We just passed through La Paz, Bolivia’s capital city, between 2 buses on our way to Cochabamba, having to catch up some time. In the few hours we spent in La Paz, it seemed like quite a vibrant city, rich in culture and street art, with people outside everywhere, very involded in their neighbourhood activities. We had also heard about the surrounds from other tourists: volcano and glacier climbing, Inca ruins and the tragically famous ‘Death Road’, the most dangerous in the world, that people now cycle down, for fun!
Unfortunately, it was Christmas day when we were there, so despite the animation on the central plaza where the government buildings are located, we didn’t find a Bolivian restaurant that was open, having to resort to a ‘Chifa’ (you can always count on chinese restaurants) for our Christmas meal!
We chose to spend a few days in Cochabamba, a smaller town further south from La Paz, to chill a bit and work on our blog. We appreciated the relaxed atmosphere as we wandered through the streets, eating cheap street food, enjoying colourful street art and checking out a local student football match on the university sports grounds.
We visited its famous Cristo de la Concordia statue which stands 34m high, higher than the Corcovado in Rio, on a hill overlooking the city and its large lake. The cable car was closed so we had no other option than to climb up the hard way in the scortching heat, rewarding ourselves with ice-creams and a great view on top. This is when we were approached by an agent from ‘Interpol’ (supposed to be some kind of Bolivian police officer, but he wasn’t in uniform which is suspicious), warning us not to walk down the way we came up because the path was notorious for its gun-point robberies. He assured us we had to take a taxi instead. Not wanting to spend money on a taxi, we walked, or rather ran down in full paranoia mode, suspecting all the people coming up or overtaking us! We got through fine and noticed the taxi stand at the bottom was located right next to the ‘Interpol’ sign, which convinced us that the 2 were in cahoots to get tourists to pay for taxis!
We also caught up on a little shopping at Cochabamba’s street market, said to be the biggest in South America, which seemed very likely. It was like a city in the city, total chaos, with vehicles and buses running through the narrow lanes between the stalls, people everywhere calling at eachother, food, live animals, clothes, electronics, instruments, hardware, fabric, home appliances, in no particular order. You name it, you could find it! Despite the noise and chaos, we didn’t feel targeted or opressed like in Peruvian street markets when we were constantly called at and made to feel guilty about bargaining or not buying stuff.
On our last night in Cochabamba, we got to meet our first locals, a couple of young parents: Osmar and Rosmyn. We were having a very tasty italian meal in a greek slash italian restaurant slash bar close to our hostel. The music and atmosphere was great. Osmar was sitting on his own at the only free table, working on finishing his jug of pink cocktail. We get chatting about travelling, Bolivia, politics (Bolivians are very interested in politics), and family-life, very happy to understand and be understood (more or less) and get a local’s perspective on the country we were discovering. In comes Rosmyn to take him home (the kids are waiting!). But this doesn’t work as she eventually sits down to help him drink, and they end up ordering another jug, and beers for us! We had a great evening chatting about all sorts of things, planning our next outing to see local music bands, and were very touched by their sincerity and generosity and have remained good friends since.
We especially chose Cochabamba for its proximity to the inaccessible Torotoro National Park which we would visit in 2 days, with an ecclectic group of young travellers we met at the hostel.