Arrived in La Paz a little bleary from the bus and were immediately approached by a tourist police officer telling us to be careful with our things and how to get to the center. How thoughtful! We caught a cab to our hotel where Di and Bob (friends from Buenos Aires and Brazil) were also staying. The hotel, which was my choice, was crap but we had a great time catching up over dinner. We headed out to find a place for a drink and found ourselves in the middle of a loud fun party at a place called Mongos. Rachid wasn't too happy. Sigh, I hate mixing friends. So many times its a recipe for disaster.
We all headed out early the next day to move closer to the backpacker area. Rachid and I decided to stay at a cheaper place around the corner from Bob and Di. The place had a definite college dorm atmosphere which was fun. We all met up for breakfast passing at least 5 tourist police officers along the way. We all spent the day wandering around the town doing various errands. I ran into Di and Bob a few hours later while I was booking a bike tour. We had a quick bite and arranged to meet up later to see Memoirs of a Geisha at a local theater. Rachid met up with us a bit later for dinner but that wasn't much of a love-fest either.
Shopping, shopping, shopping! The witches market is about 3 blocks of door to door storefronts for Bolivian handicrafts. More scarves, carpets, bags and knick knacks than you've ever seen. Rachid and I shopped for about three hours and only made it down one block. Comparing prices and bargaining are the name of the game as every shop carries virtually the same things but not for the same prices. Back at the hostel I sold Rachid my trusty old hammock and then went out to trade some books at probably the best library of books I've ever seen at a book exchange. Unfortunately there was a reason for that. The guy was a complete bastard and tried to trade six of my books for only one of his. Ya, right. I worked some negotiating magic and ended up with TWO of his books. Oh yeah, I'm good. In fairness, the two books I got are ones I've been craving for months and half the books I gave him were pretty worthless.
We all met up for dinner but five minutes in, Rachid bailed out and went to a movie. He hated the gringo places we kept going to with their amped up western music. Di, Bob and I chilled over beers and the fun amped up music before heading home. I woke up from a bad dream at about 3am, looked over and saw that Rachid wasn't back yet. My mind raced for about 5 minutes over whether he'd been kidnapped. All the tourist talk is about two Austrians who were kidnapped and killed a few months ago. Thank heavens I heard the buzzer go off downstairs about five minutes later and he walked in the door. I got up early the next day to finish my shopping so that I could post a package back home before the post office closed. I walked out onto the street and was shocked to see the street bare and all the doors closed. The shopkeepers were all on strike for the morning to protest theft and violence against tourists. When everything finally opened up at 1pm I rushed around and picked up a few last things before heading to the post. So now my backpack is as light as a feather. A big, big feather. Ended the day at an Asian restaurant that we'd seen a few days before. It was utterly amazing. All the spices and flavors were perfect. I went all out and got a seafood green curry that was outstanding with a little tiny lobster swimming on top. Absolute heaven. The best meal I've had in ages!
Sunday was my big day. My bike trip down 65km of 'the most dangerous road'. I was pretty nervous as I would not in any way call myself a proper mountain biker but I steeled myself. My brakes felt a bit soft compared to some of the other bikes but they told me it was fine. this didn't do much for my confidence. The top part of the road was all paved and passed through two drug checkpoints which we walked through. We had to pedal through a vicious uphill part which nearly killed me before I gave up and got into the van with pretty much everyone else. The unpaved most dangerous road began steeply but I got braver as we went along stopping as a group every now again to get out of the way of trucks coming up the hill. I wasn't in the speedy front group, but just behind them with a Japanese guy whose pace was just challenging enough for me. I did almost take a spill a few times but all in good fun. The hardest part was trying not to look at the scenery while driving. You'd come around a blind corner and see the deep green valley dropping off not two meters from you. By the time I made it down I was filthy. I got two little white stripes on the sides of my head from all the dust and I swear I looked like my mother. Aaaaiigghh!
We had a brief stop at Hotel Esmeralda for a buffet lunch before heading back. Lots of people stay at the hotel for a few nights but it was just too Disneyland for me. Pool, sauna, terrace. Really comfy but not Bolivia. Three hours driving back to town up the most dangerous road. I met Rachid for dinner and crashed as soon as my head hit the pillow. Rachid wanted to leave the next day but he finally agreed to stay one more day to just relax and get ourselves sorted out. It was May Day and we went for a walk down to Plaza San Francisco were people were gathered in celebration. Got some great people pictures and just enjoyed the day. La Paz is a tiring city because you always have to walk up a hill either going or coming. It was nice to just take it easy. When we were booking our tourist bus out to Copacabana for the next day we heard all the tourists grumbling about a bus driver strike. Apparently tourists (and locals) are stuck where ever they are unless they find other means of transport until the strike runs its course. Gosh, we've been so lucky.
I ran into a Canadian guy who has been traveling on the same circuit as me. We had a chat over beer before finally exchanging email info and heading our separate ways. I booked it downtown to try and find a guy dealing World Cup cards who I'd seen a few days before. I found him and he had everything! I got all 60 cards I needed to complete my book for $2.50. I gave him all my duplicates and he was thrilled. I got Ronaldinho! and I'm keeping an extra Beckham for luck!