The two smacks that La Paz gives you when you arrive in Bolivia
Getting lost in the heart of La Paz has its price: get ready to face chaotic traffic and an inevitable altitude sickness. Of course, it will be worth it.
Don't expect a "peaceful" welcome © Getty Images
“Beware of altitude sickness. You'll be tired all day, you'll lack strength. Chew coca leaf, they are what they do. Get ready for the headache. ”
If you are going to visit Bolivia, who has already been will not stop warning you about altitude sickness; it's reasonable if you land at 4061 meters above sea level. But it's not the only thing you're going to stumble into Peace.
Until you set foot on the ground, your only fear and concern is health. You leave the plane without haste, even if the plane has been delayed. If there are stairs, calmer still.
Vans dominate La Paz roads © Getty Images
You ask for a taxi taking a deep breath, trying to detect that that air has less oxygen than the count. You don't notice much, but you have already been told that it is normal, that the worst begins tomorrow. And, suddenly, you realize.
You are in the middle of a pack of cars and vans without order or concert, in a winding highway without lanes In which you are sure you will have an accident.
The overtaking is a game of chance and the accelerations the only trick to avoid that inevitable accident. Meanwhile, your driver shows no signs of nervousness or worry. What is this? Welcome to La Paz.
India is famous. You see thousands and thousands of photos of giant avenues full of motorcycles and cars in every way and directions. La Paz does not have large avenues, but what if It has circulatory chaos, and not just cars, also of people. The cholitas take away prominence to this urban fauna.
What they know as “Tourist center” is a grid of streets in which cars circulate in one direction and pedestrians where they can.
The sidewalks are used as shop windows and it is where the cholitas are located for, day by day, offer the products they sell while they breastfeed their son, they eat and see life pass at a speed that few would endure.
The typical La Paz minibus © Alamy
Much of the blame for this chaos they have the Van's or minibuses, as they call them there. They are Import vans, most Asian, and in some there is evidence of the Korean or Japanese company to which they belonged. Almost all are from Japanese manufacturers and They have seats from end to end.
Fit three people per row and don't expect to go baggy, even on a journey of several hundred kilometers. This is the most used public transport in La Paz.
Without official stops, you have to look at signs that the driver puts on the windshield To know where it is going, and if it suits you, you open the door and get on.
Depending on the model they can fit up to 12 people and, yes, two go with the driver, who is not baggy either.
When you arrive at your destination, simply you say "I get down here" and the go will stop by the sidewalk, wherever and annoys whomever it bothers; the custom has got anyone to disturb this maneuver.
This chaos also makes you agile, with what that stop barely lasts five seconds. You pay cash on departure, there are no cards or monthly passes; Two Bolivians and out.
Minibus through the streets of La Paz © Getty Images
It's crazy, because they look like private vans, but they are everywhere and you don't have to be a scientist to realize what they mean More than half of the traffic jam problem in La Paz.
Less surprising but more bizarre are the minibuses, which by name seem smaller than minibuses, but are like the typical ones repainted American school buses for the occasion. I doubt there is any manufactured later than the 90s
The sidewalks of downtown La Paz are the closest thing to strolling through downtown Madrid at Christmas, only all the time. They are narrow because the space of the cars is maximized (in reality of the Van's, which cars are few; motorcycles, almost none) and in them are located the products that are sold in the shops as an urban showcase and the street vendor cholitas.
To this we must add that traffic chaos moves to pedestrians. Conclusion: don't stop, you always have to move.
The people of La Paz are a mixture of Sevillian who knows how to get out of a noise of Easter week without pushing anyone and those Madrid people or from Barcelona who are in a hurry all the time. Nobody pushes you, they always dodge you. It is easy to adapt and get hooked. Go, dodge, walk, dodge, but don't stop dry.
Crossing the street is the ultimate adventure. Changing the sidewalk is a task that you know will end your life, or at least with a visit to the nearest hospital.
The sidewalks of La Paz are the showcase of shops © Alamy
Circulatory chaos forces vehicles not to roll at high speed. It is a mass of vehicles that moves in a compact way through the city. A traffic jam that doesn't stop but doesn't stop either.
Pedestrian crossing or not, the procedure is the same: who goes first, has preference. Take courage and pull forward, if you reach the intersection with the car before him, It will stop without beating or insulting you, it works like this.
A centimeter from your leg, but it will stop. If you're scared and braking dry, maybe the car on another lane runs over you, because if you hadn't stopped, it would have happened. First you do it with a sense, and then with the opposite.
It is fascinating to check the management of the spaces that La Paz drivers have. Despite this chaos, they are not altered and rare is the horn that is heard.
It is not casual: Van's They use the horn to warn of their presence and convenience. If you stand in the middle of a sidewalk, you expect a go, there is no other.
There are two crucial points to admire this dynamic: the crossing between Murillo and Santa Cruz streets and the Student Square.
Chaotic and agile at the same time, this is the traffic in La Paz © Getty Images
The first is a perpendicular crossing of streets, say, with two lanes each, and the second is a roundabout at the exit of the tourist center of La Paz. In the corner of Murillo is concentrated many people who will catch Van's To another point in the city.
No official stops, La Paz usually congregate in the same place so that the van does not have to stop so many times.
With barely room for two of these cars, a lane is constantly occupied by a stop picking up or dropping passengers, while on the other side they circulate normally.
The crossing is not signposted with traffic lights, so that the law of "who comes first, has the preference" is fulfilled strictly, for pedestrians and for vehicles. It is a circus. The Student Square is another roll.
If we are already in Spain at a roundabout, this is a real show. Vehicles enter and move inch by inch, in the direction they go and following the same law of preference that prevails at crossings.
The first time you get to it you think you're going to be stuck for fifteen minutes but not, chaos causes the traffic jam to flow. Is incredible.
As you walk along the crowded sidewalks of products and people, you successfully cross the street and try to take a picture, the psychosis of altitude sickness has passed.
Peace is a great cost © Alamy
You will suffer, yes, but it is neither so serious nor the trip conditions you. La Paz is not a flat city, it has slopes and stairs that leave you breathless, literally and metaphorically.
You are not the only one, the people of La Paz will not climb much faster than you, rest assured. Lack of oxygen affects everyone without exception. La Paz deserves more days of visit than are normally dedicated as a mere link to the Uyuni salt flats or the Potosí mines.
There is a sense of security uncommon in other South American countries. Don't expect smiles, but yes a people conscious and proud of their roots, that opens the door of an ancient culture to those who are willing to go through it.