Man, I really struggled in Bolivia. Being sick the entire time, terrifying transportation experiences, and more rude locals than I’d met in all of South America up to that point certainly didn’t help. After having a glorious fairy-tale time in Peru, I decided to cross the border and give Bolivia a try. It can’t be that much different, can it?
After a couple of underwhelming nights at Copacabana and Isla del Sol (highly dampened by finding out Trump was elected president), we arrived in La Paz and kind of just got dropped off on a random street with no idea where to go. It was pouring and two entire buses full of lost gringos just emptied out onto an extremely narrow street.
Aside from a 3-day journey through the Uyuni Salt Flats and beyond, that was the beginning of a two-week prison sentence in La Paz. I did as much exploring as I could, despite being stricken with that awful food poisoning, but couldn’t find much that I really fell in love with. The food paled in comparison to what I grew accustomed to in Peru, and with my stomach not doing me any favors, I had to resort to Subway and Burger King more often than I would have liked. The nightlife was weaker than you’d expect for a big city. The transportation and infrastructure made for hell-ish adventures whenever you wanted to venture off somewhere further than walking distance. When the time came for me to leave, I couldn’t even leave La Paz because of a bus driver strike. I was probably going crazy at that point and actually feeling like I was held prisoner in a city I hated did not leave me with a good lasting impression for La Paz.
But man, if you love traveling and you love thrusting yourself into chaos, La Paz is one hell of a place to do it. From watching women’s wrestling in the slums of El Alto to walking past dried llama fetuses at the witches’ market, La Paz has some shit that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. It’s as full and immersive of a cultural experience as you can expect in South America. Unlike other big cities with mixed reputations in South America like Sao Paulo, Bogota, or Lima, La Paz doesn’t really have a particularly posh, upscale region of the city to escape to if you feel uncomfortable. Basically, you’re going to have to accept La Paz and get used to it or else you are going to have a bad time if you expect La Paz to cater to your expectations.
You’ll typically remember the good parts about a trip and the bad parts eventually stop standing out. This is especially true when I’m looking through old pictures of La Paz. I start forgetting the trials and tribulations I had to endure to take that picture and just remember being in that moment. The hour-long ride in a packed colectivo through congested streets where I could barely breath to get to Valle de la Luna is overshadowed by revisiting those crazy moon-like formations just outside of La Paz. The same goes for those sketchy hikes through questionable neighborhoods I undertook to find the best 360-degree views of La Paz. Having food poisoning the entirety of my time in La Paz defeinitely did not help, but over a year later, the severity of that bout becomes just another misadventure. I still don’t plan on eating any Bolivian food anytime soon, though.
Yes, I think La Paz is still lacking in a lot of aspects that I personally like in a city, but I’m beginning to see what people find so great about it. I reunited with a friend in Mexico who I went to Bolivia with and we met a girl who loved La Paz so much that her and her boyfriend spent Christmas there. We both found it odd because neither of us were fond of La Paz, and that’s putting it nicely. It’s a city that you definitely have to visit while you’re traveling through South America, but voluntarily choosing to spend Christmas there? Strange. I had to spend my Thanksgiving in La Paz before hopping on a bus back to Peru, but trust me, that was not because I wanted to.
La Paz is a crazy city, and the more I travel, the more I realize that every single city is way more than just black and white. It’s just as hard to flat out say you despise a city as it is to fall completely in love with everything about a city. La Paz, I apologize for that previous rant I wrote about how much I hated you. I’m beginning to warm up to my time with you, and who knows, maybe I’ll come back someday wiser and with a stronger stomach.