Bolivia was named after independence fighter Simon Bolivar, who broke away from Spanish rule in 1825. The fiery Bolivian spirit remains unabated to this day, and it is part of the country’s many charms. For the rest of us however, it is best to keep a low profile, and our wits about us.
Half of the travelers that I have met have told me their pack was snatched or they had been forced to withdraw money from an ATM. So I travel by bus with my legs through the straps of my backpack and as soon as we arrive, I dump my bag at the hotel. I put the money I need for the day in the front pockets of my worn and faded jeans and carry my camera in my hand in a tattered plastic bag. I visit the Mercado Negro in La Paz. The Black Market is a sprawling maze of oddities, renown as much for its fascinating displays of everyday items as for its pickpockets. In my scruffy attire, no-one offered to buy me a sandwich but no-one bothered me either.
In the Mercado de las Brujas, the Witches’ Market, potions, armadillos, dried llama fetuses and other unusual offerings are on sale for the shaman-minded. I conservatively bought two little statues, a llama and an owl, meant to be offerings to the Pachamama rather than tools of black magic. In Sagarnaga Street I bought a pendant made of a coca leaf pressed between two thin glass plates sealed with a silver band. It should say “break in case of emergency”, except that no addict will get high on a single coca leaf.
The best thing about La Paz, though, is leaving it. Not because I am in any hurry to depart, but because the distance allows me to appreciate that La Paz was built in a crack below the snow-capped mountains, truly one of the most spectacular sights in the world.