The Following Post Comes with this Disclaimer:
Of Course there are nice people in Bolivia, Of Course there are pretty places in Bolivia, Of Course La Paz is not the epicenter of all darkness and loathing and misery…just not in our experience.
We intended to spend only a few days in La Paz getting used to the altitude and seeing some sights before heading out to do a tour of the Salt Flats which offer up mind-bending optical illusions, pink flamingos, colored lagoons, and even a train graveyard. Then, take one of the very much alive trains on an overnight journey from the edge of the salt flats and down into Argentina. Sounds fun, right?
Obviously, none of that happened, and even after we made it through the work of securing new passports and getting replacement Bolivian visas, it became clearer and clearer to us that there was no longer a choice of do we continue on as planned or not. We had to get out. We had to get out as directly and quickly as possible because the La Paz of our experience was nothing and nowhere that a tourist should take time to visit. Tourists with young children…I can’t even…we just didn’t know. And we were honestly a bit afraid to fully vent our impressions of the place while we were stuck there as the possibility of someone mining the internet for bad Bolivian press and refusing our visas out or making us miserable in other ways didn’t seem all that far-fetched. Truly.
So now while I’m sipping great coffee on a beautiful wooden table next to a tree-lined street in Buenos Aires, I’m getting it out.
The light is strange there. Otherworldly. It is also brutal. Which makes sense I suppose at that altitude and proximity to the equator. And the buildings looked grown out of the mountainside rather than built by human hands. Think Star Wars I guess. Beautiful in a way, though that wears off as the eye of the beholder takes more in.
There are missing children signs everywhere. Plastered on every street corner, light post, the doors to the airport, government buildings, barber shops – everywhere. It was one of the reasons the Embassy tried so hard to get our passports back, two of them had children’s birth dates on them, making child smuggling that much easier. I considered throwing down for one of the 2 or 3 nice American chain hotels that are there, but even they had review after review after review online of people having items stolen from their rooms, or grabbed out of their pockets in the lobby. It felt that nowhere was safe. I don’t know how to explain what that did to us, to feel that no matter what we try or where we go or how much money we have, nowhere is safe.
There is also a near constant reek of sewage. La Paz has some of the worst water conditions in South America, and a home by the river would be punishing there as it is not water but foaming, trash-ladden, torrents of sewage. You’ll see in the pictures below some of the playgrounds we found to take the boys to, and they were great and fun and such a gift to have nearby, but what you can’t see in the photos is how it smelled in one of them to play next to that river.
We did stumble upon a nicer park one night, that was simultaneously holding a break-dancing competition and some ladies practicing flamenco. It was nice, and bizarre for being so. That is the only non-frightened, sick, angry, worried, and Mama-Bear-mode memory I have of our time in La Paz. And then Luke fell off of one of the climbing structures, and that ended that.
Finally, the illness that struck Bo, and subsequently the boys and myself, was no small part of our La Paz challenge, and is not over as my body waited to let it manifest until we were safely in Argentina. But at the onset, in a freezing hotel room in the cold stark city of La Paz, I had never seen my husband that ill. Ever. He was beyond anything I can describe. I had also never heard my children cough that hard for that long or their eyes get that red and their bodies that worn. And I have never been in the midst of all of that while being scared to death that a trip to the hospital in this place could easily end up killing them. We did find an English speaking doctor that saw Bo in her private clinic, and she was kind, but her best advice was to get rest and see a doctor in Buenos Aires if/when we got there.
So all efforts to leave were re-doubled. And then re-doubled again.
And while we still have a Bolivia hangover in the form of stolen documents and goods and sickness that just keeps on and on… we did make it out. And we are all together.
And we had ourselves a good laugh at the decoration spread across the wall at our first hotel in Buenos Aires. Wish you could have been there when we walked in and saw this:
Okay, now that my rant is fairly spent, here are the Bolivia photos you all have been asking for. I am sorry it took so long to get them up. Unfortunately, among the things stolen in La Paz were all the connecting cords for downloading photos from our cameras to our computer, and where we are in the world (even here in Buenos Aires!) any loss of electronics is just not an easy gap to fill. Bo found a way however and so here you go!
Thank you again for all your support and encouragement from all corners of the globe. We are loving Buenos Aires and look forward to sharing it with you in the posts to come!