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La Paz

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MY FIRST TIME AT 3,650M ALTITUDE – LA PAZ

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I was curious to visit La Paz because of the high altitude and culture. At 3,650m above sea level, La Paz is unofficially the highest capital city (the real capital in Bolivia is Sucre) in the world and I must say that, in the first few hours, I struggled.

As soon as I arrived to the airport I could already feel it, my breathing was getting harder by the minute and walking fast became a very hard task.

Viewpoint – ‘Mirador’
Looking at La Paz from above

Prepare yourself to enter in a country full of myths and stories from ancient civilizations!

La Paz, Bolivia

To explain how my trip to La Paz went, I need to explain you some important things about the Bolivian culture and traditions. Before the Spanish colonization in the 16th century, Bolivia was part of the Inca Empire. But, long before that, the ancient civilization of Tiwanaku was the dominant regional power in the Andes and the most important for the history nowadays.

The country is multiethnic with 37 official languages. The main spoken languages are Spanish, Aymara, Quechua and Guarani. For the first time ever in the history of the country they elected the first indigenous president, Evo Morales, which is very popular and loved amongst the Bolivians.

Some aspects in the culture that were carried on for centuries are still present nowadays.

A woman who braids her hair and wears heavy, long skirts is presumed to have low social status, same goes for man wearing knitted wool caps with earflaps. In their religious beliefs, Catholicism coexist with the supernatural  and many people still don’t accept the western medical way of treating diseases, preferring to use potions and other Andean beliefs instead.

A must visit!

La Paz was, because of many of these aspects, the most amazing and shocking city that I visited while travelling through South America. The city itself it’s chaotic, no rules for traffic, everyone just wander in the streets and the fact that Bolivia is South America’s poorest country is right there, in front of your eyes!

Entrance to La Paz via El Alto

Some people told us that the city was quite unsafe but I disagree, I went out several times at night and it was just fine. Everything is quite cheap; in fact it was the cheapest country in South America that I visited. During the day it was hot, with me wearing summer cloths but at night it was chilling winter. The altitude made me feel a bit funny, at times even euphoric ???? and no, the so famous coca leaves did not help! The hostel I stayed was quite simple but enough for a nice bed and hot shower.

I quite enjoyed wondering around the markets and the amazing food!

There a lot of markets in La Paz, in fact, most people just wander around in the streets selling you anything. But one of these markets really got my attention!

The fascinating Witches’ Market

In Bolivia the ancient Aymaran beliefs are still very well alive within the population. In this market, different ingredients to use in spells and rituals of the Aymara world are sold.

Dried frogs, herbs, folk remedies, numerous teas, potions, insects, ceramic figures to give you any kind of luck that you imagine, they are all there! The most impressive and weird at same time was the dried llama fetus ???? that is supposed to be buried under a new house as an offer to Mother Earth, the Pachamama.

Around there it’s also possible to go to a Witch doctor the yatiris that can tell you about the future and how to make a fortune. It is believed that the yatiris have the power to contact the supernatural. Shame I did not made an appointment!

Leave me a comment on your experiences in La Paz and how did you manage on the high altitude!

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COCA LEAF: DOES IT REALLY HELP WITH ALTITUDE SICKNESS?

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Coca leaf is prohibited in Europe because of its association with cocaine. But coca leaves have a content so low of the psychoactive alkaloids present in cocaine, that it is ridiculous to think that it would make you high just by chewing it.

Coca leaf

They have been cultivated since at least the Inca Empire and are used for a variety of medical and religious purposes in Bolivia. You can easily find a shop that sells it while strolling around La Paz.

Does it really help with altitude sickness?

Not sure!

To try the coca leaf you need to chew the leaves. Place one-by-one into the cheek, forming a small saliva ball and continue to chew until your cheek feels numb. Leave it for a few minutes and get new leaves in. I must say that the taste is disgusting so you can put something sweet inside your mouth to help with it.

In the first and only time I have tried it, apart from making my mouth numb, I did not think it help particularly with altitude sickness. What it did help was the coca leaf tea when I fell ill in Peru with food poisoning, what a miracle that was!

Coca leaf_Bolivia

Tell me your experiences on this, do you think it helps or not really?

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