la paz and the world’s most dangerous road

it’s been a long time since i’ve updated this blog. due to circumstances outside of my control, i wasn’t able to update for 2 weeks. then, once i start falling behind, it’s always a bit difficult to go back and try to write about what happened a while ago. anyways, i’m gonna try and pick up where i left off…

11/10/05-11/13/05

our initial plan was to spend just a day in La Paz, and then head off towards the jungle, leaving the rest of La Paz till later. well, a day turned into 2, and then 3, and then 4. i just couldn’t get myself to leave. there’s just something about the atmosphere in La Paz that i just really love. i love the way the city looks, i love the way there are street markets everywhere you look, i like the eerie atmosphere of the witches market, and i just like the vibe of the place. i would definitely say that La Paz has become one of my favorite cities on this trip. sure, it doesn’t have the wild nightlife of some places, or the intensely laid back feeling of some other places, but there’s just something about it… something i cant quite put my finger on.

actually, i think i just really love Bolivia in general. there are some countries that you go to, and you just feel excited and in a good mood every time you walk out your hotel door. that’s how i feel in Bolivia. i think part of it is cause i am really fascinated by the people here. they’re really friendly.. but in an odd reserved kind of way. i dunno… i wish i could explain it.

anyways, we spent the 4 days in La Paz not doing all that much. we went to a bunch of restaurants which was really cool because the restaurants there, which are considered “nice” by Bolivian standards, are still dirt cheap. we ate random foods and juices from street stalls, we checked out all the random markets, and just generally wandered around town.

one of the cool things we checked out while there was coca museum. Bolivia grows more coca than any country in the world. the indigenous people here go around chewing the leaves for their mildly stimulating effect. i hadn’t realized just how important coca leaves are i their culture though. coca is treated almost like a god here, and is used in all sorts of ceremonies, marriages, etc. the people here have been using coca leaves for centuries and centuries. the museum had some really interesting insights on how Bolivians have been oppressed by outside forces because of their use of coca leaves.

the people of Bolivia used coca leaves, until the Spanish came in and told them that it was a sin against the church and outlawed it. but then, when the Spanish government realized that their Bolivian slaves work harder (in the mines etc) if they chew coca, they decided to legalize it once again. apparently, the leaves aren’t sinful if the Spanish government is earning tons of cash. centuries later, the US government steps in with its war on drugs. cocaine is made from coca leaves, and so the US decides to blame Bolivia for the cocaine problem. this is utter crap, since Bolivia has been harvesting coca leaves for centuries and there is virtually no cocaine problem in the country. on the other hand, the USA which is only a small percentage of the world population, consumes 50% of the world’s cocaine. so really, it’s the US and other countries insatiable demand for cocaine that is the problem, and not the Bolivian people’s traditions. so the US steps in and tries to ban coca leaf growing and use in Bolivia. they pay the Bolivian government to destroy tons of fields of coca plants. in the opinion of the government, all coca should be eradicated… well, except for the coca used Coca Cola… apparently, if you’re a multibillion dollar corporation, you should be exempt.

the other really cool thing that happened in La Paz was that we saw a huge parade. Bolivians really know how to march. around 8am or so, the parade started. it was going on right in front of our hotel, so we had a great view of it. people were dressed in bright and colorful costumes, there was tons of music and marching bands, and everyone seemed to have a great time. the crazy thing was that several hours later, the parade was still going. this thing just went on and on and on. it looked like there was no end in sight. hours later, it just kept going. finally, it started getting dark… and the parade was STILL not done. i just couldn’t believe it! eventually, maybe at 8pm or so, the parade finally ended. amazing. and then they went on to have all sorts of fireworks at night. way cool.

i could probably have stayed in La Paz longer, but after 4 days, we decided we had better move on. we hopped on a bus heading north to rurrenabaque, a small town in the middle of the jungle. the scary part though, was that to get there, we had to take “the world’s most dangerous road”. the stretch of road between La Paz (perched 3,000 meters above sea level) and coroico which is about 100 meters above sea level, is pretty famous. this road has more fatalities on it than any other road in the world… about 90 per year. if you think about it, that comes out to about 1 fatality every 4 days, not a very reassuring thought. it’s not that the road is all that steep, it’s mainly that it is super narrow, and people take it fairly fast.

so, we get on a minibus in the morning and head out. the beginning wasn’t too scary. we started to think that the reputation was all hype… but soon we realized that we were wrong. the road got narrower and narrower until our minibus just barely fit. we were going over gravel at this point, and not only that b the gravel was wet in a lot of places from random waterfalls that washed over the road. looking to our left, it was just a sheer cliff… a cliff so steep that i often just couldn’t see all the way to the bottom. looking over the edge was a pretty terrifying. the worst though, was that sometimes we would come upon other vehicles that were coming up the mountain. for most of the road, there wasn’t room for two cars to pass each other, so our minibus would go in reverse, and slowly reverse to a wider spot. going on this road *backwards* seemed basically suicidal, and then the van cut sideways, to get as absolutely close to the edge as possible to make room for the other bus to pass. we were literally inches away from the brink, and we stopped right next to a cross with flowers next to it… a marker of where another vehicle had plummeted off the edge. i was scared shitless.

luckily, we made it to coroico in one piece and didnt end up being one of this years 90 casualties. in coroico, we ate lunch (our choices were fried chicken, fried chicken, or fried chicken). and then sat around waiting for the next bus. being here was like being a world away from La Paz. La Paz, 3000 meters up, was cold and cloudy and the air was thin. here in coroico, we were all of a sudden in the jungle. it was hot, humid, and there was an insane amount of mosquitoes. actually, i couldn’t believe just how many mosquitoes there were, especially since usually mosquitoes dont come out till dusk. well, this was mild compared to the mosquito infestation that we would witness in a few days.

despite buying tickets, the next bus we took had no seats for us. we had to half stand for a couple hours, and only then did we get a seat way in the back. the rest of the trip was uneventful. we ate more fried chicken (it seems like in some places that is all that they sell), were hot, uncomfortable, and dusty, and tried to sleep. we finally arrived, totally exhausted, in rurrenabaque at 3am and walked through the pitch black town to our hotel. we had made it!

*v

3 thoughts on “la paz and the world’s most dangerous road”

  1. Ahhhh, La Paz. I should go back and catch up on stuff, too. Nice post, babe. 🙂

  2. Wow. I never really thought of Bolivia as being a place I wanted to make a point of visiting. La Paz sounds very neat though. Thanks for updating again. 🙂 Looking forward to reading about your stay in the jungle.

  3. vlad I’ll put La Paz on my plans to visit but I am too old
    for the world’s dangerous road adventure. Thanks for the
    great pictures of La Paz!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.