city in the bottom of the gorge at 3,200m, up to the neighbouring towns on the surrounding cliffs at 4,000m, runs a fast, super-modern cable-car system. This system rivals those of Europe’s swankiest Alpine ski-resorts and we couldn’t resist taking a ride just for the sake of the great view. For a mere 3 Bolivianos (around 30p to Brits) each way, you can sit in a ‘state of the art’ bubble, gliding silently up to see a panoramic view of this sprawling megalopolis. We speculate that one day soon some bright young entrepreneur will make a fortune selling exterior paint for the dwellings over which we sail. There is hardly a building in La Paz (and much of Bolivia for that matter) that isn’t sporting a rough bare-brick-cement finish; great market potential for Dulux!
So now we’re done with La Paz and heading eastwards. It’s not far until the road takes a steep drop of around 3,500m off the altiplano. On the plus side, we lose the adverse effects of the high altitude, but on the not-so-plus side we reach the hot and humid lowlands. Temperatures are now mid-30s C with humidity sitting at around 96%. Our target destination is the small town of Rurrenabaque – boarding point for a boat down the river and some jungle trekking in Bolivia’s bit of the Amazon Basin!