In the close proximity of La Paz there is quite a lot to do and see. Mountain climbing, trekking, biking… Here is (the first part of) the list of what I did around here:
Valle de Luna
The “Moon Valley” – a place with bizarre, pointy sand stone formations. The rock is pretty soft and when it’s raining they won’t let you go there because it’s too dangerous. I wonder when it will all erode really, probably quite soon. It’s worth to check it out and doesn’t really take more then 45 minutes.
Chacaltaya is a mountain in the Cordillera Real range, close to La Paz. It’s 5421 meters (17.785 feet) high and used to be the highest lift-served ski area. Unfortunately the glacier there had melted completely by 2009 and that was the end of the high altitude skiing fun.
It’s pretty “easy” to access by foot since there is a (really scary) bumpy mountain road that leads up towards the former ski resorts. Our van parked at 5000 meters and so it’s only a 400 meters ascent to reach the peak. Of course I did it. But if you think “well, an easy stroll” you’re wrong. Even though I had been on higher altitudes for a while, breezing is hard on 5000. And I mean: HARD. I really don’t like it, I always keep panicking a little because I am scared of running out of oxygen. Not sure why I was told “there is no difference really between 4000 and 6000 meters!”. There is a difference. Less effing oxygen.
Walking up the vertical 200 meters towards the old resorts was ok. But then the other 200 meters elevation to the summit were steep and exhausting. I walked 30 steps and then had to stop for 30 seconds to catch my breath. It takes forever to make progress and it sure didn’t help that it started to snow. At some point the guide just casually caught up and involved me into a conversation. Damn you people from here that don’t have any problems… Well, I made it eventually without my heart jumping out of my body. Not that I could enjoy the views since the summit was covered in clouds but I was now on 5400 meters. Whoop whoop. Before that I was considering climbing up the “easiest 6000 meter mountain” that’s just around the corner, named Huayna Potosi. But then, I decided I will be skipping that one because it’s just not much fun almost dying after ten steps and the failing rate is like 50 percent – I am not surprised. I also really don’t want to sleep in this altitude plus the weather isn’t the best I think. So long story short – the 6000 meter mountains have to wait for me a little longer and I was glad to get back down on 4000 again – not without having a big headache, feeling drunk, dizzy and tired. Yay, high altitudes. I do have lots of respect for those mountaineers who climb really high. I can not imagine myself ever to be summiting the Everest or something. I bet it’s rewarding to get there but it sure is a lot of work…
La Paz itsself
La Paz is very different to Sucre or Potosí. Much bigger, much more traffic, more people everywhere. It expands from 2900 meters (I think) up to 4100 meters. The views you get are fantastic and the best way to get them is by riding the Mi Teleferíco – a public cable car transportation that has improved commuting for 1000s of people. The bus from El Alto down to the center could take 50 minutes, with the cable car it only takes 10. A very nice way to discover La Paz, especially if you need to acclimatize and don’t want to walk.
Besides that I visited the “witch market”, where you can buy all the ingredients for brewing something that makes men fall in love with you or – if you catch your boyfriend cheating – to make him sick. A very important ingredient seems to be a dead baby Llama (or embryo) which they sell everywhere. So far once a day it thunder stormed and I used that opportunity to visit some museums, like the Museo Nacional de Ethnographía y Folklore or the Museo de San Francisco that belongs to the Iglesia de San Francisco. The rest of the time I ate good food (one time in the hosts “office” – you got to take what you get here being a vegetarian) and cake, drank lots of hot chocolate and strolled around…