I've talked about La Paz as we stayed there for eight days, catching out collective breaths.
But there's another side to La Paz; it's the sister city to its younger and tartier neighbour El Alto; a living, writhing, soul destructive concretion of a million people who live in this mishmash of half built brick three and four storied residences and squares of rubble and tarpaulins.
El Alto (literally translated at “High”) sits on the very edge of the Altiplano, the High Plateau of Bolivia; La Paz sits at the bottom of the valley, along the side of, what was 100 years ago, a beautiful river. The river is not in evidence today, buried under the main road that dissects the city into its colonial and indigenous halves.
El Alto itself spreads out across the plain like a massive construction site; half built houses lining the dusty road sides. There is no greenery anywhere and children kick cans in the dust while the long skirted Aymara women try to control the dirt with straw brooms.
There are two routes from La Paz to El Alto: a long, busy hair raising road that winds up the mountain side for 40 minutes, or the ten minute ride straight up the mountain on the telerifico, the brand new cable car that transports people from the city below to the city above and vice versa..for the grand price of 3 Bolivianos each way. Seventy cents to save hours and to sit in the silent comfort of the red and blue cars as they glide their way up the mountain high over the tattered houses and concrete lives of the poorer residents of La Paz.
The buildings that are not finished, in that they don’t have open gaping walls where windows might go one day, and rooves are a not porcupine of reo bar seem to have acquired an air of age, of growing uncomfortable in their own skin, as if, just by having been completed they are ready for dissolution; for going ungracefully into the past.
Cement rivulets dribble from the edges of the clumsy cement form work that makes up the lintels and floors of the three and four storey red brick blocks; creating patterns of crazy grey on the facades. Few buildings in this emerging ghetto called El Alto have seen paint except the curves and slashes of graffiti and posters. El Alto is a jenga game with people bursting from every dusty corner. This poor place, says Phil, as we sit on the bus passing through, has no soul.
on Sundays, the oldest part of El Alto - the main road which runs along the edge of the altiplano and overlooks La Paz, turns into a huge outdoor market where the locals buy everything from car parts to digestive moss (yep, moss which grows on the ground above the 5000m mark). There's nothing not for sale here, and the noise of the mass of humanity mingles with the noise of the hawkers, It's not terribnly exiciting, it's not particularly dispiriting, it's just life in the suburbs.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!