When the bus first peeked over the edge of the altiplano down into the valley where La Paz is nestled, I had flashbacks to Rio de Janeiro. The hillsides are covered in brick-colored houses all the way up to the rim, and the low points contain the wealthier houses and the downtown areas. The biggest difference between Rio and La Paz, of course, is that La Paz isn't perched over the ocean. In its background, however, are big, beautiful mountains. The setting is gorgeous, just a bit different.
The thing that might stand out the most at times is how you feel. Its elevation is over 3,600 meters, or almost 12,000 feet. I'm currently staying on the 4th floor of Wild Rover Hostel. When I get up to my room after hiking up all those stairs, I almost pass out. I'm panting like crazy. The same thing happens when you walk around outside. As the city is situated in an entire valley, almost every street is a hill.
La Paz has the biggest markets I've yet seen. I've visited a couple and I must say I've never seen so many individually packaged items in one place in my entire life. You can buy just about anything you want from cleaning products to any kind of food or produce to candles to shoelaces. You name it.
In other parts of the city, you may not find a huge market, but you'll find all the usual street vendors selling whatever your heart may desire, and at least the non-food vendors tend to bunch together. For example, you may find three or four guys making duplicates of keys or selling candles. I even saw a lady cutting out shoe inserts with a pair of scissors. Another beautiful thing you'll find in La Paz that I didn't encounter much in the more southern countries is street vendors selling slices of pineapple and cups of fresh-squeezed orange juice. A cup of orange juice costs about 28¢ and a slice of pineapple costs between about 14¢ and 21¢.
Almost regardless of which direction you head, you'll be on a hill. As if the hills and the altitude weren't enough to make life a challenge, the sidewalks are barely wide enough for two people to pass. And where there are light posts, there is barely enough room for one person to squeeze through, especially if you're wearing a backpack.
The streets are narrow and I've heard more honking horns in my few days here than in the rest of my trip put together (part of the honking is just taxis advertising their availability). There are myriad taxis and a couple other forms of public transport. There are what appear to be old school buses acting as the city buses. This is the first time I've seen these old buses used as the primary public transport on my trip. There are also loads of minivans with someone hanging out the sliding door hollering out the destination. They stop anywhere and everywhere picking up and dropping off passengers.
For the most part, when I've been hungry, I've just wandered around looking for a hole in the wall joint. The first day I was here, I had some beef, rice, soup, and a Coke. The price? Nine Bolivianos. In American, that's $1.29. Another day for lunch, I had chicken, potato, a nice bowl of soup, and some other gizmos on the plate that I didn't really like—nor was I able to identify them. The bill came to a whopping eight Bolivianos. That translates to $1.14. I have no idea how these people make a living. Their rent must be only five bucks a month.
I always like to get to a high spot when I visit a new city for some overview photos. I enjoy seeing the lay of the land. There's a hill right in the middle of the city called Killi Killi Mirador. It's a nice little park-like viewpoint with virtually 360-degrees' view of the city. At least from this hostel, it's very easy access. Six pesos will get you to the top in a taxi, and an easy 20-minute walk will get you home.
When I first arrived here after my trek in the south, I slept fine. I guess I had acclimated to the high altitude. Then I went to the north and the edge of the jungle. After returning from three days at sea level, I had trouble sleeping. Every few minutes I had to take a deep gasp of air. The next night I slept fine again.
Women in Bolivia? Well, the attractiveness quotient drops several notches on average in comparison with Argentina and Brazil. The missing European and African influence makes a really big difference.
A word about Wild Rover Hostel. It's a very nice hostel and is kept very clean. The bathrooms are very nice and are cleaned continually. There is a bar and I believe you can buy food there. It can get a bit noisy at night. Just reserve yourself a bed in the 4-bed room—it's pretty quiet. There is a travel agency situated in the main office for booking tours—convenient. They also have WiFi. If you're in La Paz, I definitely recommend staying at this hostel.
There's certainly much more to this city than I saw, but I'm on a mission—I'm headed northward, and fast. If I'm in this neck of the woods again, this is a city I'll come back to.