When in a new city, it’s very nice to discover all the nooks an crannies by taking a free walking tour, which we did on the second day in La Paz. I’ve had nothing but good experience with free city walking tours and this one was no different.
The red cap tour had enthusiastic and eloquent young people to show us around common and uncommon places with funny anecdotes and interesting facts. Definitely recommended!
While I had heard of visits of the San Pedro prison that sparked my interests, the people from the tour dissuaded us to go look for tours since tourists were no longer allowed in the prison, so everyone promising a tour was definitely a scam. The San Pedro prison is one of those prisons that are actually a small town with just some guards at the gates. It has its own community and economy (mostly in drug manufacturing) and hierarchy inside, and those who end up in there are allowed to bring their family in with them as well. Apparently there are some other prisons like that in Bolivia, but only in San Pedro did some people think it was a good idea to make it a tourist attraction. At its peak, people were prepared to pay more to spend a night in the prison than in the most expensive hotel in La Paz. it was mostly popularized by a book that’s now on my reading list, called Marching Powder, a written account of life in the prison by a foreigner who was imprisoned there.
The next days I don’t remember doing much in La Paz except partying and shopping shopping shopping! Bolivia is so insanely cheap that I went all out on filling my backpack up (and I still spent less than I budgeted!). Since I have by now lost so much stuff along the way, and Bolivia was pretty cold, I am now in the possession of several sweaters with colourful llama’s on it and other alpaca attire. I will have to do some more shopping in the civilized world though to not arrive at the UN in New York with only llama gear :-/.
All in all, La Paz was a new stop to rest and explore after staying in Peru for over a month. Had I started my entire South-America trip in Bolivia, I would have probably experienced quite a culture shock. Dead llama Foetusses hanging at the shop windows, electrical wires like birds nests, the shoeshiner children and drug addicts on the street.
It was still astonishing, but I was able to place it in a wider context of a continent I had gotten to know a lot better. All in all, I really liked the chaos of the magical bowl that is La Paz.