La Cuidad de Nuestra Senora de la Paz (the city of our lady of peace), to give La Paz its full name, has a long history of violence, despite its name. An abnormally high mortality rate has traditionally accompanied high office: the job of president came with a short life expectancy. The presidential palace is known as the Palacio Quemado (Burned Palace) for the number of times it has been damaged by fire. As recently as 1946 then-president Gualberto Villarroel was publicly hanged in Plaza Murillo. Thankfully the gallows have since been removed from the plaza and the principal activity these days is feeding the pigeons.
Of La Paz the 16th century Spanish historian Cieza de Leon remarked – “This is a good place to pass one’s life. Here the climate is mild and the view of the mountains inspires one to think of God.” Wonderful stuff. But when Leon came out with this I’m quite sure he’d either consumed a whole coca bush, or was in an altogether different place. Walking the city is a breathtaking experience merely for the fact that at its highest point you are at an altitude of 4000 metres. La Paz has some great colonial architecture that, by and large, has been left to decay and then been overshadowed by some splendidly ugly buildings. When the Spaniards first came here, in their quest to uncover El Dorado, they immediately seized all the gold mines from the indigenous Aymara. For 100 years Spain grew fabulously wealthy plundering South Americas precious metals, and has been broke ever since.
We travelled into the city on a “Dodge” bus, which are about as environmentally friendly as one of the local volcanoes.
The Swiss are extremely useful throughout South America. They provide good bread and cheese, reliable mechanics, rosti, hotels and all sorts of sausages. In a continent of so-so quality the Swiss flag is a sign of value. In the above photo I’m just about to dart into the Illampu coffee house for an extremely reliable lunch.
This vehicle just goes to show you do not need an all-singing-all-dancing 4×4 to traverse even the roughest and highest tracks in South America. In a Suzuki van this young French couple and their dog have been everywhere you might consider it not prudent to go in a Suzuki van. Incredible!