Arriving on the bus after our 12hr journey from Cusco, plus 2.5hrs queuing to get across the border from Peru, we are amazed by the scale of the city approaching. It feels like we are in a bowl, a sprawling city between mountains. The major mountain (Illampu) is snow capped and dominates the southern skyline of the city with impressive awe.
We traveled with the Brazilian couple (Erika and Ronaldo) from Ollantaytambo and befriended a lovely aussie guy (Ross) in the border crossing queue. So now we are a party of 5 and all in need of a beer. The Brazilians have already passed through La Paz once so were able to recommend a hostel (this echoed several other peoples recommendations in previous conversations), so we all pile into a taxi and headed to the place. Wild Rovers Hostel.
Wild Rovers Hostel has been dubbed a ´party hostel´ and is home to the highest Irish pub in the world. We guessed it would be rude not to experience this for a couple of days, with the intention of downgrading to a quieter and cheaper hotel for the remainder of our time in La Paz. Being ahead of schedule by missing out Puno and Copacobana, we were in no rush and looking foward to getting stuck into city life for a little while at least and taking part in the notorious party scene of La Paz.
So, we all got a dorm room together (10 beds so shared with 5 randoms too) and immediately headed to the bar. The rucksacks had been thrown on to our designated bed, with hardly a crease in the sheet. A beer was definitely in order after a long and rather tedious journey and we needed to make sure that we had at least 5 each to make up for it over the course of the remaining day and night.
It has to be said that the rest of the afternoon was not packed with sightseeing and Bolivian culture. We thought that it could wait until tomorrow. In the meanwhile we would get accustomed to our new home and local. The bar was full of young 20somethings traveling…all looking bleary eyed and hanging off the bar from the night before. It seemed like people came to La Paz for a party more than the culture to be honest. Nevertheless, it was a fun afternoon and a novelty for Al and I. This is not our usual travel ethic, so it was quite a change to be surrounded by Irish, British, Americans, South Africans, Brazilians…. the list goes on. By late afternoon, Al was playing pool the Ross and I was chatting to some of the bar staff, and before long I had been offered a job working behind the bar! It was definitely a tempting offer: free accommodation, half price meals (all British pub food) and I am sure many free drinks. However, I decided to think the offer over, sober the next day…
The afternoon blurred in to evening and Erika and I hit the sack, leaving the boys in the bar. I woke up at 4am to realise that the boys were still up and the rucksacks unmoved from their bunks. Hmmm, I thought I would just check they were all good…but the bar was closed and no one around apart from a few straggler bar staff who informed me that everyone had gone to a club down the road. I went back to bed comforted that they were all together and hadn´t gone very far.
The next morning arrived, and only Ronaldo was in bed. He had been suffering from a bad stomach ever since we had met him, so I this was his reason for finally getting to bed. However, as for Al and Ross, they were not back, and at 9am, I was a little concerned for them out in the wilderness of La Paz, especially considering the stories of kidnapping and aggressive robbery etc. This place is reputedly the wild west of South America, people have little care for others and tend to dislike gringos. So, our first night in Bolivia, and they were still out somewhere. So Erika and I followed Ronaldo to retrace his path to the club that he told us they went to, called Route 36, which is a notorious club internationally and on the traveling trail, controlled by the police and known for changing locations due to it´s dubious underground reputation. It is often hard to find and you need to know where it is and how to get in. Shady does not describe it, dull, dark inside, large security guards watching every move, mirrors everywhere and lots of people drug-fuelled with coca derivatives. Exactly why Al said he wanted to go before we reached la Paz, to experience the most notorious club in the world. The place looked more like an apartment block to me. Hilariously, as we approached the apartment door, Al and Ross staggered out of it. I think they were pretty shocked to see me standing there!
It turned out that this was a very famous club in La Paz, and Al bleary eyed began to recount the tales of the night I had clearly missed out on. He got an unenthusiastic Dj to play European trance along with some psytrance. He even got people up on the dance floor, which according to the Dj doesn’t usually happen due to people rolling around drunk or high on cocaine, hence his lack of enthusiasm playing music. Al also met a guy called Babo from Belgium, in his 40s, who had said to Al that he needed to get out of the Wild Rover as it was part of the gringo mafia and get to the real La Paz in a much better hotel down the road. Babo also knew of a good psytrance night that he had invited Al along to the following night. It all sounded great, and with a new contact we were set for the next stage of our La Paz journey.
With the 9am bedtime, Al and Ross passed out exhausted. I was keen to see La Paz and so I left them to it to enjoy exploring the new place. In search of the town centre I turned right instead of left out of the hostel, which turned out to be a nice walk in itself with some stunning views of the city. Wow. I have never been in a city like this with its landscape rolling up on the side of the bowl that encompassed it, all in uniform red brick. I eventually found the main street and fell into a cafe for a large black coffee and a saltena (a bit like an empanada but with more gravy).
