Travelirvana’s Top 5 Things to See on a City Tour of La Paz, Bolivia

It’s a Tale of Two Cities here in Bolivia and by that I mean the straightforward question of what is the capital of Bolivia is not so straightforward. While most believe that the capital is La Paz, there are strong sentiments that it is, in fact, Sucre and La Paz at more than 3,500m is merely the administrative capital.  Interesting huh?

  1. Valley de la Luna a/k/a Moon Valley

Valley de la Luna a/k/a Moon Valley brings to mind the famous Psalm “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” especially given it’s “sister” property known as “El Valle de las Animas” a/k/a The Valley of the Souls which is said to be an important site in Boliva for the famous holiday – Dias de los Muertos a/k/a Day of the Dead. Valley de la Luna; however, is a mere 10km from downtown La Paz and can easily be reached by taxi or the famous La Paz Mi Teleférico (more specifically, the green line of La Paz’s famous cable car).  Here you will find a truly unique landscape of tall spires of clay formations and caves caused by persistent erosion of the mountains near La Paz from wind and water over time.  It lends itself to a view like nothing I’ve seen to date and is absolutely worth a visit when in La Paz.  In fact, in a city surrounded by dramatic terrain, Moon Valley is undoubtedly La Paz’s piece de resistance. It is also the home of “Espiritu de los Andes” or the Spirit of the Andes statute.  The entry fee is a mere 30BS or $4.30USD and worth every penny.  Alternatively, you can get some incredible views of Moon Valley while playing the back 9 at the La Paz Golf Club and, in particular, at the 12th hole.  The backdrop of this lunar-like terrain is bound to make any round of golf special regardless of how over par you are on any given day. The price is a hefty 400-560BS or $57USD to $73USD for 18 holes depending on what day you go but that is only your green fees and doesn’t include club rentals, caddies, golf carts, etc. Make sure that you bring some khaki’s and a collared shirt though or you won’t be allowed on the golf course.

  1. Mercado de Las Brujas or the Witches Market

Where does one go when one needs spiritual advice or a potion to exact revenge on a cheating lover, some llama excrement for some Aymaran ritual or llama fetus to honor Pachamama (Mother Earth) or maybe just to purchase an alpaca sweater? The Witches Market in La Paz, Bolivia, of course.  I was fascinated during my saunter through the various stalls in and around Sagarnaga Street near Iglesia de San Francisco.  I had my eyes wide open looking for the infamous Witch Doctors (also known as the Yatiri) which are often seen in these parts and are allegedly powerful enough to cure illnesses and perform spells to address money problems or fertility issues and the like. The closest I got to this was a Senora de Pollera a/k/a Chola (don’t call them this) and a native asking for money which I gladly gave, in part, in hopes of getting a photograph of her.  While she was happy to take the money, she refused to allow me to photograph her in her authentic dress.  And while I did not purchase any fetuses or other sundries, I did find a hat which I quite like.  While you are there, you will find Richard at All Transport Travel Agency located at Sagarnaga Street 229, Paraixo Gallery Office 10 and he will take care of all your tour needs including, without limitation, a very risky trek up Huayna Potosi and a not so risky trek down to Salar de Uyuni. Now, remember, when in the Witches Market be respectful of the culture of the locals and ask permission before taking photographs and don’t just touch things to touch things.  You never know what kind of spell could be placed on you if you do.

 

  1. Mí Teleférico

Mi Teleferico brings the public transit system to new heights.  It is an aerial cable car urban transit system providing fast and reliable transport between the city’s major attractions. Operating at 4000 m (13,000 ft) above sea level, the world’s highest cable car ride has revolutionized the way locals travel between La Paz and El Alto and every place in between.  As of March 2018, the system consists of 20 stations along six lines: Red, Yellow, Green, Blue, Orange, and the new White line (which opened about a week before I arrived in La Paz) with a lot more scheduled to come on line soon.  In fact, Mí Teleférico is the first urban transit network to use cable cars as the backbone of the public transportation network.  As educational as that is, what I was most interested in was the views of the city and the surrounding landscape that make up La Paz and boy did I get some stunning views of this lovely city.

