City of cable cars and witches
03.05.2019 - 06.05.2019
From Uyuni, we took a comfortable overnight bus to La Paz. La Paz lies in the altiplano at 3’650 meters above the sea and is often said to be the world’s highest capital, though its status as capital is a little complicated. La Paz is the location of the Bolivian parliament and the seat of the Bolivian president, but according to the constitution the capital of Bolivia is Sucre, where the country’s highest court is located. Therefore, La Paz is often called the de facto capital. Of course we did not have any problems with the altitude, since Uyuni is more or less at the same level.
La Paz has one of the most unique public transportation systems in the world. Since the steep terrain is unsuitable for a subway system and the roads are notoriously jammed, Bolivians came up with the crazy idea of building a system of cable cars on top of the city. In 2014, the first three lines were opened and today, there are already ten. We actually found Mi Teleférico, made in Austria with the cars made in Switzerland, a fantastic way of getting around the city. It is cheap, fast and offers spectacular views over La Paz.
We spent one of our three days in La Paz on a day trip to Tiwanaku, where we visited the ruins of the Tiwanaku culture. The way there was half of the fun, as we shared the local bus with many Bolivians dressed in traditional colorful clothing and eager to talk to us in Spanish. Few other people were there when we visited, even though the site was fascinating. Not much is known about the Tiwanaku culture, but the site we visited was built around the 8th century, long before the Inca culture emerged. Their stonework is fascinating, with cuts and smooth surfaces in laser-precision. To this day it is not known how they managed to attain such precision.
Another interesting visit was the one to the La Paz cemetery. The relation of Bolivians with the dead is very interesting. They visit the graves of loved ones very often until five years after the death. After that, they stop visiting and try to forget about the person, as only in this way, the soul can move on to the next world. There is also a large black market for human skulls, called ñatitas. Many Bolivians keep a ñatita in their house for protection from bad spirits. Skulls of former doctors and lawyers are especially valuable. The La Paz cemetery is also an open art gallery, with lots of interesting death-related paintings on the walls.
There is lots of indigenous culture to explore in La Paz. For example the witches markets, were dead baby llamas, llama fetuses and many different herbs are sold. All for the purpose of making offerings to Pachamama, the main god of the indigenous. These shops are not just there for tourists, but are actually part of the local customs. Throughout La Paz, traditionally clothed women can be seen. The Cholitas, as they are called, wear many layers of colorful skirts and rugs and the characteristic small Charlie Chaplin hat. One evening, we went to see the Cholita wrestling show, though that was quite a touristy affair.
We did not have very high expectations for La Paz and were very positively surprised by the city and by Bolivia in general. Culturally, it is a fascinating place and the landscapes in Bolivia are beautiful too. You can also travel very comfortably here. There are good buses, hotels and restaurants and everything is very cheap.