Beyond the cafe, I found the beginning of the market area of the city. It wound through cobbled streets, getting steeper and steeper. I ended up doing a huge loop through more markets and ending up back at the hostel. The markets amazed me. Not only was there absolutely anything and everything, they were organised by street. I walked down one street FULL of pipes and plumbing stuff. Stalls literally bursting at the seems with copper pipes, rubber tubing, you name it, they had it. Nearing the end of my cruise through the market streets I found the notorious witches market. The stalls were full of equipment for witch craft. This included dried Llamma foetuses, and many other unidentifiable weird objects, sweets, bottles of beer and clay blocks that carried signs to the spirits.
I arrived back at the hostel to find a tired boyfriend, so I just decided to chill for the remainder of the day. Al had it in his head that he needed to feel better in time to meet with Babo and go to this psytrance night. Well, it got to 6pm and Al agreed to try eating dinner and have a beer. This unfortunately did not pan out for him at all. Who would have thought bangers and mash wouldn’t have been the remedy?? Apparently not. The psytrance night and meeting Babo was off, Al and Ross were shadows of their former selves. Erika was having similar problems with Ronaldo, who had been spending the day resurfacing from sleep intermittently all day too. So with the boys packed off to bed, Erika and I enjoyed a night together. It also conveniently happened to be ladies night, which for Erika was fine as she went to bed earlier than me (she had a paragliding trip the next morning). For me on the other hand, I went to bed rather later after a few free ladies shots. I found Al in bed and apparently breathed horrid alcohol breath on him, fell asleep in his bed and nicked all his covers and pillow. OOPS. Oh well, were were definitely level peggings the next day, even though it was my turn to suffer.. After day 2 we were out of synch, but certainly living the expectation of the party spirit.
We still managed a day of exploring La Paz together. I showed him the markets where we picked up a really nice alpaca poncho for him. Necessary for keeping warm for his trip to the Antarctic! That afternoon we ran back to the hostel to say goodbye to Erika, Ronaldo and Ros who were all heading out of La Paz. We accompanied Ross some of the way to the bus stop where we stumbled across another market area. This was full was little juice stalls and breakfast and lunch stands, rows upon rows of juice stalls followed by lunch stalls, followed by meat stalls all neatly clumped together, similar to the arrangement of the markets and shops in La Paz. We enjoyed mooching around these for some time together, before saying our final goodbyes.
Al and I decided to find the hotel Babo had recommended (called Milton), and possibly find the man himself too. Al felt pretty bad for not making it to the psytrance night, as he had shaken hands on it and gave his word. The hotel itself seemed good enough with a roof terrace and a fantastic view. Babo was not in, so we headed to a bar, Blue Note, near by for a glass of Bolivian red. No sooner than our first glass, Babo walked in. He was a small skinny man who was clearly into his heavy rock music and looked pale from a fair amount of bodily abuse. We enjoyed chatting to him for sometime. He and Al had already touched on it the other night, but it turns out he had traveled India for a good 10years and had many stories to tell and share with us about his total of around 25 years of traveling all over the world. It would have been quite easy to stay there the whole evening chatting, but we decided to make the most of our Irish bar for one last night, before moving to Milton the next day.
that evening we had a fun time together, especially as it was our first together in La Paz! Yet it soon became apparent just how young and closed minded a lot of Wild Rover residents were. As Al put it later, it felt like being back at uni. People were a bit naive (even racist at times) and just there to get absolutely trashed and try to get laid. At one point a guy tried to chat me up right in front of Al despite knowing he was my boyfriend. Al was also threatened with being ´downed´by an Irish guy because he was English and that “in his town everyone hates the British and wants to kill them”. Despite Al agreeing with a lot of what was said and the guy agreeing it was not Al´s fault he still wanted to “do him”. Later the same guy started a fight with his own friend.
It was a real alternative cultural experience watching people from all different nationalities coming together, alcohol fuelled and watching the different approaches of women and men coming together with their different unwritten rules. American girls bending over the pool tables and then see if anyone was watching, or sitting at a table being aloof. Israeli guys moving from one girl to the next with each rejection (apparently it is a numbers game).
Either way, we managed to enjoy our last night there talking lots of different people. This lasting impression of the type of travellers that were staying at the hostel highlighted our needs to escape and made us realise this was fun for a while, but not our scene. This awakening was combined with a terrible nights sleep. Snoring on the most abusive level coming from the bed next to ours, which kept Al up all night and led him to throwing all the guys stuff over him over the course of the night. Finally we cracked and departed the place early at 6am, tired and hungover again. We made our way to Milton, checked in to the room opposite Babo and finally went to sleep with the sun rise.