“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination with reality, and instead of thinking of how things may be, see them as they are.”
– Samuel Johnson
After two peaceful and perfect days in Copacabana, we arrived back in La Paz in the evening and checked into our hostel, The Adventure Brew Hostel. If this is any indication of the vibe of the hotel, we were all given wristbands that said “If lost and drunk please return to ____(insert of hostels address).” We were also given a free beer from the brand Saya which was quite enjoyable up on the rooftop. To be fair, I wouldn’t call the hostel high-class; perhaps more eclectic grunge. However, it did the job aka providing us a place to sleep. As we descended into La Paz, I immediately felt the vibe of the hustle and bustle that a city provides. The traffic, the lights, the car honking, the crowd. Jenna and I met up with one of our friends and had a light dinner before crashing for the evening and getting ready for the next day!
We spent about three days in La Paz for our program which is a class on Democracy and Development in Bolivia. There are ten of us on the trip from CU Boulder and we are all doing different research projects from the presidency of Evo Morales to the economy of the coca leaf. My research is on the diplomatic relationship between the United States and Bolivia that includes the misconceptions of the coca leaf. After being here for a few weeks, I have also decided to focus on the impact of USAID and why the organization as well as the Peace Corp and DEA was kicked out of the country. It’s a terrific group of people and after one night over dinner we quickly bonded and its been a great dynamic ever since with each person bringing something different to the table. Our professor, Carol Conzleman is phenomenal and we all think the WORLD of her. She has been doing research in Bolivia for twenty years and completed her Fullbright grant here and now teaches at CU Boulder. I can’t say enough fabulous things about her; simply the kindest, most humble, generous, giving, loving, deeply empathetic and intelligent soul I have ever met who has had the biggest impact on me in the last few years.
Our first day in La Paz we walked around the city in the morning; visiting the Coca Museum, Witches Market and shopping around the markets. I loved the Coca Museum; while small it did an amazing job summarizing the history of the coca leaf and added some great information to what I have been learning. I also got to sample a coca lozenge which helps with digestion, headaches, altitude and tastes a little bit like licorice. That evening we went to an amazing dinner at Cafe del Mundo and ironically sat in the “America room.” It was a great first night of wine, quinoa beer, international food and all the laughter and conversation! This group is full of hilarious personalities. That night a few of us wandered around the plazas and ran into a concert that we jammed out to for a while before crashing for the evening in our beautiful hostel, Naira that was in the middle of the San Francisco Plaza.
The next morning we went to the embassy and had an incredible talk with several members of the foreign service that was so beneficial to my research and gave us a welcome to being there. After lunch we walked to a place take the Gondola up to El Alto, the city at the top of La Paz. The gondola has really changed the quality of life for people; with a subsidized cost allowing people to easily go from both cities. Plus it has the most stunning views of the whole city and is a beautiful and smooth ride. After arriving in La Paz, we met up with a professor who teaches at the university and chatted with him about Bolivia, focusing on education and the policies of Evo Morales. He gave some amazing insight and was one of the most insightful people I have had the opportunity to talk to. We took the gondola back down and watched the sunset over the entire city as all the lights slowly came on as darkness descended.
All of Saturday we spent celebrating the Grand Poder; which is a massive celebration that starts at 6am and went till 2am in the next morning. The Grand Poder is Jesus Christ and is a celebration where the main street shuts down and there is an all day dancing parade of different groups! It is a beautiful site of intricate costumes and stunning dances with an abundance of beer, food and music! The energy was contagious and was one of the most special events I have been to in the world. I got up in the street and danced several times with groups and had a blast being a spectator.
After a busy few days in La Paz, I was ready to head to Coroico for a change in pace and to experience a different environment. And let me tell you, Coroico is such a special place. Stay tuned.