La Paz – Walking Tour

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On my last day in La Paz I went on a walking tour of the city in order to learn more about the history, social issues and customs of the different parts of the town.

The tour started at Plaza San Pedro where the famous prison is located. It’s not much to look at from the outside but it reminded me of the remarkable book I read called Marching Powder about an English backpacker thrown in prison for trafficking cocaine – worth a read!

From there we headed up to El Alto (by taxi, no way was I walking all the way up there!) where my guide Alejandro told me that El Alto is considered the Aymara capital of South America. The Aymarans were a pre-inca civilisation that lived in the Lake Titicaca area. They are said to be a proud people and are trying to improve their way of life however their efforts at times hindered by the government.

We visited the contemporary art gallery, which was quite interesting, and then began the descent into La Paz. We walked through the neighbourhoods perched high up the valley and it was amazing to see how they build their houses on the steep slopes.

We then caught one of the local buses, which looks like a school bus from the 60s, painted in bright colours and upholstered on the inside – very cool! The bus wound down through the street to the area of the city where the black market is located. Here you can buy absolutely everything, we saw DVDs, flowers, fruit, dried meat and many more weird and wonderful things (no livers unfortunately, I think I need a new one!)

Just a few of the 5000 different varetes of potato grown in South America.

It was so interesting to learn more about this amazing city and gain an understanding of the dynamics of the people of the city. I’d highly recommend the tour (www.lapazonfoot.com) and ask for Alejando.

I know there is just so much more that I saw and did in La Paz but I just can’t get it all written down, but take my word for it, it is an amazing city and if you can handle the altitude, the steep streets and the noise then you’ll just love it too!

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Cuzco, the Sacred Valley and Ollantaytambo

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After a short flight from Arequipa we arrived in the wonderful city of Cuzco. Straight away I liked this place as it has a real vibrancy that you notice as soon as you step off the plane. The narrow cobblestoned lanes give the city an authentic colonial feel and the red brick roofs of the buildings make for a spectacular sight from above.

The main square (Plaza de Armas) features the spectacular cathedral which took 100 years to build using blocks of stone from the inca fort Saqsaywaman.

Also around the Plaza are many alpaca wool stores, restaurants and bars – we spent two nights dancing up a storm at a bar called Mythology – very good fun. Although, you have to careful when walking through the Plaza at night because there are representatives from every bar trying to get you to go there and they can get quite aggressive.

We checked out the local market where you could buy anything from fake alpaca scarves to frog smoothies! I picked up a very stylish beenie, which you’ll see later in the photos I’m sure, and I also purchased a real alpaca cardigan from one of the shops on the plaza.

One of the boys on the tour was the victim of an attempted pick pocketing however he caught the fellow before he could take anything.

From Cuzco we headed to the Sacred Valley where we visited the Ccaccaccollo community. G.A.P Adventures supports this small community by allowing tour groups to visit and purchase textiles from the women who make them. We were shown how wool from alpacas, sheep and llamas are used to make beautiful blankets, scarves and hats. I decided to buy a blanket, which will likely be used as a table runner, that features representations of the Inca trail. Gap also supports the community by employing men as porters on the Inca trail.

Afterwards we headed to Saqsaywaman (said like sexy woman) and Pisac, two inca ruins that gave us a taste of what was to come on the inca trail and at Machu Picchu.

That afternoon we ended up in Ollantaytambo which is a beautiful inca city featuring tiered terraces that reach all the way up the mountainside and overlooks the cobblestoned town below. It was amazing to hear about how the huge stones were quarried on a mountainside nearby and then transported all the way over to Ollantaytambo. The rocks have been sculptured so perfectly they fit seamlessly together and some have even been carved to fit around corners of the buildings.

In the evening we stocked up on supplies for our treks (some of us were doing the Inca trail while other were doing the Lares trek) and were briefed by our respective tour guides before heading to bed all ready for a huge few days ahead.

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