Monday, 1 May 2017

Exploring La Paz and worrying about our balloon flight

DAY 76: Monday, 30th of April
stunning views over the city
La Paz: the old town, markets, busy streets, cathedrals and plazas

Had not slept all night but at least got two hours from 6-8am. Phil went out to meet the girls to talk about flying. When he comes back the story is completely different: they only have one balloon that’s airworthy and that turns out to be a two seater hopper!

They don’t have propane and no can’t get a car organized. The afternoons are too windy. They can’t actually do it this week! Oh dear. At least Phil managed to discuss things and convince them of the utter importance of this flight.

So the plan is now for us to drive out to lake Titicaca in the early morning and do two consecutive hops with that pilot. The kit all sounds terribly dodgy but we have no alternative – either Bolivia in the logbook or not.

engaged discussions about a potential flight
Have to find breakfast since our hotel doesn’t provide it. Find a little bakery next door called the ‘Pastereria Lecker Brot ‘ and the guy starts to greet me in German. “Hallo, woher kommst du? Wie lange bist du in La Paz?”.
It turns out that this Bolivian had been working in Mannheim for 2 years. Nice friendly encounter. Indeed we find most of the people are very friendly. They don’t pester you and try to sell you all sorts of things.

We walk to the old part of La Paz, visit some of the lovely old churches and the lively plaza Murillio with the presidential palace and the congreso national. The downtown area is bustling with people, but also with lots of police. We don’t know why, but maybe because of the upcoming May 1st demonstrations.

Alas there are no cafes out in the plaza and we have to stick with one of the indoor cafeterias to push some caffeine into our blood.  

relaxed atmosphere in the parks of La Paz
Our further walk takes us to the Mercado de Hechiceria (the witches market), but we are a bit disappointed: instead of being a local market it’s full of tourists and all the souvenirs you could imagine to buy from Bolivia.

The only unusual things we detect (and that might be the link to witchcraft) are dried Lama foetuses and some other scary looking stuffed animals.

Walking around this town really tires you out. Not only the altitude (you feel the thin air by every step you climb up) but also by the crazy traffic and the many people.

 At 6pm we meet Lourdes and her Pilot Jose Luis in their office at the 9th floor of a high rise commercial building. Lourdes is not only trying to run a balloon company she also designs inflatables of all sorts. He face though doesn’t look too promising: “We have a problem. No people for the morning.”
there is no flat bit in this city!
Oh dear, of all the excuses somebody could come up with, we can hardly believe this one in a country where labour is so cheap – and tomorrow is a holiday. But that’s maybe the reason. Anyway, we try to convince them of the huge importance of this flight and in the end they agreed to do it just with the pilot and us.

unbelievable steep streets
 The choice of restaurants around our place isn’t great but we find a nice Peruvian ‘cerveceria’ and I – at least – enjoy a great seafood soup.
PHIL: Day 76/30 April
As I walk out of the hotel towards the nearby balloon company offices a squad of heavily armed riot police with shields trots across the square. Not a good omen. The city seems full of military of one sort or another but it is difficult to know if this is normal or because of some expected disturbance. Nobody seems to take any notice.
At the offices the initial reaction of Bolivia’s principal balloon pilot and constructor, Jose Luis Castro is that they do not have time to put together a flight this week. This is totally at odds with what Lourdes told us yesterday.
everywhere there are colours in Bolivia!
He cites lack of propane, recovery vehicle, even a suitable balloon. Clearly taken aback I work through possible solutions until eventually he agrees to set up a flight near Lake Titicaca tomorrow morning.
As the only available balloon is a home-built double chair device it is obvious Allie and I will have to fly in turn with Jose Luis, so perfect weather conditions are essential.
We plan a 5am departure from La Paz but agree a final confirmation discussion tonight at 6pm.
the traditional way of carrying babies
Allie has recovered somewhat from another sleepless night when I return to the hotel room so a walking tour of the city is planned.
A great deal of La Paz is undistinguished and frequently crumbling construction seemingly tied together with electric wires strung randomly between. There are, however, some grand Spanish-colonial churches and administrative buildings around the two principal squares which are peopled with men in cheap suits and grease-slicked hair mingling with broad-beamed matrons in colourful crinoline skirts and bowler hats.
It is as if the country is hanging onto its past while being financially unable to cope with the future.
At the 6 o’clock meeting Lourdes tells us they cannot get any crew as they are all on May Day holiday. We argue that we can handle the flight with just three of us if necessary. We retire gloomily uncertain.


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