We arrived in La Paz on Thursday (3/2) and were instantly awe-struck with the geographical features of the area. The city is nestled amongst deep valleys at 12,000 feet, with houses and buildings seeping their way steeply uphill. Because of the dramatic topography, landslides can be a major problem throughout the area and it’s easy to find buildings high above street level with the land eroding out from underneath.
On Friday (3/3), our first full day in La Paz, we went to El Museo Etnografía y Folklore which is divided into several rooms of varying topics and displays. One room provided a history of knitting and weaving with examples of ponchos and hats of varying ages (some were ancient artifacts and others were more modern art projects) and another room focused on ceramics.
The most interesting room (to me) was a long, dark room lined on either side with masks. No two masks resembled each other; each had a personality of its own. The only thing the masks had in common is that all of them seemed to be watching me as I walked down the length of the room. Unfortunately, all of the museum information provided on plaques and brochures was in Spanish so we were limited in how much we learned about the displays. Regardless, it was still an interesting place to spend a couple hours.
After the museum we walked to Plaza Murillo, the main town square nearby. My initial intent was to relax at the square and enjoy some people-watching behind the security of my sunglasses. As soon as we arrived at the square, however, this plan was foiled. See, I really don’t like birds. At a distance they’re fine, but when they get up close and personal I can’t handle it. And this town square: covered in pigeons. I skirted the perimeter of the square at a safe distance but insisted on leaving as soon as Alastair had his fun waking right into a flock.
Our next destination was Calle Jaen, a narrow street lined with colorful colonial buildings of shops, cafes, and several museums. This street had been toted as a “must-see” for La Paz. Maybe it’s because we were there in the off-season or maybe it’s because I was getting hangry, but this street provided minimal entertainment for us and was somewhat anti-climactic. Although it was a pretty street, there seemed to be few options open for food or entertainment, and we were a little museumed-out.
This day was also my birthday and Alastair was in charge of scoping out a restaurant for dinner. Clever guy that he is, he found what is likely the best restaurant in all of Bolivia: Gustu. This restaurant was established by the owner of another restaurant in Copenhagen that was voted the world’s best restaurant for three years in a row. Gustu focuses on using only ingredients found in Bolivia and has an associated culinary school which benefits local disadvantaged youth. We hadn’t been too adventurous with food in Bolivia so far so this place was definitely a treat since we felt content ordering anything on the menu without the fear of regretting our decisions shortly thereafter.
My evening consisted of a coconut and apple drink, an appetizer of tomatoes with rawfried brocolini and creamy aged cheese, a main course of braised lamb and spiced pumpkin (my favorite thing I ate all evening), and creamy coffee and Brazil nut ice cream with burned meringue for dessert.
Alastair went for a rosemary lemonade; an appetizer of poached rabbit with corn, lime and lemon grass; a main course of grilled pork terrine with grilled potatoes and smoked apples; and chocolate bizcoflan with mint ice cream and chocolate ganache for dessert.
The entire dinner was delicious and definitely an exclusive place for the upper class of La Paz (and foreigners) to go eat. Due to the low value of Bolivian currency, our entire meal cost about $80 USD. Part of me felt pretentious for eating there, but it was such a nice experience and it’s rare that we go to a fancy restaurant, let alone the (likely) best one in the country. Hubs did good.
We had a few additional days in La Paz which we use for a guided tour to the ancient city ruins of Tiwanaku (post coming soon) and a visit to the Museo de la Coca. The museum was quite small but provided a lot of information about the history of the coca plant, its spiritual and medicinal uses (including alleviating altitude sickness), its importance in Andean culture, and negative connotations due to its use in the production of cocaine. It is a commonly consumed plant in this area (usually by storing a masticated ball of it in your cheek) and a basket of coca leaves sits among the self-serve tea bags and coffee offered in the lobby of our hotel. Although I haven’t chewed any, I have been enjoying a cup of coca tea nearly every afternoon.
Our time within the city limits of La Paz was short-lived. Overall we’ve had an interesting experience in Bolivia, with both highlights and challenges. It’s been educational, for sure, but we are both excited for moving on to our next country: Peru!