Peru & Bolivia

Summer 2006

Part 6: La Paz & Cañon de Palca


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August 8th (day 14): La Paz (3600m)

After the jeep tour I took the night train from Uyuni to Oruro together with Nicole and Rob, two Americans I got to know during the tour. In Oruro we hopped on a bus to La Paz where we arrived around noon. Rob went straight to the airport to fly home, while Nicole and I checked into a hotel and spent the afternoon around La Paz.

Historic center

La Paz has a bad reputation due to poverty and crime, so I'd expected a bleak and unpleasant city, but it turned out to have one of the nicest city centers I visited this trip, and it had a rather dynamic atmosphere as well. The central square, Plaza de Armas, houses the cathedral and the presidential palace and is smaller but much cosier than the many similar central squares I've visited in other Latin American cities.
The presidential palace. The statue in front is of a former president who was dragged out of the palace and executed on the square during one of Bolivia`s many violent revolutions
The Plaza de Armas, with the presidential palace on the right
The cathedral of La Paz
The cathedral opened just as I walked by it so I went in and had it all to myself for a while

The world's highest capital

So let me explain about La Paz again, because it really is a unique place. The region around La Paz is a high plain (the altiplano) of 4100m altitude. La Paz itself however was founded in the middle of a wide deep canyon in that plain, created by the Choqueyapu River, at an altitude of 3600m. As La Paz grew and grew, houses were built higher and higher against the canyon wall until finally the city spilled over onto the plain, 500m above the historic center. The part of La Paz on the plain is called El Alto and is a huge city by itself; I got lost there the day I arrived in Bolivia.

The first picture below shows the skyscrapers in the center of La Paz, and the straight edge of the plain 500m above. This edge doesn't go all around though, because on the other side of La Paz lie the foothills of the Illimani, a 6439m high mountain that towers above the city.
La Paz and the edge of the altiplano. Sorry for the colours, my camera was bugging
La Paz and the Illimani. This picture was taken from the edge of the altiplano.
When walking in La Paz, you can see the city go up against the canyon wall above you, which is an amazing sight especially at night when the lights go on in all those houses.
La Paz below and above me as I`m standing on a steeply descending street. Notice the guy on the roof btw.
The Iglesia de San Francisco

Bolivian oddities

Finally I'd like to show two Bolivian oddities. One is the Mercado de Hechicería or Witch Market, where dozens of shops sell all kinds of magical ingredients to the superstitious Bolivians. The main item sold are llama foetusses, which all these shops have by the dozens if not hundreds - a rather gruesome sight. Bolivians bury llamas below new buildings for good fortune - no doubt an ancient custom that the church hasn't managed to eradicate - but the common Bolivian has to settle for a llama foetus to keep it affordable.
Llama foetusses on display at the Witch Market
Guerilla shoe shiners
The other oddity is that everywhere you go you are approached by guys who look like guerilla fighters but just want to polish your shoes. Many Bolivians shine shoes on the street to make some extra money, but apparently there's some social stigma on that so they cover their faces. Many, including the two on the picture, also wear camouflage vests - perhaps that's just to complete the menacing guerillero image, I don't know.

In the evening we dined in Tambo Colonial, said to be the best restaurant in town. I took soup, a main dish, desert, a cocktail, and it was all great, but it still cost only 10 euro!



August 9th (day 15): Cañon de Palca

Now somewhat rested from the jeep tour, Nicole and I set out for a day hike on what was the last day of her trip. We intended to visit the Valle de Animas but the bus driver dropped us off at the wrong spot. When we'd figured that out we decided to hike through the Cañon de Palca instead, and in hindsight were glad about the change of plan because this canyon was absolutely great.

To get to the canyon we first had to walk through the countryside for an hour or two, but that was a great walk by itself because the area is just beautiful, and the occasional farmer at work and animals grazing around freely made it look positively idyllic. The Cañon de Palca itself descends towards the village Palca, which lies at the foot of the Illimani, so we had this 6439m mountain in front of us the whole time.

