Monthly Archives: September 2016

The walk to school

The walk to school is about 1.4 miles long. With Zeke’s school in the morning and Anna’s in the afternoon, we make 3 or 4 trips to school each day. After a month, we have found the route that seems fastest and has the least amount of up and down. Walking, we have done it as fast as 26 minutes; Paul has run it in just over 13 minutes. If those times seem modest, remember that this involves crossing several busy streets and plazas with no stop signs or traffic control and passing through taxis, minibuses, pedestrians, produce haulers, and handtrucks in the busy market district.

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Sushi Economico on Calle Luis Crespo

We live in Sopocachi, in a fairly peaceful upscale part of town. For Zeke and me, the walk to school begins between 7:20 and 7:29 (if we leave on the late end, we need to move it) with the steep uphill to Calle Luis Crespo, where we immediately pass two auto repair shops and say good morning to the guys, who do a large part of their work on the street in front of the shops. Just down the block is Doña Marcella’s store, where we buy our water, eggs, and nuts and other stuff, so unless she is out of sight, we say good morning to her. We go by the Sushi Economico place, which both scares and tempts me. A few vans go by with “Max Paredes” on the front windshield; occasionally we take one, though the time to school is more predictable on foot.


About 7 minutes into the walk we pass the San Pedro upholstery shop and cross Landaeta, which to me is the boundary line between Sopocachi and the more working-class, bustling San Pedro neighborhood. Once in San Pedro, crossing streets gets more complicated, as there are no stop signs and no clear right-of-way. It is amazing to me that we have not yet witnessed two vehicles colliding, though it probably helps that the majority of the traffic is taxis and minivans – that is, guys (and it is almost always men) who drive in La Paz for a living. The protocol seems to me that the larger, faster, or braver vehicle crosses in front of the other. If there is a string of traffic crossing, a car hoping to break through edges into the intersection little by little until the string has no choice but to let them through. For walkers, it is helpful to know which streets are one-way, to watch vehicles closely for signs of turning (never trust a turn signal or lack of one), and to know where the speed bumps are and how much they slow down the traffic. A useful move is to let a car going your way run interference for you; this may involve running to get across the intersection at the same rate as the car. A similar move is to glom onto a few Bolivians (who cross with more authority than us) and cross with (but downstream of) them.

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Traffic in San Pedro

In San Pedro we go by the liquor store, the Spock store, a plaza, a few all-purpose stores, restaurants and salteña places, another plaza, and then we’re into the tire district. Four or five stores in a row seem to be just a small room crammed with tires with space to walk between and place a stool or sometimes a desk. In the second plaza is a guy with a pad of paper who sometimes grabs a piece of paper from a passing van.
Our first sign of our timing is the situation outside the Maria Auxiliadora school, which seems to start at 7:45. If we walk by at 7:43, the families walking are fairly tranquil, but if we pass at 7:45, we get the sight of families sprinting toward the door, children stuffing bread or empanadas into their mouths, handing hair brushes to mothers, and taking off at a pace their parents can’t hold. Once past Maria Auxiliadora, we go by two plant stores and turn right onto Calle Riobamba. Here the character of the walk changes again. After another auto repair place and a few stores, we find stands lining the sidewalks and turn left onto Max Paredes and into the market district.

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Market at Max Paredes and Rodriguez

In the next few blocks (those nearest Calle Rodriguez), the street is lined with stands selling fruits, vegetables, breakfast (api, buñuelo or pastel, yaucha, empanada, oatmeal in a bag, soup, coffee), cheese, peanut butter, meat, both raw (there are women who spend the day cutting huge recognizable animal parts into smaller bits on platforms on the sidewalk) and dried (did you know that the English word jerky comes from the Quechua word charqui, for dried meat?), fish, eggs, peanut butter out of five-gallon buckets, cheese, all kinds of cooking oils, flour, spices, cleaning products, blankets, belts and hats, small plastic toys, cakes, newspapers, and stuff I’m sure I’m forgetting. The minibuses and taxis have people loading and unloading bundles of goods as well as people trying to get to work; often both directions come to a complete stop and, with the sidewalks filled the pedestrians, many heavily loaded, get through as well as they can.

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Mercado Rodriguez

Farther up Max Paredes, things thin out a little. We cross Calle Sagárnaga, which only two blocks lower is one of the main tourist streets, full of cafes and adventure tour operators, but here is just another (fairly gritty) street. A few streets higher is another market center, where we often see vans full of bananas or pineapple unloading. When we pass at just the right time, we see the Morning Papaya Toss, a well-coordinated two-person transfer of 50 or more papayas out of the hatchback of a white taxi. We usually arrive at the school around 7:54, which gives Zeke time to play soccer in the courtyard until the bell rings at 8. On my way out, I pass loads of scurrying kids trying to get to the gate before it is closed by the guard. Then I head back down Max Paredes, either back toward home or farther downhill, past Plaza San Pedro and its huge (but somehow not depressing) prison, toward the university.


I love that we walk through this every day, and it makes my short walk to work up Main Street in Bloomsburg seem a bit dull by comparison. Perhaps there are still a few markets in the United States that bustle like this, but I guess that a place with this level of informality and human-powered activity can no longer be found in the (so-called) developed world.