  1. Iglesia de San Francisco

Seeing this historical landmark is one thing but seeing it during Semana Santa on the heels of the Pilgrimage that leaves this lovely church for its annual procession to Copacabana is a whole other thing.  The Pilgrimage begins here at the church on Good Friday and 157km later ends on Sunday in the church in Copacabana where the Bolivians’ patron saint resides – The Virgin of Copacabana.  It is said that some 35,000 penitent souls make this march.  Impressive huh? Anyway, the Basilica of San Francisco – which is in the center of La Paz in the Square that bears its name – was built between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries in the so-called baroque mestizo style. It was built on this site originally in 1548 one year prior to the founding of La Paz itself but, was reconstructed 200 years later after it collapsed under the weight of, if you can believe it, snow.  The Square is generally covered in tents with vendors selling just about anything you can imagine but, during Semana Santa, you are likely to find more chocolate bunnies and colored eggs than any other items. (Last photo is compliments of the Latin American Travel Association and a pictorial representation of the Pilgrimage.)

 

  1. Murillo Square

The Plaza Murillo is the central plaza of the city of La Paz and the open space most connected to the political life of Bolivia. Prominent buildings on the plaza include the Presidential Palace which has been gutted by fire twice, the National Congress of Bolivia, and the Cathedral of La Paz.  The Plaza was named after Pedro Murillo who was a signatory on the document establishing Bolivia’s independence.  One of the coolest things I learned here was that the US Dollar has two symbols on it that came directly from the decorative façade of the Cathedral of La Paz.  Moreover, I learned that despite all the government buildings being in La Paz, the actual capital of Bolivia is Sucre.  Surprisingly, most people don’t know that. Finally, I encourage you to have a seat Indian style in the plaza, have some helado (ice cream!), feed the pigeons and people watch.  It is quite a dichotomy to be surrounded by such history including political battles such as the unfortunate hanging of a President from a lamp post back in 1946 vs. the current tranquility you will experience today as children play and locals socialize.

Where to Stay in La Paz:  Stannum Boutique Hotel and Spa is hands down the best hotel I have stayed at for under $100/night in all 80 countries to date.  Every whim….every need….every desire….was met by the staff at Stannum.  I’ve never had this kind of service at any hotel ever.  You cannot buy service that good even though you are technically buying it by spending the money to stay there.  If I needed something from the store, the staff went and got it.  If I needed a SIM card, it was taken care of.  If I needed food, a tour set up, a taxi, a laugh, a smile, whatever, it was provided.  Stannum also had great water pressure, hot showers, spot on wifi that never missed a beat, comfortable beds and rooms with views, an incredible yet tranquil ambience, fantastic decoration and good food.  The location is superb. It is central to everything and is on top of a mall so if you need anything from groceries, to fast food, to a movie, to an ATM machine or a pharmacy, it is an elevator ride away. It just doesn’t get any better than the Stannum for the price especially if you are coming from other parts of Bolivia.  I highly recommend this hotel on every level.  Stay here.  Period!

That’s all for now so send your questions and comments if you have any and then go Unlock the Travelirvana in You.

 

Marcala, Honduras – Day 14

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Up early for breakfast and getting kiddos to school.  Here, the children walk to school often times in the mud. It’s approximately 2 miles each way. Seven year old Anna is brilliant and puts plastic bags on her feet over her shoes to keep them clean. Their return can sometimes be in the dark. The older kids (Carmen and Ernesto, Jr.) help with the little ones. Elena is up every morning early for work too. She rides a bicycle. The togetherness and fluidity of this family is truly amazing to watch. When you have only each other, the fact that family is all you need in life is more obvious to the “naked” eye. I’m putting together care packages to send to my Honduran family so if you want to participate, please reach out to me either via a post here or at my email address at sdubose@duboselawoffice.com and I will let you know what they need.

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Another amazing thing to learn is how they survive mostly off the land and trade for goods and services.  Neto fills a a gallon bag with basil grown on the land. We walk the children to their respective classrooms and head to market to obtain cheese and milk and other sundries necessary for survival.

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After that we go to meet Remi (a family friend who is an artist and is also helping us to schedule the Temazcal ritual for later in the day). Remi’s shop is filled with sculptures made out of old bicycles, auto parts, bottles and whatever else you can think of. It is quite astounding how talented Remi is. As a token of friendship, Remi made for me right there in front of me an opal necklace – it is said the necklace will protect me from evil spirits. Good thing given we are headed to open a few doors to the spirit world!

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Now onto our real journey for the day and the main reason for my trip to Marcala (second only to meeting the family) and that is the shaman ritual in the Temazcal. I had no expectations regarding this ceremony except that I must do it. No one said it was an experience I must ENDURE.

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A temazcal is a type of sweat lodge which originated with pre-Hispanic indigenous people in Mesoamerica and is believed to be a curative ceremony detoxifying your mind, soul and body.  They use volcanic stones as they do not explode from the unbearable temperature (like your body might it’s so dang hot). These stones are placed in a pit located in the center of the structure (which is usually a stone structure unlike the one shown here).  It takes hours and hours to heat these stones as does the preparation of the medicinal water they toss with tree branches onto the stones (and no it doesn’t feel good when the steamy water sprays all over you) and the preparation of the clay tortuga and other ritualistic items.

