La Paz – a city so close to the sky that it’s hard to breathe

La Paz is high, very high. The rich southern suburbs are on 3200 m while El Alto, which became an independent city in 1985, is situated on 4100 m. El Alto’s (mainly indigenous) inhabitants cannot afford to live in the lower, “warmer” parts of La Paz. Because of the upland region it is rather cold. At this time of the year the temperature in El Alto ranges between an average high of 14° C and a low of 2° C. The highest average is 4-15°C! La Paz’s average maximum is between 6-19°C. The lower, the warmer – and the wealthier.

So I had to unpack my long John’s once again. They, however, had surrendered a while ago in that the elastic waistband gave up so that I had to tuck them into my trousers, a baggy pant effect was nevertheless to occur soon thereafter…

La Paz is a very vibrant city and Laura and I decided to celebrate the last night before she left, a Thursday. The only parties outside a weekend take place at the party hostels. So we joined the Loki crowd at midnight. The quick consumption of beer didn’t quite help to make us feel less like grandmothers. In spite of that and the terrible music (90s boy group songs!!) we hit the dancefloor. But La Paz teaches you to dance slow! Jumping up and down three times made my lungs burst! This close to the sky it’s simply hard to breathe!

During the day we had toured the city center and El Alto with Red Cap Walking tours, a great experience! The newest coup of president Evo Morales is the construction of three cable cars (the red, the yellow and the green one, following the colours of Bolivia’s official flag). Swiss-made, of course. They were finished in the past 3-9 months and not only provide great views, but most of all a very fast means to travel between La Paz and El Alto. The traffic is bad. And because the city is situated within a basin the streets wind up in serpentines and there are places in which it is impossible to build a street at all. The Cable cars not only reduce traffic, but also help El Alto inhabitants to commute to and from the south, where many work as househelps, much faster.

Bolivians are very proud of the (alledged) fact that they have the largest percentage of indigenous people in all of South America. But their Aymara president seems to be a lot less popular than 12 years ago when he first came into power, despite of all the social programs that he introduced. Possibly because he decided that he needed his own presidential plane. Or because of the immense corruption that still dictates everyday life. Or the general alcohol and drug problems. Or the strong bonds with Venezuela and Cuba. Or the concentration of power and strong doubts with regard to his victory in the last elections. Or maybe even because of the fact that Morales became an active professional football player in 2014, playing in Bolivia’s first league – aside from his easy-peasy job as president.

I don’t think that this is the reason why Bolivians appear unfriendly and unhappy, though. Unlike all their neighbours they rarely smile or laugh. They come along as arrogant and contemptuous. I was almost relieved to see them gather around the street comedian at Plaza de San Francisco and to actually hear and see them laugh!

Here are some photos taken during the walking tour:

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