Monday, 1 May 2017

Flight to La Paz and a stroll around the park

ALLIE: DAY 75: Sunday, 29th of April
Flight to the highest capital in the world, La Paz and an afternoon in the park
flight to Bolivia

A bit of a disaster had happened during the night and Phil is quite in deep trouble. He wakes me at 3.30 and we fight our distress to pack and be ready to go to the airport.

After only a few hours of sleep I feel like a monster waking through the terminal trying to keep awake and to do the right things to check us in. 

Finally our Lan Chile flight to La Paz takes off and we follow the coast line for two hours in the air. Beautiful sunrise behind the Andes, thick fog overlying the coastline. A very weak cup of Nescafe and a tiny box of sweets have to do us for breakfast. The service on Lan Chile is really not something you could recommend to Gourmets – or indeed to any hungry person.

moon landscape over the Andes
Touch down in the desert airport of Iquique. God knows who lives here, but some folks disembark the aircraft.

After 30 min on the ground and in the fog we take off again, this time we fly up the Altaplana – one of the highest plateaus on earth. The scenery is captivating: a few snow-white mountain peaks rise amongst the dry desert, red and green colours of the soil mix with deep blue waters of lakes and only very rarely does a road cross this no-mans land.

Touch down at the highest airport in the world, El Alto, La Paz at 10.40. Immigration is easy and after only 20min we are in Bolivia.

La Paz airport

A new country for Phil and of course for me. Exciting! We are supposed to be picked up by the ballooning contacts of Phil, but we search in vain for signs saying ‘Allie and Phil’.
The airport is quickly emptied and we, our heaps of luggage and some taxi drivers are the only persons left.

What happened? We ring the number. “Si, si, coming in 15min!”. We quickly – no gradually learn, that 15minutes Bolivian time is 1hour English time. Finally a taxi driver – no ballooni looking jeep or landy – arrives and says “donniton, donniton”, yes that’s probably us.

meeting with our Bolivian balloon friends
The drive to downtown La Paz is breath taking. The airport is situated on the plains at an altitude of 4000metres, but the town itself is perched into a deep canyon.
The road plunges 500metres down into a sea of unfinished looking brick houses, some modern high rise buildings and a bit chaotic looking streets. The city seems to have no end.
There are houses everywhere and even on the steepest rim of canyons and rocks. Beyond the city rise the 6000meters high mountains. The sunshine is bright and wonderful, around 20 degrees. But as soon as it disappears, the temperature drops at least by 10 degrees. We are taken to our hotel called ‘The Castellon‘ near the city park. It wouldn’t have been our choice but it’s a decent clean 3 star hotel and our room has a south facing balcony.

watching a football match in La Paz
13.00 hours. Am dead tired. But Lourdes Gomerez and her girl friend Tanja arrive. Phil has been in touch with them for a couple of weeks (with tons of disappearing and never arriving emails) to set up this balloon flight for us in Bolivia.
But as it turns out, nothing really has been arranged. They want to take us for lunch and we end up in the southern part of town in a Lebanese (!) restaurant.
the fun park in La Paz
It’s very nice to meet these two friendly and enthusiastic sounding Bolivian girls and talk but the journey and lack of sleep make it a battle. We learn that Lourdes has set up this ballooning company already 7 years ago, that she employs 10 staff and 2 pilots and that they have 6 home-built balloons.
They don’t fly very often due to lack of passengers but if they fly they go out to lake Titicaca or the ruins of Tihuanaca. We are trying to arrange things for tomorrow but it doesn’t work. Call at 7pm!
Back to the hotel I take a stroll around the blocks. This is definitely an Indian city with a totally different feeling to it then Santiago. Everything is much more rustic, a bit dirty but also exciting and interesting. Especially the Indian women. They wear these huge round Spanish hats, wide fluffy skirts and around the back they have strapped a piece of colourful cloth with may contain a baby, some food or God knows what! It’s amazing. 

houses and people all mix into a colourful painting
Most of them still have their dark hair braided into two plaits and their ears are decorated with beautiful jewellery. I end up at the Laicacota park. Entrance fee is a few cents and there is a long queue. The park is packed with families on their Sunday afternoon out playing, picnicking or watching a clowns show. A great opportunity to take pictures of the people but also of the town.

Later we have a brief meeting with the girls only to hear that we definitely can’t fly tomorrow morning but that they will try to set it up for the afternoon.

I had bought some Bolivian red wine and bread and that’s our dinner in the room. We are too trashed to do much more. The dilemma though is, I still can’t sleep. More then half of the night I am awake reading (I know all about the various tribes of Bolivia now!), writing diary (these lines are written at 4.30 am!) and trying to convince my brain that it desperately needs to sleep. In vain.

on approach to La Paz
PHIL: Day 75/29 April

I bleed intermittently all night and by the time we get up the bed is reminiscent of the aftermath of an Iraqi suicide bombing. Hobbling to the taxi and through check-in I feel like a war veteran, but we make it to La Paz via the northern Chilean port of Iquique without further incident.
Iquique is shrouded in sea mist formed above the cold Humboldt current but is nevertheless surrounded by absolute lifeless desert. Approaching La Paz’ famous El Alto airport (the world’s highest at over 14,000ft) there is a series of spectacular conical peaks covered with snow amid the dry Altiplano.

the airport
Our promised meet-and-greet party from the local balloon company does not materialise but after a couple of calls an ancient and battered taxi carries us down into the spectacular valley to which La Paz city clings.

We are by now desperate for sleep and further debilitated by the altitude – indeed there are ‘oxygen relief’ stations at the airport and hotels.

Convoluted discussions in ‘Spanglish’ ensue as we try to ensure a balloon flight in our short stay here. Allie’s pre-collapse walk, which my injury precludes, is spent taking discrete shots of Bolivian ladies in traditional dresses and hats.
relaxed life in the city parks

Over mate tea, supposed to combat altitude sickness, we discuss the present left-wing and somewhat xenophobic administration of Evo Morales.

Tanya and Lourdes, both non-indigenous and in their early thirties, obviously approve of his policy of eliminating widespread corruption but are equally enthusiastic about expropriation of foreign assets in mining and energy fields.

They seem to forget the long-term effect this will surely have on essential investment in Bolivia’s future.

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