Monday, December 29, 2003

OK, here I am in the hotel cybercafe in La Paz, second try to post something as the stupid browser lost this morning´s diatribe :-(

First impression, as the plane cames into land, is that this is the least inviting place on earth. We approached the airport over, and then through, oppressively low gray clouds, over impoverished looking farms and a landscape that accomplished the clever trick of appearing both arid and damp at the same time.

We landed in drizzle, with foggy wisps of cloud gusting past at ground level. The airport small but the usual bureaucracy. As the lugage came off the conveyer, my friend Medina discovered his sandals had been swiped from his rucksack in transit.

Outside it was raining hard, and we got a minibus into the city. Our rucksacks, on top, got wetter. The airport is high above the city (as it's hard to get a plane down into the crater!) so we drove down, past the favela-like suburbs of the poor. The poor live on the heights where it´s colder and there´s less oxygen. Which demonstrates that even fresh-air has been succesfully grabbed by the rich and turned into a luxury.

Second impression : what a miserable, god-forsaken hole.

There´s a rumour that the indigenous people piss and defecate in the streets here. And that this gives the people and place a characteristic earthy smell. Some of my friends find this a charming rejection of modern social conventions, but I´m traumatically disgusted as I have to splash through the dark grey rivulets of slurry in the streets. It´s only the cold that prevents a major public health disaster. Or maybe the whole thing´s a slanderous, out-of-date stereotype.

Still, the hotel is good. With hot water. And after the rain stops, walking in the streets I start to get a more positive impression. There are comfortable cafes and tasty food. Many shops selling brightly coloured (warm) clothes and local crafts, panpipes, masks, and CDs of local music. My companions stock up on alpacca jumpers and fleeces.

There are also stalls selling a mixture of sweets and mummified llama foetuses (good luck to have in your house, apparently) With the occasional dried cat and bowl of dead frogs.

We´re all drinking coca tea to help resist the altitude sickness. It´s 3600 metres above sea-level here. At the moment Í haven´t felt much effect apart from bouts of sleepyness. (Not unlike when I was 20% underoxygenated due to sleep apneia) But some of my companions are suffering headaches and feeling worse.

OK, that´s it for now. Tomorrow I´ll probably be in love with the place.

Update : Medina was wrong, wasn't sandals but pyjamas.

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