Funny (and realistic!) facts about ‘Transport in La Paz’.

Sharing today a bit of feedback on what we´re calling, “our newest home”. After being in La Paz, Bolivia, for a month, our overall experience is pretty positive, which is fantastic, considering we´re still waiting for our household effects to arrive, and kids don´t have a lot of toys to play with. All in all, very positive, and we`re enjoying every moment.

Sharing today a bit of feedback on what we´re calling, “our newest home”. And thanks to Ailsa, from Where is my Backpack? for the usual inspiration! After being in La Paz, Bolivia, for over 4 months, our overall experience is pretty positive, which is fantastic, considering we´re still waiting for our household effects to arrive, and kids don´t have a lot of toys to play with. All in all, positive vibes, and we`re enjoying every moment.

20120824-182537.jpgOne thing that I find very ´peculiar´ is the traffic/transportation/driving dynamics here. Although, I shouldn´t, I suppose, after living and driving in Mozambique/South Africa/Swaziland, on the “wrong side” 😮 of the road, for some 3 years, and in Recife (Brazil), for another 2 years, nothing should come as a real surprise.

But, in fact, there´s always something new at you. And, it actually makes me laugh on any regular day: not one single dull moment throughout this beautiful city here! I was quite happy to find a post that shared similar thoughts, and am adding it here, with a few comments. My appreciation to Strolling South America, another blogger with WordPress, for sharing actual/realistic and funny facts about the ´transportation´ in La Paz! I added my comments below each original statement. Have fun reading!

Obviously, cropped the bottom of the pic… respecting the driver’s privacy… 😮

Taxi

This is the quickest option. I know it’s hard to believe, but some taxi drivers overcharge foreigners, so make sure you negotiate the price before you leave. The driver can tell you’re a foreigner even if you aren’t wearing stripey hippie pants and standing by Sagarnaga street. Also, make sure it’s a licensed taxi if you don’t want to risk getting EXPRESS KIDNAPPED. If you’re lucky, the front seat will have a seat belt. The back seats will not, but take comfort in the fact that the driver isn’t wearing one either as he passes on the right and runs red lights.

Comment: Gotta love the taxis here. For a mom of 3 little ones, still waiting for our family car, I became quite dependent on taxis, know already a few companies/agencies, and even names of drivers. But the notion of strongly hugging/hauling your kids during any drive (especially the ones towards the downtown area, waving through the curves), is  let´s say, exciting, but in not a great way! Something else about the taxis here: for some reason, they don´t have a meter (!!), so, the driver has to inform the passenger about the cost. After a while, one gets to know how much a certain trip would cost, and we`re all good. But, going back to the ´lack of a meter situation´, according to one of my drivers (I´m becoming quite familiar with cab drivers here!), there´s a simple explanation: THE ALTITUDE. That´s right! The high altitude of the city would ´damage´ any meter they tried to have installed… 😮 Believe it or not, the important thing is that cab drivers and their companies swear by this quasi-fact. That said, one has to trust their driver.

                    Train

You’re in the wrong city! Try Santiago, Buenos Aires, São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro.

Comment: Haven´t had a chance yet… Let´s wait and see what impressions come out of that!

                    Minibus

Mini-bus in La Paz

Always wished you were a little bit taller? You won’t as your head hits the ceiling while the driver goes over a bump. More like a van than a bus, this is the most intimate of travel choices. Passengers often greet those seated with a “Buenas tardes” as they board. This is because they’re probably going to be cozily squeezed between a couple of them. Probably the safest of travel options as the driver has to frequently slow down to pick up passengers. No, there aren’t any seat belts, but if that’s what you’re looking for you’ll have to rent a car. Look at the sign in the front window to see where the bus is going. Failing that, listen for the fare collectors shouting the destinations out the open door.

                   Microbus

Microbus in La Paz

Despite the name, microbuses are actually the largest type of intra-city transport. Usually blue or yellow, they are bigger than minibuses, but smaller than your average bus back home. When the seats fill up it’s standing room only. This is the slowest and cheapest of transport options. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re really broke, or if you’re in a hurry and the minibuses and trufis are all full.

Trufi

The famous “trufi”!

