Sorry for the bad pun. I was going to make an excuse, but I can’t actually think of an acceptable one, so I won’t bother.
So, my first Friday in La Paz! It already feels like I’ve been here a lot longer, and not just cause I’ve been to the Plaza Avaroa a good dozen times. In some ways it’s an impossibly confusing city to find your way around, since few streets have names, they appear to head uphill, then down, then up without warning (so the idea that you ‘just head down’ rarely works!), the pavements are not in great shape, crossing the road usually takes a good five minutes, a good bit of staring at the mad traffic, a fair bit of nerve and maybe some help from a dancing zebra. Yes, you read that right. Soooo much more interesting than lollipop ladies!
Having found our way to the supermarket, bank and a café that did breakfast pancakes with unlimited syrup, coffee and papaya juice for about £2.20, we were feeling bold and adventurous. We were ready to head out of Sopocachi, our little (not actually that little) neighbourhood and head for the real ‘centre’. A slightly disconcerting and very loopy taxi ride (not helped by the fact that, of course, there are no seatbelts!) later, and we were there, at the Plaza San Francisco. Well, the four lane road next to the plaza, where the driver dropped us off… Time for a spot of people-watching.
It was here that we spotted other foreigners for the first time. Maybe two or three of them? It’s the area with the hostels and Alpaca jumper shops, Internet cafés and the odd museum. Oh, and lustrabotas (shoeshiners) galore, some even persistent enough to propose having a go at my Converse. I think not! But for someone who’s lived in Paris and got used to seeing coach parties and hearing accents and languages from just about everywhere, La Paz is definitely not touristy. You’re far more likely to see ladies in their distinctive hats, frilly skirts and brightly coloured shawls than anyone in shorts or with a backpack.
This is, of course, an amazing thing about exploring here, and it does make it feel a little bit more special. But after walking around for quite a while, we were getting pretty thirsty, and somehow not quite brave enough for the odd brown concoction that was being sold in less-than-totally-clean-looking glasses (yeah, OK, I’m a wimpy traveller!). But what to do? Meandering along, we suddenly spotted a café that looked quite nice and popped our heads around the door. Spotting copies of the latest edition of Bolivian Express sitting by the till decided the matter for us: we were going in!
And so I had my first Bolivian cake-y/ pastry thing:
It was a kind of slightly sweet brioche-y bread folded around a cream cheese filling, and was pretty tasty. (We got some brioche for breakfast from the supermarket, which was a story in itself, since we arrived at the checkout and the bar code didn’t work, waited around ten minutes for someone to find another pack, the woman at the checkout wandered off to look for herself, then the first woman came back but the second one had vanished… I’m sure we could have swapped it ourselves ten times quicker! But anyway, the point is that grilled in the George-Foreman-style thing (should that be Jorge Foremanez?!) and spread with jam they’re OK, but on their own… let’s just say it’s wise not to take too big a bite, and to have a drink on hand, or you end up feeling like your jaws are being glued together and the fear of asphyxiation quickly sets in…) It was nice and soft and not at all dry, and the cheese was slightly tangy which stopped it being really bland. And it came with an enormous double espresso (see the cup in the background? That’s full!), for a total price of 20 Bs, or about £1.75. I could definitely get used to life in Bolivia!
And buoyed with the enthusiastic success of cake, we decided to go home in a minibus. That sounds nowhere near as exciting as it actually is. It involves peering at the cards pinned in the windows of vehicles racing past and looking for somewhere you recognise. Then, when you see one, you wave wildly until it stops, and clamber in. That is, if you’re lucky. It may just slow down, and you hop in on the move (with more or less dignity). Then, scrunched into a vehicle with an incredibly low roof and as many seats as there is humanly space for, you weave in and out of lanes of traffic, trying to keep an eye on where you are. Occasionally you screech to a halt and someone else hops in and addresses a general “Buenas tardes” to the rest of the bus. And then you’re off again. Need to get off? Just yell to the driver, wait for everyone sitting blocking you in to politely hop out (women in layers of skirts and all) and pay through the window. Pay 15p, that is. And then breathe a sigh of relief and start giggling hysterically as you walk home, in one piece and rather exhilarated from the excitement of it all! Welcome to La Paz.