Bus Ride through the Andes

After Cusco we took a long bus ride to La Paz, Bolivia through the tops of the windy Andes mountain range, through the middle of the night. The 6 of us were together, and we tried to sleep through the ride, but nightmares of the bus tumbling down the mountain side would wake me up gasping in fear. I woke everyone else on the bus too. I was never a good traveller.

The borders open at 8am, which means every single person who sat on the sidelines overnight were going to or from Bolivia in a rush. We were asked to get out of the bus on the Peruvian side and cross by foot. Our groggy team stepped out into a whole different world. The landscape looked like Mars. The dry red-brown hills surrounding us seemed unfarmable. The people were barely 5 foot tall and were dressed from the pre-industrial age. The team felt although we were going to be over run and we lost sight of one another in the foot traffic immediately. We were surrounded by heavy duty cargo bicycles, packed precariously and nearly the size of a car. Bolivian women in funny hats with huge cargo packs on their backs pushed passed us in a hurry. Push carts were filled with caged chickens. Some chickens were free, flying amongst us as if they were also asked to get off the bus and go it alone. Traffic was rushing like two opposing rivers trying finding ways around obstacles (read: us) to get to the immigration office on either side of the bridge. This photo doesn’t properly capture how hectic it was at that moment.

Boarder Crossing Peru to Boliviaphoto credit: http://wikimapia.org/22119217/Peru-Bolivia-Border-Crossing-Bridge

Endless Boarder Crossings

If you could even call it a line at immigration, this jumbled pile was actually hilarious Benny Hill themed run around of line ups. No one knew where to get the stamp, and everyone was trying to make sense of what was happening. These so-called-line ups disassembled and reassembled every 10 minutes at different windows of a small old bungalow with 4 doors. Bolivians pushed into the front of the line at every chance, taking advantage of our lack of spanish and confusion. We finally got through to the right window, got our stamps and made it to the other side of the bridge. How did Nick, Chris and Belle had managed to do this every week for the last 8 months?

The “Mercado de las Brujas” (which translates to “witch markets”) are directly on the border side and are filled with shamanic ingredients. Now that we got through the hurdles and into Bolivia, we found ourselves surrounded by dried llama fetuses strung up on the on either side of the path the stalls created. Skeletons and bones, medicinal herbs and other spell-making ingredients are also sold here. After a brief walk through this strange market, we re-found our bus, which then drove us non-stop through the Bolivian hills until we reached the capital of this small country, La Paz.

BolivaThis is a photo of the regular markets downtown in La Paz

It was probably the most difficult destination for the new team. The altitude was high, Nick was getting nose bleeds morning and night, we were out of breath all of the time. On top of that, we all had colds, the flu and (I am sure you want to know) dysentery. Every single road was mountainous, so walking to find buskers was a chore with all our camera gear. It was cold, the team was weary and we couldn’t even make a proper cup of tea at 4000m above sea level, because the boiling point of water at that altitude is 85 degrees.

La Paz Artists

The hostel we stayed in was covered in graffiti, much of which was racialized slurs between a few beautiful pieces of artwork. It was dirty, it had very little soap and no clean dishes. When we tried to clean up a bit, the sponges we’d just bought refused to rinse off even with tons of soap, immediately turning black and gummy, along with our hands. The showers electrocuted you when you touched the taps which became a fun game of “how much hot water will it take before I stop zapping myself”. The place was crowded with other artists and we had to wait our turn for this dirty kitchen or electrocution showers.

Stairs from Alto La Paz

On the plus side, some buskers and artists were staying at the hostel too. There were some amazing mural artists whom we filmed their gorgeous work under a bridge in the poorer neighbourhoods of Alto La Paz. We also met some break dancers up there whose artist studio sits next to shaman row, up on the top of the mountain overlooking the city. The jugglers and poi spinners worked the traffic lights down in the valley in old town. This city hasn’t been hit by globalization or tourism in any huge way, keeping it relatively free of visible American or European influence (despite those countries invasive political influences. To say they have been problematic would be an understatement). The artists here are also mostly local or at least from surrounding South American countries.

Timelapse of La Paz Artists create a mural in Alto La Paz, Bolivia

The very last artist we found made an interesting installation in front of city hall called “How Would you build a City”. A french woman named Tiffany rebuilt a mini version of La Paz into the center of town to ask the public how they would structure the city if they were to build the city. People could easily move churches, or city hall, and economic centers based on their priorities and were given a voice to show what public space should look like if they had their way. Public space as seen by the public themselves? Brillant idea!

The TBP Team, La Paz

The last night, the crew sat in the center of the hostel and took a moment to be with one another over a card game called President. We started feeling better and we were mostly relieved to be leaving this city that made us so sick. We caught a flight in the local airport to Santiago, where we were in for a bit of a surprise