am currently embarking upon a two month adventure; travelling North through Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Columbia. Along the way I hope to experience the different way of life that is lived by the vast population of South America, whom are only recently getting a taste of globalisation and Western culture. Until recent decades, these areas would have been widely accepted as part of the third world – of which many sub-cultures of South America remain – yet the hustle and bustle of the main cities, supported by the strong tourist influences, would suggest otherwise.
With Run Reporter being primarily running oriented and my love for running remains, I set out to do a series of blog posts of my journey: Running Around the World. Throughout I will continue to live in hope of meeting other like minded runners, being able to explore deeper into the locality through the medium of running.
La Paz is a city which forms the illusion that it is built on the edge of the earth. Situated at an altitude of over 4,000m the city airport is one of the highest in the world, instantly kicking the air from the lungs of anyone who steps off the plane. For any tourist, it is not long before the difficulty with the altitude eases as a plunge from 13,323 ft to 11,913 ft is required to escape the presumed slums.
As this decent through the steep, cobbled streets began, the correlation between altitude and wealth was instantly noticeable. The further down we travelled, the density of the hill based shanty towns reduced, whilst the number of shops increased, leading to a significantly Westernised culture in the South where even a Burger King was to be found.
With the aid of my tour guide, Pacific, I was shown around the great attractions of La Paz. From the Witches Market to the ‘Lunes’ Valley, we saw it all.
The markets and stalls on the side of the street were intriguing. High enough not to breach into the ‘classe medio’ region of La Paz, the Witches Market and other stalls were primarily run by the La Paz Paseña. These are native women of Bolivia from the ‘Paseña’ district who are renowned for the bowler hats or ‘sombrero’ equivalent.
Their street trade which determined their entire livelihood bewildered me. Each would be selling a near homogeneous good in a market of perfect knowledge, yet the items for sale were not necessities. Instead, many sold popular goods of Coke and Fanta which were available in the next corner shop aplenty. Whilst struggling to quite understand how many of these stayed above break even – I suspect many do not – others showed great diversity and skill.
Strewn deep within the markets were brilliantly vibrant trades which varied from fresh fruit stalls to hand knitted clothing, all of which would strike a rife interest with tourists alike. These led to a wonderfully busy atmosphere which strangely had order to the chaotic disorder of the streets where there were no rules.
Finally, I could not dismiss the curiously named La Paz Olympic Stadium (La Paz has never held the Olympics). Here was a stadium situated in the heart of the busy hills which was home to Bolivia’s national football team and also brilliantly exotic running track.
As previously mentioned, the altitude took great affect on all who were not acclimatised and too on those natives. Therefore, the use of this track was of near non-existence which was a shame for such a great location. The altitude combined with the hills and disorder of La Paz made running practically impossible, but I hope don’t believe this will continue to be the case throughout South America as I head next to Peru and Lake Titicaca.