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While I encourage everyone to always try something new, I must report that this ceremony was excruciatingly difficult. I was sitting on rocks in nothing but a bathing suit in a pitch black tent, ceaseless vapor of medicinal fragrances filling my nostrils, with 7 other people incessantly chanting around me and it was well upwards of 120 degrees Fahrenheit in there. I have no idea exactly but akin to the temperature of hell which is exactly where I was.  I’ve never been so claustrophobic and miserable in my life. I was screaming internally to get out of there within 60 seconds of door one of the four doors we pass through (earth, water, fire and wind) and almost was willing to knock over a shaman to do it. I hung in there though as I was unwilling to have another failure on my record like with scuba but it just about killed me.  At least I left a few pounds lighter both physically and mentally, detoxified, with new friends in our shared suffering and with no desire to do anything like it again. Ha!

That’s all for now a few LBs lighter physically and mentally from a sweat lodge in Marcala.

Caye Caulker, Belize: Day 2

“Sailing takes me away to where I’ve always heard it could be. Just a dream and the wind to carry me.”  according to Christopher Cross and if your destination is utter bliss, he would be correct. If you are going to Caye Caulker they say take a look at the famous Blue Hole from the air and/or try to scuba down the wall into the pitch blackness and if you can afford the $275 plane or helicopter ride or love scuba diving in different places then most definitely you should do it.

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Photograph from Wikepedia.com

I, on the other hand, found that sailing was the best way to really enjoy the créme de la créme of waters in Caye Caulker and particularly if you are aboard the most beautiful sailboat I saw docked here – the Gypsy Queen. Trust me when I say that if you want the picture perfect day then pay the $140USD to Carlos Tours for snorkeling and sailing aboard the Gypsy Queen as you won’t be disappointed. Carlos’s son is not only a funny captain who will make you laugh, he is knowledgeable about the underwater life in Caye Caulker and will take you to the coral reef, take you to see turtles, eels, an abundance of colorful and HUGE fish and to Shark Alley so you can swim with the nurse sharks AND pet them! In fact, here is where Squirt’s dad, Duuuude, in Finding Nemo lives this time of year before heading back to Australia 😉

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Now leave it to an American to not listen to instructions (ones I THOUGHT would be unnecessary but I thought wrong) to not stick your hand out in front of the nurse shark during feeding. We had one aboard our sailboat who luckily left with her hand intact although barely as she boarded the boat bleeding profusely all over me. Yes! She stuck her hand out there and one of the sharks thought it was lunch! ALWAYS pet the sharks from behind their head whether they are right side up or want their tummy tickled not at their nose where…that’s right…their teeth reside….common sense right!!!

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Despite the fact that the theme went from Sailing by Christopher Cross to U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday, it is tough to beat a day sailing the Belizian waters so make sure you visit Carlos and get a spot on the Gypsy Queen when you get to Caye Caulker.

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And while a long hot day of swimming/snorkeling in the sun can exhaust you, get dolled up and go hang out with those incredible people you met and make even more memories!

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That’s all for now from the incredible “Key” Caulker.

 

Semuc Champey, Guatemala: Day 5

 

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If you have that little devil inside of you whose thirst for adrenaline and adventure must be quenched, then today is a day for you

If you have an incessant little angel inside of you, seeking tranquility, beauty and perhaps some rest for your body, mind and soul then today is a day for you.

If you have both, well lucky you because this will be one of your favorite travel days ever. It is in the top five for me!

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I awoke to the sound of birds singing and a glorious sunrise from my outdoor bunk bed at Utopia in the mountains of Semuc Champey, Guatemala.  Had breakfast overlooking none other than the epitome of tranquility. The theme, however, for the day was “Uno, dos, tres” as I must have repeated these 3 words today more than ever prior to jump uno, jump dos, jump tres and so on and by the end of the day I wasn’t certain whether today ranked uno, dos or tres in the best days of my journey thus far.  Indiana Jones himself would have been jealous.

