La Paz

30 November 2008, La Paz, Bolivia
Just returned from a fantastic week or so in the rainforest to La Paz and heading off to Potosi, the highest altitude city in the world. It was once one of the richest, biggest cities in the world, due to its silver mines, and is now one of the poorest.

La Paz is an amazing city. It's strange being in a bustling, overpopulated town built at such high altitude in such an improbable location. You look down the bustling streets with their major banks and you can see a Glacier at the end of them. It's 3,600 metres above sea level and you can really feel the altitude.

Just outside the city is Valle de la Luna, the badlands. The rock formations are like being in a Dali painting! It is a totally surreal landscape where rain has washed away parts of the rock and corroded it into turrets. There are bright red sandy bits of rock and also some white so it's really striking. The red rock reminded me of home in Devon especially as we took some saltenyas (Bolivian pasties) and some Bolivian fudge and had a picnic there. We just needed a cream tea to feel right at home!

We visited the witches market (a walk-by not a proper visit) which has aborted llama foetuses a-plenty, dried toads, jaguar skins hanging up, various spells and potions and - rather charmingly - human fat, amongst a multitude of rumoured much darker things, including children's bones. But we didn't investigate that far!!

Our first night was spent in gringo tourist hell, the Adventure Brew Hostel, overpriced and full of drunk partying young people (we are the oldest people we've met bar a couple from Brighton). They include a free beer in the room price and a beer spa - literally bathing in beer! also trips to watch Bolivian women wrestlers - you get the picture... The staff were arrogant and rude and we were delighted to find feedback forms in the rooms for the first time. However they were totally patronising with options ranging from 'crap' to 'wicked' and obviously aimed at a certain type of young traveller.

It was definitely not for us so we found an amazing crumbly old colonial hotel next to the cathedral called Hotel Torrino. Here we were greeted by a gaggle of Bolivian women in the foyer in their stripy shawls and bowler hats having some kind of women's meeting. They all laughed at us and shouted chicas!! hola gringitas!!

It has shutters and balconies, really rambling and quirky and a quarter the price of the cringy Brew hostel. It really is (very) faded colonial grandeur, with a massive central courtyard full of old statues and columns. The rest is like a labyrinth of corridors and rooms with rickety colonial furniture. Quirky, however at night time, it turned into how I imagine Guillermo Del Torro's 'The Orphanage' to be and I completely freaked out wandering down the creepy abandoned corridors to go to the loo in the night. Back into our little room with our beds all in a row, just like in an orphanage, I spent the night watching for ghosts in the mirror of the wonky dark wood old wardrobe with the shaft of light coming through the equally wonky shutters! Must be the altitude!

The streets are a comedy, full of what we initially thought were some kind of terrorists with lads with balaclavas on following you and shouting. We discovered they are the local shoe shine boys who wear the balaclavas to avoid the pollution as they wander the streets. There are also people dressed as Zebras who wear advertisments on their backs and help blind people across the street! There are street vendors wandering round with wheelbarrows heaped high with giant popcorn - the corn kernels are much bigger here.

There are also peaceful protestors everywhere - groups of women, students, miners etc. flanked by military, who all look about 12 years old, carrying massive guns and wearing combat fatigues. The protestors seem to be having a lovely time, almost like an excuse for a get together, it seems to be very much part of Bolivian life. However, the pollution is unbelievable!! The brilliant old dodge buses painted in bright colours chuff out ridiculous smog. I don't think emissions testing is a priority in Bolivia!!

Got to go now but will write up about the jungle when I can get to another internet cafe!!

All the best, love Kate xx