Friday, January 04, 2013

191212 BLOK


191212 BLOK
Today We (Rucha, I, and Johhny) glimpsed La Paz, Bolivia, for the first time, and a stunning sight coming down the hill from El Alto.  It's massive (8 million inhabitants) tucked into a mountain canyon, framed by the snow-capped Andes.  The hills surrounding covered with red brick structures.
We, Rucha, Johnny and I, had taken a 'bus' from Tiawanaku, some 70KM to El Alto and then a taxi down into La Paz.  We needed to go to a banco and replenish our dwindling supply of cash.   The ride cost us all of 6 Bolivianos / or .90 cents U.S. each.  Of course, you're packed into a 'van,' like 'proverbial sardines' -- capacity, I counted 17 including the driver, and a hawker/money collector.
In Centro La Paz, and out of the taxi, we 'danced' our way with other pedestrians in search of a bank that would cash a traveler's check.  I was reminded of walking the crowded sidewalks of Hong Kong.  In La Paz, however, the sidewalks are more narrow and you're forced to compete for space.  Many times I was either pushed or fell off the curb, and into motor traffic.  It's crazy, insane, the traffic, but the inhabitants probably accept it as normal.  
If you can ride a bicycle around La Paz, Bolivia, my helmet is off to you!   I wouldn't even attempt it, not just because of the traffic, but this is a city of ups and downs, some incredibly steep a la San Francisco.  
We found only one bank (in a major capitol) that would cash one of Rucha's traveller's checks.   One problem was the color of the ink-pens used to sign the checks.   At her bank in Germany she had signed with a black ink pen.  Here the clerk handed her a pen with blue ink, which she used to counter sign.  Well, guess what, the ink color of the signatures has to match… Rucha fumed, we complained loudly (as the clerk's fault) and ultimately all was resolved.  But, it had taken one whole hour just to cash one check.  Additionally, their exchange rate is less than on the street, (6.85:1, versus 6.90:1).  Finally, they stuck us with an an additional service charge of 42 Bols. / $6U.S.  Thus, we can't recommend BiSA BANCO in La Paz.  
Oh, woe be unto all banks!
Out of the other hand, we give to most beggars we come across, and La Paz has many!  Too many!
Luckily, Rucha's Visa card worked at a Cajero Automatico (ATM) and we got what we needed in Bolivianos.
Afterwards we had lunch, bought 3 umbrellas, some 'Kleenex' tissues (for Rucha), then beat a hasty retreat to calmer ground.  But, in the process I got some idea of La Paz:  only when necessary.  One wonders who (Simon Bolivar?) and why this particular location (in the 'bowl') was chosen some 500 years ago -- maybe a paradise back then. 
Back in El Alto Johnny headed off to check out Sorata (where we going for the holidays).  Rucha and I 'vanned' it back to Tiawanaku with 17 others and two crying  babies. 
Merry Christmas from 13,000ft above sea level.  -2 days to 122112.
P.S.  I think they've confused the seasons in Bolivia… Summer is cold (rainy season) with Christmas.  Winter is warmer in June.  I'm going to write to Evo Morales, El Presidente, and suggest they switch names.

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