 

We (Sam, Stephanie, Suzy, Clemence, Tomas and I) started with a 45 minute hike to Maria’s restaurant for none other than a swing from a platform to flying in the air and jumping into the river – Jump Uno. Suzy and I then proceeded to enter -with nothing other than a candle – a cave where we swam and climbed in pitch blackness. Jump Dos at the end of the cave, while scary, had nothing on Jump Tres because in Jump 2 our guide lit up the pool of blackness below with a headlamp while at Jump 3 (which was several meters higher) he decided to go first leaving me to jump with no light whatsoever. In a situation like this all you’ve got is one way down and the courage to murmur uno, dos, tres before following suit 😉 Do this. No matter what. There is nothing in this world more liberating. Jump Cuatro was the seated swing outside the cave. Again, uno, dos, tres and swing, jump, fly.

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We went from high flying adventure to rest and relaxation in the radiance of the cerulean infinity pools before tubing through the sometimes calm and sometimes raging rapids and ended our ride right at the door of Utopia.

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Utopia is the perfect name for this hostel and even more perfect name for Semuc Champey. The 12 or more hours to get there and out of there was worth it. As I said, today is one of my favorite days of travel after 15 months and 69 countries which is saying an awful lot.

That’s all for now with a “DON’T SKIP SEMUC!” reverberating throughout my entire body.

 

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São Paulo, Brazil: Day 4

I feel the need….the need for speed!! Formula 1 Grand Prix race at Interlagos racetrack was sure to be one of the highlights of my trip to São Paulo but the rain had its way today instead. Fingers numb, body shaking from the wetness and the cold, clothes drenched and my backpack and I sitting on wet concrete with only a trash bag as a seat cover or standing amongst the thousands in the rain on my tippy toes,  I still felt the raw exhilarating power of the roar of the engines and the wheels spinning so fast the race cars were spraying me and the other spectators as they flew past us at speeds upwards of 200km/hr. The danger of course increases due to rain and the race was red flag suspended several times as many of the F1 cars aquaplaned including one which spun out of control in circles stopping facing 90 degrees towards the wall as the other drivers turned the corner driving high on the track in order to miss him. Hamilton was out front from beginning to end and missed all those messes behind him that the other drivers were dealing with to capture the number one spot on the podium. All in all it was definitely an experience that I will have to try again but next time on a warm sunny day and perhaps next time I will include a trip to the pit where a lot of the action takes place.

I did learn a number of things though such as umbrellas, go pro sticks, selfie sticks and anything else that even remotely looks like or could be used as a weapon will prevent your entry into the racetrack. You must find (in English) the regulations for heading out to any sporting event but these guys took it to the next level completely barring my entry but unable to explain why in any other language but Portugese which I don’t speak or understand despite its similarities to Spanish. All is well that ends well though as I crossed the street and met young Marcio a member of São Paulo’s police force and his kind colleagues who walked me back across the street and were able to talk to the gate guy and explain the rules in English and ultimately agreed to hold on to my things for me so I could see the race. This is not a service they provide of course but I think they felt sorry for me given the fact I traveled all the way from Texas to see the race! They said, however, that it was because I have “good person” written all on my face. Whatever the reason for the special treatment I was utterly grateful.

I also learned what an incredible turn on it is to hear that sound when they are hauling past you and I do recommend that everyone experience that turn on at least once in your lifetime.

That’s all for now. From São Paulo with love and speed.

São Paulo, Brazil: Day 3

America’s Sunday Funday is matched by Saturday Sambas at the Samba Bar followed by shopping in open outdoor markets with dining and live musica at the Benedito Calixto Square for antiques, jewelry, household furnishings and clothes not to mention Carnival masks and hair pieces (every girl should have a carnival mask from Brazil!) and then onto Municipal Market for food and spices. Pray for a day of sunshine in order to really enjoy it. And if there is some overcast and afternoon showers huddle up under the awnings at the various sidewalk bars or stay at Samba Bar and dance the day away surrounded by the locals and eating feijoado and, of course, make sure to people watch particularly here in Brazil as the Brazilians love the love! They are openly affectionate towards one another, holding hands, passionately embracing and kissing in the streets and indubitably dressed well with their “hearts on their sleeves”. I had to do a little research on why this because I love this about the Latin American culture. I learned that this is because Brazilians live in what is referred to as a collectivist culture. Emotion is a thing that exists outside oneself and is experienced by everyone. Emotions are believed to occur BETWEEN people rather than within an individual as is more common in North America and Europe. So never fear you will most definitely know what a Brazilian is thinking and feeling whether joy, love, anger or sadness. That kind of rawness, openness and honesty should be celebrated and frankly is a breath of fresh air but certainly can make the girly girl in me say “Oh I want some of that!” Guess I better keep my eye out for a hot and single Brazilian while I’m here.  Oh wait, then I couldn’t do what I am “emotional” about – traveling – so never mind.

That’s all for now. With love and samba and a little PDA from São Paulo Brazil.