Desert Vibes

Desert Vibes
Photo: Ben Clark

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Welcome to La Paz, Bolivia


After the “Getting to La Paz, Bolivia” Ordeal (see previous post) I made my way through the airport in La Paz towards Customs, Passport Control, etc. I had decided to wait and get my tourist visa upon arrival in Bolivia, which made me somewhat nervous as I didn’t want to have my visa application rejected and be deported. I went to the visa desk and started pulling out all of the documents the Bolivian embassy’s website says are required: visa application, $135 US, copy of passport, copy of yellow fever vaccination card, passport photos, copy of bank statement, hotel reservation, proof of on-going travel out of Bolivia, and a form giving them rights to my first-born child…The guy stops me before I can get all of the documents out and says that the visa application form and the $135 US are the only things he needs. I get my tourist visa and walk through the rest of the check points without a problem. I’m now in La Paz, Bolivia…That was easy enough. 

As I leave the airport I’m confronted by a man wondering if I need a taxi. I follow him out to his car and look it over to try to determine if the guy really is a taxi driver. I had read several stories of taxis kidnapping tourist, etc., etc… I was in La Paz for all of 30 minutes at this point and I already had to decide whether or not to potentially risk getting kidnapped. I like living on the edge so I decided to go with it. Plus the guy was driving a beat-up Geo Prizm with the words taxi affixed in some make-shift way, so I knew he was legit. 

The drive from El Alto (a suburb where the airport is located) to La Paz isn’t exactly the most scenic. The area is poor, very poor. The cab ride was rather uneventful, with the exception of wondering when my potential kidnapping/robbing would occur. Eventually the driver pulled into a pretty ghetto looking area and informed me that we had arrived at my hostel. “You’re shitting me” was my initial reaction. I was hesitant to get out of the car for fear he would speed off and I would be abducted. I finally saw a door open and some backpacker looking people emerge, which put my mind at ease a little. I paid him 100 Bolivianos (the price we agreed on), said thanks, and went into the hostel. Out of curiosity, I asked the hostel employee how much the taxi fare should have been. I was told to pay no more than 50 Bolivianos. Fuck! I just paid double (granted it was only like $14). I found out very early that there are two prices in Bolivia: the local price and the gringo/tourist price. 

The hostel bar is pretty crazy upon my arrival. It’s a little after midnight on Saturday night. Everything in me says to just call it a night since I had just arrived at 13,000 feet elevation from sea level. Alcohol is not a good thing when you’re trying to acclimatize to elevation. I decided to rule out the voice of reason and head up to the bar. Several liters of beer and shots later, the bar is shutting down and everyone is moving on to the Blue House to dance the night away. I decide to move on with everyone and proceed to drink much, much more. Most of the night is an awful blur of booze, black lights, electronic music, drunken dancing, and many things which I just can’t seem to remember. About 6 AM we finally decided to call it a night. 

I spent the entire next day (until 9 PM, I believe) lying in bed, vomiting violently until there was nothing else left to vomit, and then vomiting some more. I’m not sure if it was the alcohol, the elevation, or a combination of both, but I was miserable all day long. When I finally did get my ass out of bed I downed several glasses of coca tea, which seemed to help considerably. Around 10 PM I finally decided that I could maybe eat something without throwing it back up. I joined a few of my roommates for dinner at a wood roasted pizzeria and ate like I hadn’t eaten in days. After returning to the hostel, the bar was pretty lively. So I went in and did it all over again…

 Mmmm...Coca Tea :)

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