La Paz is truly a city in a league of its own. Massive and yet compact, with about one million people squeezed into narrow streets, sharp corners, steep slopes, high traffic amongst the dust and noise. Taxis are abundant, but so are micros and colectivo vans that are relatively inexpensive and easy to hop and off while you navigate through what seems to be a chaotic city. Don’t be afraid to take public transport, for after 2 days in the city, you would have accumulated sufficient bearings to know how to get around.
Some say La Paz is a scruffy city, the unkind say it is a dump. But beneath the outsiders’ perception of unsightly mess, lies a city bustling with energy, character and full of life which I would miss by the time I leave tomorrow. One sight that should be seen to be believed is the city’s labyrinth of street markets (and not just the touristy ones at Hechiceria), spilled from corner to corner, occupying permanent places even in the winter cold, serving the city dwellers’ shopping needs, from clothes, shoes, food, toiletries to tools and hardware. I will also miss having freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice from roadside carts (pure juice from one whole grapefruit costs US$0.30, cheaper than bottled water and a perfect thirst quencher), snacking on yummy and filling saltenas and then working off those calories by walking up and down those steep impossible-looking slopes.
To escape from the city buzz, take a day trip to Coroico. Most tourists go to Coroico on a bike tour down the so-called “World’s most dangerous road”. Taking a minibus from Villa Fatima in La Paz (the “minibus” I took is actually a van packed with 15 passengers), you get to see others do the bike tour and enjoy the scenery without worrying about the bike brakes. I still think the road to Macchu Picchu is more treacherous (see earlier blog entry). Still, the scenery along the way to Coroico is interesting: from La Paz, the roads wind down about 2500m above sea level, changing the landscape from dry highlands and the winter cold, to luscious green forests with banana plantations and milder climate. Coroico is a small town, and on this trip, I have discovered my travel likes: walking slowly around a small town on my own, taking photos of exotic plants, grabbing any chance to interact with locals where my language proficiency permits and food-tasting at a local eatery.