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I waited a long time to cross the road in La Paz, then all the people I thought were waiting with me got into a collectivo minibus. Ah ha.. I thought and tried to style out my long wait with a jaunty stroll across the road, which nearly ended my life as a taxi screeched to a halt millimetres from my toes.

La Paz was somewhat a confusing city and certainly a busy one, but I felt a change in atmosphere from Peru almost immediately. The people were a lot more smiley and there was a certain openness about them which made me feel relaxed. A simple transaction of buying a cup of coffee could last for hours as pleasantries were exchanged and general chat occurred.
I had met many Peruvians who harboured resentment about the state of their lives and economy and were happy to voice their grievances, but the Bolivians I encountered so far seemed content with their lot and proud of their country, in fact I felt compelled to tell every Bolivian I spoke to that theirs was by far the best country in Latin America. As Paul Theroux remembered on several occasions: They hate criticism.

“Bolivia is my country, I love Bolivia I will never leave here, but I HATE Evo Morales, he is stupid.” Not a common criticism of a president, but this was in fact the second person who had said this to me. I was enjoying a beer in The Blue Note, a cosy bar in La Paz, with a musician whose name I could not pronounce, when I asked about his thoughts on the president: “You want to talk about politicsssssss?” he hissed at me menacingly. “I don’t, it makes me angry for my country.” He shouted beating his chest. I decided to change the subject. The pony-tailed flute player calmed as he spoke to me of the beautiful jungle, mountains and cities in Bolivia.

La Paz left me breathless and confused, just when I thought I knew the way back to my hotel I was faced with another unfamiliar hill littered with small Indian women begging or selling their wares. Looking up to avert my gaze from the beggars I noticed the terrifying wiring, thousands of lines crisscrossing the streets and connecting the jumbled buildings in a decidedly unsafe fashion.
The central square, as with all squares in South America, was filled with life. Women selling drinks and snacks, children playing with the pigeons and men sat on benches chatting. Cheerful armed police posed with tourists as did the guards on the government houses. The buildings were beautiful, especially the Palacio Presidential, designed in an Italian renaissance style and known as the burnt palace as it has twice been gutted by fire.

Each corner in the city brought a new surprise, one day I stumbled across the most impressive parade I have seen for years, rows of women dancing happily in matching outfits, their bright shawls swished as they turned, a brass band ompahhed along behind them all coordinated by a very cool chap who looked a little like a pimp, a real party atmosphere. A saint’s day celebration and a wedding combined I was told.

But I was a bad tourist in La Paz, I didn’t want to see the inmates in San Pedro prison or cycle down the aptly named death road, so instead I wandered around the city watching its inhabitants and eating the most delicious cakes I had consumed in a long time. Perhaps this had something to do with why the Bolivians were so happy, their cake. It oozed out of the shop windows, huge chocolate sculptures that I thought only existed in cartoons. I must have been in a post cake haze one day when I left my bank card in the machine. Cursing my stupidity I returned to the bank the next day with low hopes of retrieving the card. I explained to the pretty lady in traditional dress of blue sparkly fringed shawl and bowler hat (I was having problems thinking of her as a bank employee) when she told me to look for Horacio. After a few ‘Donde esta Horacios’ I found him and lo and behold he had my bank card in his hand. He smiled and handed it back to me with a jaunty nod. I was astonished.

I did attend one kind-of tourist activity in La Paz, one which I decided could not be missed named Cholitas Wrestling.
This was a fun Sunday activity which involved local families and a few tourists turning up to a sports centre and watching women in traditional dress um…wrestle, and not just wrestle each other but wrestle men also. It was the most obscure afternoon I had enjoyed in a long time. The wrestlers were introduced, as in all wrestling matches, with a lot of pomp and ceremony. First up was a man dressed in camouflaged army gear and sunglasses, he marched around the ring as the locals booed and I caught sight of a little old Indian lady with a very wrinkled face flicking him the bird.

Next in was a pretty Indian lady who danced around the ring before removing her earrings and bowler hat for the fight The bell rang and she approached her opponent with a rake, which he swiftly grabbed from her and began to press into her forehead, blood spurted all over the Cholita and the ring. What good clean family fun I pondered to myself, although the blood was fake the effect was fairly horrific. It seemed the lady had not a chance against the tough ‘army’ man and she was ’punched’ and ’kicked’ in true fake wrestling style until left ’bleeding’ having lost the fight in the centre of the ring. Her daughter came to drag her away though, which was a nice touch.

At this point an American lady sat next to me, who had been brought to this traditional event by her Bolivian family, got up and walked out shouting about sadism. Her husband, who had been enjoying himself and yelling at the wrestlers, slunk out after her, tail between his legs.
The rest of the audience was enjoying the show and participated with yells and boos as the fights continued, local favourites came and went, popcorn and candyfloss was consumed and at one point the fighters spilled out of the ring and onto my lap. After a few fights I escaped into the thin altiplano air and back to my hotel feeling somewhat confused and wondering if every Indian women I saw was really a secret Cholita wrestler about to attack.

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