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La Paz, Bolivia

I broke my own little rule on my birthday. Over the years I’ve built a preference towards staying in one place longer rather than going to a new country for a very short time. Of course what makes time short varies by place and purpose, rendering this rule closer to a guideline than an actual rule. So few days before my birthday I had decided to swap Chile for Bolivia and flew north.

La Paz is like no other place. At first it appears similar to the same sized cities in developing economies around the world. But with a bit more time it’s easy to see it’s like no other (I’ve been to) with its geography, culture, civil society etc. You can ask 10 different people what they think of La Paz and chances are you’ll get close to 10 different answers. Primarily because it’s a city of extreme contrasts. It’s a city that is very hot and very cold (sometimes from second to second), big and in many ways very small, rich and poor, ugly and beautiful, boring and entertaining, modern and old fashioned. It’s all those things at the same time and it’s not very obvious why. La Paz (and Bolivia in general) is a very complicated place in terms of governance, economics, culture. In the short time I’ve spent there I’ve only scratched the surface leaving with more questions than answers. And looking through this perspective maybe the short trip was worth bending the guideline.

La Paz

La Paz2

You can see a lot of the houses in the city aren’t painted and look like they’re in the middle of a construction with plain bricks covering the façade. I’ve been told that painted houses are faced with higher tax so many choose not to paint their houses. The view is plain incredible, the city carved itself onto every hill and slope. A number of these houses will be washed down from hills during the rainy season.
La Paz3

La Paz4

La Paz5

 

Santiago de Chile

Santiago de Chile

“Querida viejita: Qué es lo que se pierde al cruzar una frontera?

Cada momento parece partido en dos. Melancolía por lo que queda atrás y, por otro lado, todo el entusiasmo por entrar en tierras nuevas.”

Che wrote these words as he crossed the border into Chile from Argentina across this very mountain range (a bit south from Santiago) in 1952. It was his first border crossing on the famous motorcycle trip, I find these words to be true for many of my own border crossings. Santiago is my first city in the Americas south of Mexico, leaving me packed with plenty of enthusiasm. I had a burning desire to move here for school when I was 19-20 but it never came to be, I went to Europe instead. Years later I’ve finally made it and the first thing to spark my curiosity (entusiasmo por entrar) is the massive cordillera, steep and imposing. For the most part I grew up in a city by the mountains, so I’m no stranger to mountain views. However, mountains this massive next to a city this large is something special. Santiago, with its population of over 5 million is located in a valley surrounded by mountains trapping the pollution inside, making it one of the most polluted cities in South America. You can see the smog permanently hovering above the city. Yet the mountains tower above that too. 

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