The bodies of the past lining every car packed street are trussed up in the black clad wires of the present, glorious dreams that live in a history shrouded graffiti covered city that bursts from the mountain side as a jumble of ancient mud adobe and upstart fired clay bricks….La Paz is a living breathing organism, thriving despite itself. In 50 year’s time it may well have collapsed onto itself…victim of the decay of years of corruption and mismanagement…but the threads of life that wrap around every street may just be enough to see this marvellous city limp into another future.
The street is jammed with colourful high chassis public buses with long noses; taxis that have purchased their eclectic mix of electronic roof signage from the street markets of El Alto, and vans packed like sardines that proclaim their destinations with photocopied signs plastered on the windscreens. Women lean from the windows, entreating passers-by to pay the few cents that are required to get on board. There’s no motorcycles and the steep hills are only for the crazy gringos who want to test their mountain biking skills.
La Paz is rather like a lava lamp. The city seems to be simultaneously melting away and emerging; it’s in a state of constant flux, of stunning beautiful old buildings falling into disrepair and new building of grotesque ugliness growing in their place….like the glycerine of the lava lamp when it’s subjected to heat, construction ebbs and flows in a tangle of bricks and masonry and concrete and mud and stunning carvings and Corinthian poles and terraces and colonial windows looking over cobbled stone streets.
The colour in the city of La Paz is contributed by the citizenry; the bustle of the Cholitas in their multi-hued and layered skirts and shawls and the sidewalk vendors with their gorgeous weavings and knitted goods, taking up the pedestrian space on the streets, forcing walkers onto the road.
Bolivians aren’t afraid of wearing colour but they don’t waste much time making their buildings as beautiful as their textiles. It’s alive and colourful; there’s no vegetation and the streets and buildings compete in a chaotic dance of old and new. It’s timelessly dirty and dusty and the graffiti is everywhere, but every night, the streets are swept clean.
This city is probably never going to get an honorary mention in a list of the most attractive cities in the world; even the Rough Guide and Wikipedia can’t find much to recommend it, but I like it.
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