Living in La Paz

La Paz at night

Thank me lucky stars me ‘ead is not that bad. People ‘ave warned me that I would feel rotten from the elevation. At this point I think it’s all quite rubbish.

From day one in La Paz, Bolivia I ‘ave pushed the boundaries of what I am NOT supposed to do. I ‘it the gym in the morn’ that I arrived, played football that night, and ate street meat when it was available – it was bollocks! Still, I didn’t get diarrhea, stomachaches, and vomiting or major headaches. Knock on wood, it doesn’t happen.

Played “football” with a bunch of Bolivians on my first day in La Paz. The altitude meant that I could barely breath when I ran.

By now you have probably noticed I’ve been writing with a strong English accent. The strong drawl of my “flatmates” in La Paz is wearing off on me. As part of a journalism internship with the Bolivian Express magazine, I am living in an apartment with seven other young journalists.

The apartment is huge. Located on the seventh floor of an apartment in a region of La Paz called Sopocachi, my bed is on top of a bunk bed in the same room as three other people. We share a kitchen, 2.5 bathrooms, a massive living room and a chill little sunroom with a hammock, wherein I am presently writing.

The best meal I’ve had in La Paz so far. Family dinner with the “flatmates”

As expected the apartment is nasty. People rarely clean up, cigarette butts are everywhere and all the girls shed hair all over everything. What’s more, there is a cat who eats the rankest smelling cow lung you have ever smelled. Only one cat, because the second one jumped out the window a week before I arrived.

I have spent the last four days getting to know the people in the flat. Besides adjusting to their accents and giggling about their old school names like Martha and Harriet, I quickly realized that they are in pretty much the same headspace as I am. Young twenty-somethings trying to carve their niche in this world – looking to gain experience and learn. Some are heading to “uni” next year and others have already begun, but I am the only intern that has graduated.

Living in the flat is kind of like Jersey Shore – a lot of incest, shit talking and partying – minus the bros and broettes. Pretty much the closest thing to rez, I’ve ever experienced since I never attended one while at Concordia – see Vice article “Surviving University Dorms.”

I arrived just as the latest issue of the Bolivian Express was being published so not much journalism has been happening. Instead, we have been eating, chatting, planning adventures and relaxing. I am really really eager to get journalism done because I am so amazed with the city. I have five ideas for videos already and a couple article ideas, but it takes time. I expect that things will kick into high gear journalistically by the end of the month when our travelling is done.

Since this is the last month for many of the interns here who are returning home to their families for Christmas, they have saved a lot of their Bolivian travels for this month. So, the yes man that I am, have signed up for every excursion.

The first, a bike ride high up in the mountains along the side of a cliff dubbed the dangerous road in the world. Then on Wednesday, I will be heading to Potosi, one of the highest city in the world, to visit the infamous mines and interview some of the workers. After that we will visit the city of Sucre, Bolivia’s constitutional capital fifth largest after Santa Cruz, El Alto, La Paz and Cochabamba. Finally, this weeklong excursion will end in a wine tour.

Later in the month, I am going to the Amazon for another tour.

Sure, these excursions are touristy, but I have mixed it with not so touristy things. Yesterday, I went to the massive printer factory where the Bolivian Express is made. I filmed a lot on my camera and plan to make a video for Bolivian Express about the experience.

I am getting much better with my camera, but it is still limiting and frustrating. I can’t shoot wide shots, close shots or landscapes accurately enough; my tripod is too short and can’t pan; I don’t have an external microphone so audio is pretty much impossible. By getting a camera I started a tumble down the rabbit whole, but once you’ve started you need more, more, more! Obviously it would be ideal to have a company pay for it. One day…

You can see houses on the mountain-side from everywhere in La Paz

La Paz is an absolutely fascinating city. Nearly a million people are crammed between mountains on all sides. Some living in the lower metropolitan area (still ridiculously high about sea level) while many others live on the mountain side. From all points in the city you can look up and see hundreds of homes crammed together sloppily on the mountain. On the narrow streets, Cholitas (indigenous women) are selling everything from fruit (I am not recommended to eat), to cow heart, to cell phone cases.

Cholitas protesting near my apartment. They probably walked for days to get to La Paz and demand that their mayor be ousted

Buzzing along the narrow streets are hundreds of small taxis, taxi-vans and taxi minibuses. Rarely 10 minutes go by in La Paz without hearing honking or car horns go off. Getting around with these taxis is not hard at all. They will take you pretty much anywhere and for basically nothing. I took a taxi-van across town the other day and it cost me 1.5 bolivianos – $0.20 cents and no tip required. The taxi drivers definitely make their money. Some of these taxi vans can cram up to 15 people – with some people forced to stand. Unsafe? Pshh, none of the taxis even have seat belts.

My flatmate “Martita” hailing down a taxi for us

I have been really disappointed in the food here. In general, it’s been shit. I had the grossest, driest fried chicken, stringiest burnt beef, and the worst hamburger of all time. Even the ketchup is gross.

The best food has been the non-traditional food. Near to our apartment is a Chinese food place where I got a HUGE plate of sweet and sour chicken balls and noodles with sauce for 25 bs (just over $3). Can’t beat that.

Pollo Cochabamba (not Copacabana or the many other fried chicken places) serves this absolutely heart clogging mixture of two beef patties and pork. One of the friend’s of the flatmates ate this, I WOULD NEVER!

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