La Paz looked so much better when everything was open and the sun was shining.
Our hotel, Qantu Hotel, has a big breakfast buffet on the 9th floor with amazing views of the city. They even had froot loops and coco puffs on offer.🙂
After breakfast we made our way to San Pedro Plaza where we met up with Redcap Walking Tours. We had two guides- Daniel and Denise- and both were awesome. They really brought life and character to the city.
They pointed out that one of the buildings beside San Pedro Plaza square used to be a monastery for 400 monks but was donated to the city and then converted into a prison that now holds 4,000 people: 3,000 prisoners and 1 000 family members- women and children. It is not the most secure of jails. Today was visitors day and there was a long line up going down the street.
The guards make the inmates pay them to come in. They usually take what the people can afford to pay, so if you are a drug dealer you would pay a lot more than your local street person in for a minor crime. If you don't pay the guards this bribe, they don't feed you..
Also, if you want you can pay to have your wife and children move into the jail with you. You also either rent or own your cell. If you don't pay much you get a small cell shared with others but if you pay a lot you can get a whole suite with king size bed, plasma TV etc.
It is low security so the guards only watch the perimeters. In reality the inmates run the place with their own government and rules. If someone breaks the rules they are beaten.
The state only supplies one meal a day so the inmates have all different kinds of businesses inside there including restaurants, barbershop tailors, shoemakers etc.
The wives and kids are free to come and go and can bring in supplies provided the necessary bribes are paid.
Also they process cocaine in the jail with raw material smuggled in or "bribed in", its then refined and sold to inmates or brought out by the wives and children or through bribes to he sold on the streets. One method of getting the cocaine out is by throwing a diaper with coke in it out a window or by prying part of the roof open and accomplices outside are waiting to pick it up.
How bizarre is that? There is a book written about it called Marching Powder by Rusty Young.
Our next stop was through the market where there is a whole social etiquette. The ladies that sell the produce are called "casaras (ph)". If you are a regular customer and go only to her for certain products, she will treat you well but go to someone else, even once, you could be cut off and given the cold shoulder. You never bargain for food (this is viewed as rude although you can barter for other products) but you can ask for a freebie. If you buy a decent amount of produce you ask for some "yappa" and she will throw in extra produce. You can also tell her your problems and you will often get good advice, but be careful because they like to gossip with the other casaras.
There are over 2 000 different varieties of potatoes in Bolivia, Chile and Peru. In Peru we were told they have 4,000 varieties- no matter what, they have LOTS and LOTS of potatoes in this part of the world.
The ladies you see around in the gathered skirts, bowler type hats and shawls are called Cholitas. They are mostly older in the city because the younger women want to fit in and be more current. There are more younger Cholitas in the rural areas.
For a Cholita, beauty means being chubby with a big tummyand long hair. They decorate their hair with pompoms on the ends. Wide hips are also considered sexy; an indicator that you are a good child bearer. The gathered skirts accentuate wide hips. The Cholitas are pretty well covered up, but they like to show their calves, big, round, juicy calves are considered extra sexy and an indicator that you can carry big, heavy loads.The bowler type hats are a British influence. A long time a go, a large shipment of bowler hats came in from Britain, they were made too small and the colour wasn't right so they decided to try selling them to women. The Cholitas thought they made them look taller and attractive and a new style caught on. If a Cholita wears a hat on top, she is taken but if it is to the side, she is available.
Our next visit was to the Witches Market. The Bolivians are a very superstitious people. Some of them still give offerings to Pachamama. These offerings are given as thanks for things or to ask for things. If you are asking for something, you usually put something that represents that thing in with your offering. Apparently, Pachamama also likes alcohol. So you would pour some alcohol for Pachamama and then have some for yourself. Sometimes this can become quite an inebriation event for all involved.
Another offering are llama fetuses. They are usually offered for a new or bigger home or to bless the home...and that's where things got ugly.
IMPORTANT NOTE: A word of advice to everyone back home, don't walk down stairs while looking at llama fetuses!!!
I was walking through the Witches Market, checking out the llama fetuses, when I missed a step in the steep sidewalk stairs and fell down in the street. My ankle twisted. Despite lots of help, I could barely get up.
One of the guides was there right away helping and I did manage to hobble through the rest of the tour but I was moving slowly and it was very painful.
We also stopped at the San Francisco Cathedral and the main square, Plaza Murillo which had a church, the presidential mansion and congress on it. I didn't take in a lot of details because my ankle was throbbing.
After the tour, I hobbled back to the hotel and I asked the hotel about seeing a doctor. They replied that a doctor would be at our room in 30 minutes. Within 30 minutes an English speaking doctor accompanied by a nurse with a medical kit arrived.
The doctor advised that my foot should he x-rayed so we all hopped into a taxi and went to a medical clinic. I was using my hiking poles as crutches at this point. We were the only people at the clinic and I had the x-ray done within 2 minutes of arriving and the results in 10 minutes. The x-ray indicated no broken bones, thank goodness, but my fall had damaged the joint ligaments causing inflammation of something called the capsule.
I was prescribed an anti-inflammatory drug that I need to takes for 5 days, had my foot bound with a tensor bandage and have to keep off my foot for as much as possible for the next week.
We had our travel medical insurance to cover the costs but the total price for the doctor/nurse house call, trip to the clinic, x-ray, bandaging and consultation with the doctor was $200 CAD. The drugs we picked up from a pharmacy for $10 CAD.
We went for supper at the British Pub next door and had fish and chips. It was a huge fish from Lake Titicaca. In hind sight, John and I should have split the meal because we each left half. I find portion sizes in South America to be huge. I feel guilty wasting so much. We had planned on going to Red Cap Tours foodie tour but the unfortunate incident in the witches market had us going to the closest restaurant with a good trip advisory rating.
TIPS & COSTS
Qantu Hotel- $45 US per night
Red Cap walking tour- $4 CAD plus tips usually about $10-$20 per person
They also do a foodie tour $40 CAD per person
Extended tour- $17 US plus TIPS
This is one of the best walking tour companies. They give so much character information as well as the straight facts
TIP: La Paz is an elevated mountain city. Everything is up and down on uneven surfaces with uneven steps.
TiP: Always buy health insurance. It has paid for itself so many times with me.