This is really just a mini-bus disguised as a taxi. Trufis, which also advertise their destinations with a sign in the front window, run set routes like buses, the only difference is that they’re generally a bit faster as they don’t stop as often to let people on and off. They’re ever so slightly more expensive than mini-buses, but the difference is negligible unless you’re on a really tight budget. And if you are on a really tight budget, well you knew that this job only paid 30 bolivianos an hour when you signed up.

Comment: Right now, my position is just watch, listen and learn. what I´ve learned so far? I guess that there´s a very strong possibility I won´t be riding on a Minibus or using a Trufi, as intriguing and exciting they might look to foreigner eyes… I´m fine with my taxis, for the time being… Even though, I know there´ll be no seat belts on the back seat, and there´s a great chance they won´t be able to load their trunk with my groceries, due to the tank of gas (propane, I think!) – hey, I guess it´s a cheap way to beat the economic crisis, getting more driving than with regular oil… 😮   

Bicycle

It was nice knowing you. It’s honestly safer to cycle on this road.

ok, ok… this is actually mountain biking… got a couple friends who’ve got a biking/sports business, so, biking is definitely part of my “TO DO” list while here!

Comment: Well… I´m actually looking forward to try that, despite a few warnings about biking in the city… Don´t have a bike yet, but it´s part of my plans… Kids need to get their bikes, as well, so, I´ll try to be a good role model, reminding myself from my biking-to-work days in Davis, CA.  Again, let´s wait to see what the future brings, but so far, I´m up for the challenge.

                   

Foot

La Paz is a great city in which to take a stroll if you’re training for the Olympics. The altitude combined with the hills will put you in peak physical condition, which you’ll need to fight off food poisoning. The cobblestone streets can be slippery, so I wouldn’t recommend parkour. Keep in mind that crosswalks are merely for decoration.

Comment: Very true. The slippery streets and my knees have already met. Once… or twice, before. Not a fun experience, but a good lesson to learn when one goes out grocery shopping and decides to come back home (uphill) wearing boots and carrying groceries bags… Maybe, it wasn´t a smart decision from my part. From now on, I´ll stick with a cab ride on my way back from the market. Yes, those taxis, the fun ones, with no seat belts nor meters! 😮

Sunset through the Mountains around Nuestra Señora de La Paz, Bolívia.

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Sunset… as it is! Beautiful, thanks to Awoodstock!

What we see looking though our TV room window…

We made it. We’ve been in La Paz for exactly 7 days, and here is a bit of what we’ve been able to see… But before we go into the image gallery, just found out that Jill is hosting another Foreign Service Blog Round Up (here we go, people unfamiliar with the ‘acronym world’- it became FS BRU!) – and, a fellow blogger, Ailsa, from “Where’s my Backpack?“, came up with a great travel theme: “sunset”!

Anyway, this week’s theme is coincidently: ‘your current post’, and 5 pros and cons of it… so, for somebody who’s got less than 2 weeks at post, take this list with a grain of salt… 😮 I’m sure things will change with time… for better… or for worse… let’s wait and see! For now, enjoying life in ‘Breathless La Paz‘ (you’ll soon find out why!). So, just taking advantage of a blog post written a couple days ago, to share my very own list of “pros and cons” or our newest post:

Nuestra Señora de La Paz is the administrative capital of Bolivia. It is located at an elevation of 3,660 meters above sea level, making it the world’s highest capital city. The city sits in a “bowl” surrounded by the high mountains of the altiplano. As it grows, La Paz climbs the hills, resulting in varying elevations from 3,000 meters to 4,100 meters. Overlooking the city is towering triple-peaked Illimani, which is always snow-covered and can be seen from several spots of the city, including from the neighbor city, El Alto. La Paz is an important cultural center of Bolivia, and we can’t wait to start discovering its culture, learning about its history, the people, the traditions…. and living surrounded by unique beauty!

The city hosts several cathedrals belonging to the colonial times, such as the San Francisco Cathedral and the Metropolitan Cathedral, this last one located on Murillo Square, which is also home of the political and administrative power of the country. Hundreds of different museums can be found across the city, the most notable ones on Jaén Street, which street design has been preserved from the Spanish days and is home of 10 different museums… We haven’t had a chance (yet!) to really go through the main attractions, but, ‘high altitude permitting’ (!!), we’ll begin… very soon!

