Swing and a Miss

Fri, 11 Apr 2008 10:39:10 +0000

Back in La Paz Index Big Spender

With my bus departing at 17:00, I had plenty of time to finally do some touristing in La Paz. But the only really interesting thing to do was the Museum San Francisco. Still, it's a pretty interesting pile. It was the monastery that formed the nucleus of La Paz when it was founded. Later on during the various revolutions it was secularised and used for a bewildering variety of purposes, from a school to an army barracks. Nowadays, there are a few monks clinging on again, and it is of course a museum.

The annoying thing is that having paid my 20 bolivianos, I had to have a guide to personally show me around the whole thing - just me, I didn't see a single other visitor. She spoke some English, but not much (apparently her French was much better). She also had an annoying habit of telling me to take pictures at all the points where tourists are supposed to take pictures. I'd far rather just read the fairly good English captions around the place. But she was relatively unobtrusive, I guess, and her job was probably mainly to make sure I didn't touch the artefacts or photograph the paintings.

The interesting thing about the facade is how much native influence it shows: including rather prominent carvings of the Panchamama, the Incan fertility goddess. I guess syncretism's first instinct would have been to merge that into the virgin Mary, but looking at the carvings, it's hard to see how it fits into the Christian scheme at all.

Having been dragged around according to a fixed plan, there was none of my usual dithering and backtracking, and I was done in under two hours. So I didn't have a lot to do except hang around the hostel watching TV.

Around half past three I hauled my pack onto my back and began the long trudge up the hill to the bus station. This was a mistake. I keep bouncing between altitude sickness and intestinal problems, with periods in between of feeling perfectly fine. I have to learn to also take things easy in these periods. Instead, by the time I got up to the bus station I was again in a lot of trouble: light-headed, pins and needles, and gasping for oxygen. Even twenty minutes sitting on a bench holding my head in my hands didn't greatly improve matters.

Right, so my bus was due to leave at 17:00. At 16:30 I showed my ticket to the lady in the booth, and was told to go to the gate. I wandered out, but couldn't find the bus. So I wandered back. She said to wait until quarter to. Which I did. I wandered out, couldn't see any bus, and wandered back and asked again. I was tired and starting to get frustrated at the inability to communicate, and I guess I was a pretty irritating dumb foreigner. But I rely on being correctly shepherded onto the right bus. Just waiting on what I assumed was the right platform and hoping that the bus would turn up five minutes before departure seemed a recipe for disaster.

Eventually she beckoned to me and got me to wait inside the booth itself. Which I did, and mighty odd it felt to be stacked in the corner, alone, like a piece of left luggage. But I didn't have long to wait: at exactly 17:00 a guy asked for my ticket, took it away, and returned with 120 bolivianos. My bus had just been unceremoniously cancelled, and they waited until the last second to tell me.

Bugger. I rushed to the next booth, the one that I'd avoided since the price was so cheap. "Santa Cruz?", I begged? Nope, no room at the inn. Bugger bugger bugger. I now needed a room for the night, and that meant hoping that there was some space back at the hostel. Loki runs a "waiting list" system for people who turn up on the day, which means six o'clock in the evening is a bad time to suddenly decide you need a bed.

As it happened, the only space available at the hostel was a twin room. So here I am alone, with two beds, in a nice private room that's only costing me 55 bolivianos, about EUR 7. There's even a kettle and some tea and coffee. I've only just remembered that you're not supposed to drink the tap water, after I already had my coffee. But I guess it's OK if you boil it.

My rule for South America, since it's my introduction to travelling, is that as soon as things go wrong I will throw money at the problem until it goes right again. So I'm switching into big spender mode. My plan is tomorrow to find a travel agent and see if they can book me a flight to Brazil, preferably for the same day. I rejected this option as too expensive before, but it can't be more than three or four hundred euros, and I'm surely that much under budget for the last few weeks.

But that has to wait until tomorrow. For now, I've just been down to the main street for a relatively nice meal. The restaurant, "Brosso", is a weirdly upmarket family restaurant. There's a mascot in a bear costume drumming up business during the day, but tonight there was a pianist playing some hits and memories, including "My Immortal", which I must admit plays to my inner sap. I took a seat next to the huge waterfall they have along one wall, and was surprised to see that the pool was stocked with a large school of carp.

I had nachos, which can perhaps be considered latin American at least. Very, very good nachos: chopped meat instead of mince, which is the way it should be, and plenty of beans and vegetables. Not lathered in guacamole and sour cream like the nachos we used to cook in Sydney, but with my oscillating health this is probably no bad thing.

I also had tiramisu for desert, and this was a mistake. It was heavily glutinous and was more than I could comfortably handle. I tried to wash it down with some coffee, but the coffee was syrupy and only made me feel even more bloated. I'm now trying to fix things with a bottle of plain water, and that seems to be helping.

So we'll see how things go tomorrow. I could well be stuck in La Paz tomorrow night as well, which would be irritating. But I have to say that right now, a 17 hour bus journey only to get as far as Santa Cruz doesn't sound like such a hot idea.

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