I don’t think there’s a city more dramatic on arrival than the Bolivian capital of La Paz. Yes, that’s a big call to make, but one I’m willing to put on the table. You go from bumping along a dusty desert plain, to suddenly spiraling into a deep valley of gigantic proportions. Thousands and thousands of adobe lego-like houses seem to spill downwards for as far as the eye can see. Literally every square inch of land is occupied. All of this is overlooked by the imposing jaggered snowy peaks of Mt Illamani (6402m). It’s both awe-inspiring and intimidating. You can’t help but to grip your seat with anticipation for the ride that’s ahead.
Once you get deeper into the city, your attention goes from macro to micro as all your senses work in over drive just to keep you alive. A thick flow of traffic snakes its way through the city, horns blaring as cars weave in and out of non-existent lanes and narrowly miss pedestrians. Public transport takes the form of minivans and they cruise past busy corners with their roller doors open, ready to scoop up passengers. People choose their van based on a string of destinations yelled out by a door man or woman so fast I swear they sound like a horse race commentator. This is definitely not a city for the feint hearted!
However, once you acclimatize to the dust and dizzying height (it sits at a lofty 3660m), La Paz can surprise you in more ways than one. Traditionally dressed women in layered skirts (of any material), oversized shawls and bowler hats rub shoulders with modern-day youth. Jugo street vendors beckon you to try their freshly squeezed fruit juices, while others sell pastries and buns. Wander up into the Witches market and you’ll find dried llama fetuses (which locals bury under their houses for good luck and fortune) next to bags of coca leaves and herbal remedies. Wander further still and you’ll come across the black market selling everything from second-hand watches, DVDs, office supplies to clothing. A block away and you’ve got stalls and stalls of fresh produce and spices. The list goes on. Not up for street food and sightseeing backpacking gringos? Then catch a radio taxi into the more affluent suburb of Sopocachi to find fine French cuisine (there’s a big ex-pat community here), wine bars and live jazz.
It seems that nothing is impossible in this city.