La Paz

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Iíve been four times to Bolivia. The First time was in 1992, as part of a journey through Bolivia, a small part of Brazil, and Paraguay, for six weeks. The second time was in 1993, to marry my Bolivian better half. The third time in 1999 to show my newborn boy to his family, and in 2006 to show off with my second boy as well.

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Anecdote

End of November, my employer told me that I had to take all the holidays I build up in three years as a contractor. I was not allowed to move these holidays to the next year. Thank you very much. Six weeks, to spend mainly in January. So letís go south, where at least itís summer in December. Immediately I thought about South America, as Iím not that attracted by Africa, and Australia was way too expensive. Six weeks arenít that long for a journey, so I had to concentrate on one country. Friends of mine advised Bolivia, and I even got an invitation to a family in La Paz. I left Holland on December 23, and arrived on December 24. Although is was summer, it wasnít hot at all. My friends forgot to mention that La Paz is on 4 kilometers altitude.


The altitude got me as soon as I arrived at the airport. Small dots were circling in front of my eyes. When I put my 24 k backpack on, the dots became more distinct. Letís take it easy here. After a while I took a taxi to a cheap hotel in the city center. Just climbing the stairs was already a breath-taking experience. After some huffing and puffing I dialled the number of the family who invited me, to get over with that, as I was considering to move to the lowlands. A English speaking lady collected me at the hotel, and I was invited to the Christmas dinner. Ay, I didnít consider Christmas, but in South America, December 24 is the day.

The party was really nice, good food and drinks, and one girl even bought me a present. Utterly embarrassed I hid behind my aura of weird gringo (my speciality). But these were easy going folks. My Spanish was sub zero, but some family members spoke French, some German and others English, all of which I ďmasterĒ to some degree. So lots of conversations, and lots of drinks. It continued till late that night, and I was invited for a barbeque the next day, outside of town. That sounds like a good plan.

The next day I had to rise early from my coma, as the time shift and the alcohol really confused my day and night rythme. The lord of the house was already waiting at the bus stop, and we waited a long long time before the ladies arrived, chatting without any sense of hurry. We arrived at a grass field with some kind of party center. The barbeque was made by the familyís grand chef, there was nice music and loads of drinks, from which I should definitely mention the cocktails (chufflay). As I mention in my tips for travellers, I knew I should really NOT drink when having altitude sickness, but the family insisted, my principles were still reclining, and my throat had no issues. To their great joy, the family taught me to do some local dances, like the queca. A delicate dance in which the man has to tease the girl with a waving handkerchief. Lots of steps and bending elegantly, at least when you know how to do this. Each song took about fifteen minutes, with a lots of small breaks in the middle. At each break someone would run to the dancers, with a shot of hard liquor, which had be thrown in, in one gulp. With that many breaks, you really hit it.

The party and barbeque continued till sunset, and like we say in Holland: I was waiting for the man with the hammer. He didnít show up, probably altitude sickness, too. Some die hards proposed to continue the party at their home. Why not, and I couldnít remember the Spanish word for ďnoĒ anyway.

The party at this beautiful house was great. The man knew how to play guitar, and his wife was a great singer who knew how to put a lot of feelings in her songs. More chufflays, and also Chivas Regal. Later in the hotel I started to feel slightly uncomfortable. Must have picked up malaria somewhere.


I told the family my plans about going south, but they knew a few marvellous spots in the neighbourhood. With a few of them I took a taxi to Tihuanacu, about 90 miles west. This is an old religious center from the times before the Incas. Later I went with the family to the beautiful village of Coroico, in the subtropical part called the Yungas.


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