PROS of our current ‘setting’:

  • The beautiful views surrounding our house, the mountains, the unique geography throughout the city of Nuestra Señora de La Paz, our #1 bid… I seem to never get tired of looking at these mountains…
  • The School. We were finally able to be at a post where we enrolled our kids (almost 7 & 4,5 yrs old) at an American School [in Mozambique, our son went to a Canadian Montessori Academy, and in Brazil, the oldest ones went to a private local school – for now, let’s just leave any discussions behind us… let’s say we were lucky to have different options for our children!]. Regarding their current school, we’re quite pleased with what we’ve seen, so far… Baby girl is still too young for school days, so, for the time being, she’s staying at home with….
  • … a great NANNY! Close friends (from our time in Mozambique) who were living in La Paz, hooked us up with their nanny/maid pair, right before they had to depart to their next posting – so, we had both ladies waiting for us at the house the day we arrived at our new home…
  • Our ‘sponsors’ have been in country for over a decade. They’re pretty ‘plugged in’, have a lot of insight info to share, tips, recommendations… they’ve got kids at similar ages to ours, and… are pretty involved with tourism, extreme sports, mountain biking, hiking… That said, we’ve already built a good ‘network’ during our few days in country…
  • The food! I’m simply loving it! Very tasty, so far, very safe to our ‘foreign stomaches’…  Our maid is a trained cook, and tries to ‘surprise’ us with a different recipe each day. Groceries seem to be way more affordable than back in Recife (Brazil) or DC/Va, for that matter. That said, going grocery shopping has become an entertaining task for this still-stay-home-mom!

Now, the, ‘not-so-positive’ remarks:

  • ‘mate’ (tea) does help with the high altitude effects… A lot, actually! 😮

    The ALTITUDE. Coming from our 4 weeks of home leave in the US, and before that, a great couple of years posted in Recife, Brazil, pretty much across the street from the ocean, the effects of the high altitude resulted in a shock to my body …

  • The HIGH ALTITUDE. I DEFINITELY WAS NOT MYSELF for the first 36 hours in country. Had the husband call the med unit at the embassy, and thought: “has somebody ever asked for curtailing after less than 48 hours at post?“. Became best friends with the oxygen tank. It made it possible, so, i’m very grateful to whoever came up with the idea of portable/personal oxygen tanks/cylinders. My deepest appreciation to you, Mr Inventor, whoever you are….

    One of my newest ‘best friends’ here in in La Paz!
  • The VERY HIGH ALTITUDE. Besides the oxygen, I learned about keeping your body filled with fluids… Any kind, just avoiding the obvious options of alcohol, sodas, coffee… What??! Can’t I drink coffee?! I’m born in Brazil, to a Portuguese mom, and we’ve been drinking coffee since I was in grammar school! [I know it’s sounds horrible, but, hey, blame the Portuguese culture for that!] 😮 That said, imagine somebody, already dizzy, with a killer headache for literally almost 2 full days, lacking her daily dose of caffeine… Simply, not fair… But I survived… and now, guess what? I’m back into drinking my favorite beverage… And it’s all good…
  • The COLD WEATHER. It’s pretty cold over here, no central heating system, so we’re managing with several portable space heaters (thanks GSO!), but I’m sure we’ll adjust. Right now we’re leaving out of our suitcases, waiting for our stuff to come from Brazil (hasn’t left yet!) and from the US (part of the HHE/UAB coming from the east coast). Despite the cold, it’s quite easy to get a real SUN BURN if you’re just outside, trying to warm your bones up… sunscreen is a must! As they say here, “you’re closer to the sun, so, gotta respect that!”.
  • And lastly, it’d be great once we have a working cable TV… no shows for the kids, yet. No cartoons… but it’s giving us a chance to talk more (at least, that’s what we’re doing to forget about the lack of a TV). It’s been good to talk with the kids, and inquire about their first impressions of this new life. Talking’s been good. Unless, they get on our nerves, and guess what? Then it’s time for bed, school days are back, and the school bus doesn’t wait for long in the morning!

After the adjustment to the weather and the high altitude, it’s possible to enjoy the beauty that surrounds us…

Here, ‘peeking’ into our new life… and this is just the beginning!

A view of the American School, La Paz

Baie Dankie (“thank you”!), South Africa – Animals and Memories.

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