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Up to the ridge

We´ve been looking across the valley to the ridge on the east side of La Paz for almost two months now, wondering what it is like up there. On Sunday we decided to find out.

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This is 100ft from home on our little dead-end street.

The hike starts by going down toward the river Choqueyapu, at the bottom of the valley. The river smells like sewage, looks like soapy washing machine water, and is covered over through most of La Paz. Taking the high bridge (Puente de las Americas) avoids a little up and down. From there we head towards the Killi Killi Mirador (lookout). It is one of the few places on this hike where we saw gringos, or at least evidence of them – a nice guy selling miniatures of the archeaological stuff at Tiwanaku. Also, we could see our house.

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Can you spot our building? It´s white.

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We never get tired of taking pictures of Illimani. Also from Mirador Killi Killi.

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In the upper left is where we want to go. We´ve already crossed the lowest part of the valley.

From there it´s down steps, and then up lots more. There are times when it seems like we have left town, and other times when it seems lie we are back in the middle of it. There are narrow stairways guarded by barking dogs, sidewalks that if you fell off them you would land on someone´s roof, and roads under contruction. It keeps seeming like we are getting farther from the city as we know it , but there is always more city above. Eventually we find ourselves in Alto Pampahasi (one of the fun things of these walks is learning the locations that words on busses correspond to) on the ridge that we see from home.

From there there is more uphill, but we can see the trees at the top of the ridge. Soon (well, not so soon, but after a while) we are off the roads and onto a dirt path. Here it is good to sit while Leticia goes a bit higher on the narrow path with dropoffs that make Paul´s feet tingle just thinking about it. He asks her to please not take Zeke. Zeke wants to go, but sees the look on his father´s face and agrees to stay behind.

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Leticia took this from the top. Well, not the top, but as far as she went before she thought of her husband worrying about her and turned around.

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This is literally the high point of the hike, for all but Leticia. 13,175 feet at the satellite dishes, before the path gets all droppoffy.

And so we headed back down, thinking we might catch a bus, but also curious about how to get off the ridge. We followed the main road for a while, figuring those busses had to get down somehow. The lure of more steps and a quicker descent pulled us off the main road, until finally we found ourselves in Obrajes, close to the green teleferico line. So we took that home. All told, a 10 mile hike that took 7 or 8 hours, counting breaks for food, water, photos, bathrooms, catching breath, thinking about how to get there, etc.

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Walking near Coroico

One of my favorite things about life when we travel is that walking becomes a more central part of our lives. It becomes both transportation and entertainment for us and there are less other things competing for our time. This time at 5 or 6 weeks in I am wondering how long it will take for me to be in shape for this city. At least once daily I am walking the 4 mile round trip to get Anna or Zeke to or from school. My muscles are still sore and some days they feel more weary than I would expect at this point. Also daily I find myself winded as I try to make good time or keep up with Anna and Zeke. It is true that I keep walking faster and that I keep increasing the weight of groceries I am willing to haul home, but is the lack of recovery me getting older?
I am again marking a map- seeing how many roads I can walk while I am here. (The year we lived in La Falda Argentina I tried to walk all of the streets of the town and was impeded by territorial dogs on the edges of town.) I am trying to add at least a little section of road I have never walked most days. Somehow I love the slowly understanding the map and the roll of the land better. This is a city which is particularly ill suited to being understood with a flat map with its steepness and folds. I enjoy both the scenic walks and the walks which may be less pretty but add to my understanding of place, and there is often a sweetness to walking through neighborhoods where foreigners are rare and being met with some curiosity.

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This weekend no roads got marked on my map though. Friday after successfully finding a dentist and getting a piece of work done for Zeke we headed towards Coroico. We had a snowy and foggy drive over a mountain pass and then down a mountain road. I was in the front seat, was grateful for the care our driver took and was grateful when we got below the clouds. We stayed the weekend at Senda Verde, a refuge that takes in animals rescued from illegal trafficking. (Perhaps others will write about the fun of that… this is about walking.)

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Paul said ¨what´s this thing on my head?¨ and this is the picture he got.

After arriving and getting settled on Friday we walked out to the town of Yolosa and up what turned out to be the “Death Road” which is the old way to Coroico. Especially after being in La Paz the diversity of plants and flowers was delightful as was being able to walk dirt roads with few people. Birds felt like another treat which we have been missing. I also delighted in the warmth and humidity in the air though some among us found it a bit much for walking.

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Saturday we took a taxi up to Coroico for lunch and to explore, and then we walked the 5 miles (?) back to Senda Verde. On Sunday we explored up another road. Unfortunately we had to turn back in search of lunch and return to La Paz. Both Anna and Zeke were difficult to turn, and Anna and I agreed we really want to spend some time walking from one town to another with daypacks sometime soon.

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We are back in La Paz now and just from the uphill block from where we had our taxi drop us to home I am convinced that the lack of oxygen here is at least part of my weariness, which I will take as more reassuring than frustrating. I am grateful we got a bit of time outside of the city and will try to be gentler with myself as we settle back into routines.

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The walk to the soccer field at the edge of the world

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