Although I studied Spanish for a year at some point in life it has almost all escaped me and I am dependent on my wonderful interpreter S to get me through days of meetings. The people are, without exception, friendly and patient. I'll try every few days for the next week to put down 5 new things (at a time) I learn about this magical place and its people, culture, food. Here go today's 5:
1. La Paz sits near the bottom of a cauldron of jagged slopes that are the Altiplano. The city is at 3500m above sea but the airport is in El Alto which at 500m higher, precariously perched on the rim of the Altiplano, is the highest International Airport in the world. Driving distance between the airport and the La Paz is only about 10km but the descent of 500m makes all the difference in how you breathe.
2. The airport is very basic and small but spotlessly clean. It's one conveyor belt delivered our suitcases and its two immigration officials smiled broadly while stamping our passports, no questions asked. Apparently flights need double the runway distance to land or take off from and specially re-inforced tires due to the altitude.
3. Everybody, and I mean everybody, from concierge to shopkeeper, will greet you with a broad smile and a Hola, Buenos dias, buenas tardes, bunas noches, hasta luego - depending on the time of day. When you meet someone and are introduced you will be kissed on one cheek by them. Invariably this is on the right cheek. And they will come round to kiss you goodbye as well. So when our day starts we have a good 15minutes of meet and greet and then the same in the evening to say goodbye. I have learnt to budget this into my busy run run run days. Its a skill.
4. The air is very thin. I cannot emphasise this enough. The first few days we drank coca tea to help with the nausea and headaches, supplemented by brufin as I am allergic to the ingredients in the prescribed altitude sickness meds. I'm not having any problems breathing although all breathing felt a little strained the first few days. I've had only two nosebleeds so far and have given up trying to use the small treadmill which I only managed for 30 minutes before I could breathe no more. The gods of the gym will understand.
5. The view is fantastic. Everywhere you look you see the plains of the Altiplano rising up, jutting into the Andes behind it. El Alto is a new-ish city built into the higher reaches of the Altiplano, which make the sides of the cauldron in which La Paz is the floor, look alternately scraggy and heavily covered with houses. At night it just looks like a wall of lights, each illuminated house a little twinkle in the blanket. I also absolutely have to mention the Illimani which is the highest peak in Andes that is visible from La Paz. The highest overall peak of the Andes is in Peru I am told. The Illimani is impressive to the say the least. Its snow covered peak rises magnificantly behind the Altiplano and my eye is drawn to it each time I am outside. More than one Bolivian has told me it is the symbol of La Paz. I can see why. I got a great view from the flight as we were landed but it was too early in the morning and I was too groggy to do anything but marvel open jawed at the scenery below. I promise you a picture.
I am more than a little in love with La Paz. I hope someday V and I will come here together. Buenos dias!