The following series of pictures are all shot in the same direction during our walk and hence are like a fast forward movie of our approach and descent into the canyon - watch them in sequence!
Walking through the fields towards the Illimani
There`s our canyon ahead
Notice the marks of water erosion on the rocks on the right - this whole valley must have been a wide river
Now the path is hairpinning down into the canyon
Almost at the bottom
Here`s the little stream that dug this whole canyon
A natural obelisk near the end of the canyon. From this side it`s not so impressive but ...

Some pictures shot along the way...
The side of the valley on our right
A couple of farmers at work in their steep fields

At the end of the canyon stands a natural obelisk that is 100 meter high. You can already see it on the final picture of the sequence above, but it looks much more impressive from the other side...
Me standing in front of the obelisk
Nicole and me in front of the obelisk
Looking back

Continuing past the obelisk we soon reached the end of the canyon...
Past the obelisk - there`s the Illimani again
A fantastic formation of eroded rock at the exit of the canyon - the buildings on the bottom right provide some scale

Where we got this fantastic sight...
Beautiful valley at the end of the canyon

At the bottom of this beautiful valley lay the quiet village of Palca, from where we could take one of the last minibusses back to La Paz - they only ride until the early afternoon.
These local boys in Palca wanted to be on a picture :)

The ride from Palca back to our starting point turned out to be a most spectacular one, over a winding road that went very high up the mountains and gave us fantastic views on the Illimani and the green landscape. This ride alone would make the hike worth it! Much to my frustration I was sitting on the wrong side of the minibus (which was full of locals) and could hardly take any pictures. Here's two though...
This mountain side reminded me of the pigeon rocks in Capadocia
For anyone planning this trip: you want to make sure you sit on the left for this ride, and have your camera at hand!

Valle de Animas?

When we got out of the mountains we decided to try and still get to the Valle de Animas (the Valley of the Spirits), so we got off the minibus. We walked through another canyon, this time upwards, but turned back before reaching the end because it was getting late and we weren't even sure if we were in the right place.

The Valle de Animas is described as having rocks in the shape of organ pipes, which also describes this canyon rather well, so perhaps this was it? In any case, it was another beautiful place. Here's another movie-like sequence...

Two pictures on the way back...

Back in La Paz

By sheer coincidence Jan and Cathy, the Flemish couple who'd also been on the jeep tour, had checked into the same hotel, so this evening we all had dinner together in a fancy restaurant called Traffic near the Plaza Isabel La Catolica. Again it was a great dinner for the price of a McMeal in Europe.
From left to right: Nicole, me, Cathy and Jan.
During the tour Jan had indoctrinated Nicole with a deep love for all things Belgian and even taught here some Antwerp dialect, which was highly amusing. It especially cracked me up when after Nicole had recited a list of all great Belgian things (chocolate, diamonds, etc) for the 100th time, Jan proceeded to convince her that so-called French specialties like cheese and wine were actually stolen from Belgium by Napoleon :)

After dinner we all said goodbye and I changed to another hotel from where I would start my expedition to Huayna Potosi the next morning, while the others were all to fly home.

<< Part 5: South West Bolivia    -   Back to Index   -    Part 7: Huayna Potosi >>




Cy Mon 12 Feb 2007 @ 15:58
I enjoyed your photos, especially of Arbor de Piedra! How fragile it looks. Thanks for your tips on traveling to Machu Pichu on LonelyPlanet.com.

Daria Thu 07 Dec 2006 @ 00:20
Ammmazing photos and exciting views!!! :)
I can't find the right words!

I bet in real life these views were much more breathtaking :) At some point I envy you - you had a chance to see all this beauty by your own eyes!
But the same time thank you very much for sharing this beauty with us :) This way it is also very nice ;)

Looking forward to seeing new pics and reading new reports ;)

Godsmurf Thu 30 Nov 2006 @ 00:11
It'll be 90% nature pics in the rest of the report. You ain't seen nothing yet :)

Well apart from some really wild desert llamas I saw penguins, condors, flamingos, pelicans, other birds, and sealions!

Fia Wed 29 Nov 2006 @ 15:07
Excellent pictures! Very beautiful sceneries! As usual I prefer mountain pics before buildings. ;-) I especially like the green colours of the mountains and the blue colours of the lakes that you visited.

By the way, you didn't happen to see any wildlife? Apart from that creepy millipede I mean. (And lamas don't count as wild.) :-)


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