La Paz is one of those places that every traveller must have great expectations about. In fact, for me it seemed like one of those places that is too exotic to visit, for fear that it could never live up to expectations.
As it turns out, the image I had built up in my head and the reality I experienced bore almost no resemblance to each other at all. But on reflection, I´d be hard pushed to say which is the more bizarre, more exotic and more like the South America that I came on this trip to see. For example, I can´t imagine going anywhere else and seeing two young women walking a wolf through the city centre - wish I´d gotten a photo of that one.Bolivian women in traditional dress. This was no show for tourists, but typical attire for married women in Bolivia. Single women can be recognised by the lack of bowler hats and pleats in their skirts.
Our first night in La Paz was Hogmanay. The evening started with my first Christmas dinner of the festive season, which made me feel a bit homesick, and was quickly followed by mojitos, vodka-redbulls and champagne, which just made me feel a bit sick.
At the bells, homemade firecrackers were set off in the street and I´d swear I could hear the sound of rifle-fire in the distance.
Our guide takes us to the traditional markets in La Paz. The odd looking collection of objects over the guide´s right shoulder are llama foetuses. These are still believed to bring good fortune and the residents of La Paz will purchase one to ensure success in new jobs, business contracts, houses and other ventures.
Ne´erday 2007 in La Paz was a bright and sunny one. After dancing to Bolivian music until 4am I didn´t quite have the presence of mind to take appropriate precautions (steady!) and subsequently suffered sunburn on New Years Day for the first time.
As a visitor, I loved La Paz. But it´s clearly not a happy place for all. Our city tour showed up the huge differences between the lives of the rich - gated residential areas, $1m houses, shopping malls - and the poor. A large percentage of children in La Paz are forced to work each day from the age of 5, often earning more than their parents, for whom a wage of $2-3 per day is common.
Our city tour ended in the main square, where bullet-holes riddle buildings on opposite sides of the plaza. This is evidence of the last time political strife turned to violence in Bolivia, an occasion on which the army and police force fought against each other for control of the country. It was a shock to learn that this wasn´t the 60s or 70s but in 2003. Since then there has been major political upheaval in Bolivia. And electoral success for the left has brought stability and the promise of a better deal for Bolivia´s poor. But as I saw in Belize progress can be painfully slow and a rich majority with huge business interests and influence are waiting in their high security suburbs for the opportunity to move back into power.
As our tour was ending, my deep political insight and photogenic qualities (...) were obviously recognised by reporters from Bolivian tv, who approached me on the street for an interview on the merits of the government´s proposed visa system for foreigners. After embarrassing myself in Spanish for a few moments, the reporter decided to switch to English and we started off again! I think I gave a fairly good account of myself, though I´d like to have seen how much was lost in translation...Shell-shocked Scottish correspondent in Bolivia relaxes in local hostelry.
For those of you with an extremely large satellite dish (Fiona - does the beeb pick up this sort of thing?), you need to switch to Channel 27 on Bolivian TV.