Day 202, (continued). I had to walk around the decaying buildings and wait for about an hour while our bus came through. Then although there was a shiny new smooth road from the border, we had to follow the old dusty, bumpy, cobble stoned one, bizarre. After a short time we arrived in the border town of Copacabana on the shores of Lake Titicaca where this first bus dropped us off. The town is bit of a dust bowl with many half finished concrete buildings and roads which are nothing more than dirt tracks. It also appeared to be full of spaced out backpackers with dreadlocks and rainbow coloured jumpers. After an hour of walking around and taking in the sights a second bus picked me up for the journey on to La Paz. The bus headed to the Tiquina Strait which is a particularly narrow part of Lake Titicaca that we had to cross to continue our journey to La Paz. At the lake we had to take a separate foot passenger boat and pay 1 boliviano to some dodgy looking guys in Bolivian navy uniform for the pleasure while our minibus was driven onto something which was nothing more than a little wooden raft barely big enough to take its weight. The raft was then pushed across the lake with a big stick, or punted as you might say if you’re posh.
For the rest of the journey an oldish Italian bloke on the bus started talking to me followed by an old Austrian ‘gentleman’. As I was the only British person on the bus they found this the perfect opportunity to have a go at all things British and took great pleasure in chastising me over the fact that Britain had no culture. This was constant, and the Austrian would not let up, I don’t think he liked the British much. He came out with some quite racist comments arguing that the reason Britain had lost its culture was because we “had allowed immigrants to take over the country.” I was quite shocked at this as the UK has a clear cultural identity, and part of it is the mix and diversity of cultures which adds positively to it. I argued this but he just replied “too many ‘other’ people.” I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised with his attitude, Austria keeps voting in fascist politicians and governments and has relatively few non European immigrants outside of Vienna. Culturally, two men clutching each other, one upside-down with thighs wrapped around the others waist smacking each other’s arses, while I may say, clad in tightly fitting leather Lederhosen, is not my idea of culture! It’s a couple of middle aged gay swingers!
Eventually we entered La Paz and I have to admit I was feeling very vulnerable at this point. It just seemed to be one massive shanty town going on for miles and miles. But then after twenty minutes we cleared this area of extreme poverty called ‘El Alto’ and came to the edge of a huge valley. The view was stunning and a must see on any journey here, as the guidebooks all say, the first view is unforgettable. It seemed as if the centre of La Paz was a mile below us, stood there like a city built in the bottom of a massive crater. I was mesmerised at the view, but happy that La Paz, 400 metres below, was not as scary as I first thought.
Because I was unsure where the bus had dropped me off I grabbed a taxi from the bus office to the hostel I wanted to go to. The hostel is an unusual place which seems to be run by two old ladies who clearly enjoy their jobs. They dress in a way which wouldn’t look out of place in a 1960’s Spanish fashion show. Taking a little walk around town I saw a bizarre mix of people such as South American Indian women dressed in the traditional dress with their strange mini bowler hats selling extremely untraditional goods such as CD’s, stereos and TVs; next to them women in business suits would be walking home from their city jobs. This contrast between old and new ways of life seems a little unusual although it’s clear that there’s a racial divide between the business lady and the street seller with the former looking very much of Spanish origin. I think this would keep the Austrian guy happy, none of that diluting of cultures!
At night the expanse of the city surrounding the old centre can clearly be seen with houses all the way up the hill sides lit up. These go up so high above the centre that the lights from the windows almost look like stars in the night sky with which they actually eventually merge, an amazing manmade, but still captivating sight. In the hostel there’s a Danish boy in the room, he seems a bit weird which is made even worse by the fact he has an extremely lazy eye. He told me that he’s come over here to get married to his Bolivian Fiancée, although his story makes it sound more like he’s stalking her rather than dating. Why is he in the hostel and not with her, weird!