I spent New Years in Bolivia´s capital La Paz. I hadn´t gone out much in Argentina so I decided to spend New Years in a city with a decent nightlife and rushed through Southern Bolivia to get to La Paz in time.
I was staying at a horrible party hostel, Wild Rover, that is especially popular with Australians. About half of the people staying there were Australian males, the sort who have all their meals and drinks in the hostel and never set foot outside. Luckily, I met an English guy, Mike, who I got on well with and hung out with him and two other guys.
On our second night in La Paz, I snuck off to bed, hoping that the others wouldn´t notice that I had disappeared from the hostel bar. We had planned on going to another bar after happy hour but I was tired from the altitude and the hostel bar was so lame – the sort of thing I would have enjoyed if I was 18 – that I was put off going out. It must have been obvious though, because shortly after, Mike went looking for me and found me in bed.
I am a bit embarassed to admit that my experience of La Paz nightlife was pretty limited. The one night I left the hostel bar was to go to Ruta 36, a cocaine bar. Mike had wanted to go that night so I got up and went with them. I´d heard of Ruta 36 before I left home and had got the impression it was extremely underground as it changes location every two weeks.
In reality, all you have to do is ask your taxi driver to take you there. It wasn´t what I had imagined; it felt like it had previously been a restaurant of some sort and the coke bar people had done it up by hanging up some coloured lights and paper plates. It did not feel like a coke den and wasn´t really worth getting out of bed. During the time we were there I watched the guys do a few lines and waited until it was time to go back.
Most people I´ve spoken to don´t like La Paz but I found it quite interesting and enjoyed walking around. The view you get when you first arrive is quite breathtaking, as the city is in a valley, surrounded by mountains which are dotted with houses. As La Paz is a high altitude city, the highest capital in the world, it is very stratified, with the poor living at the top where the oxygen is thinner and the rich living in the city centre at the bottom.
For this reason, I found La Paz to be safe; as with most South American cities, the city centre is heavily policed and it is easy enough to avoid the bad areas. When I was in Cusco, a city that is similarly laid out to La Paz, I spent an hour walking around the poor areas near the top on my own. While I felt safe, there were no police around which I found strange. It would make more sense if the police force was even distributed throughout the cities, rather than having them all concentrated in middle class areas. It is not unusual to see groups of about ten or so standing around in the main streets during the day.
After four days in La Paz, I was ready to leave. I had to wait for some contact lens which I´d ordered to La Paz but I wasn´t sure how long it would take for them to go through customs and I didn´t want to spend weeks in one spot. I decided to go back south and visit the parts of Bolivia I had skipped over.
I was also looking forward to parting ways with Mike. I really liked him but because he had a girlfriend, I could not let on that I did. But it turned out we were both planning on going to Sucre, so we booked the same bus and left that night.
This post is continued here.