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I love the smell of gunpowder in the morning in La Paz

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Loud explosions and the smell of gunpowder filled the air as the crowds rushed past us. Thankfully it was still only fireworks so far as the demonstrations had stayed peacefull. Only a few people in our hostel had managed to get teargassed. The police was out in force, but there hadn’t really been any classhes between them and the protesters. Welcome to La Paz in Bolivia.

It could be argued that this is not the best time to travel to La Paz in Bolivia, not when demonstrations apparently have been going on from January, with only brief pauses in between. But it also could be argued, that for months the demonstrations have stayed peaceful. So the only annoyance for a traveler is the fact that some parts of the city are occasionally blocked off by the riot police, and the roadblocks set up by the demonstrators themselves. And well, I suppose if you get teargassed, you might also count that as an annoyance; thou I suppose some will count even that as an experience.

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But in the end, it’s actually not as bad as it might sound. The biggest challenge we faced was when we tried to get to the Valley of the moon (Valle de la Luna) in Mallasa, which is about 10km south of La Paz. As we tried to make our way there, we quickly found out that there were no busses going to that direction because of the roadblocks.

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Even the few taxes we asked, didn’t seem interested in going to that direction (no paso, no paso). But not easily dissuaded, we decided to walk south and see the roadblocks for ourselves, which we found maybe 3km later. They were basically just some rocks brought over by the demonstrators to block the road, who themselves were just sitting around basically enjoying the sunny day out. After we got across those, we found a taxi to take us where we wanted and even fairly cheaply.

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The valley of the moon is a worth the visit if you happen to be in La Paz, it’s a bizarre landscape, which could as easily be in the moon, hence the name I suppose. It’s basically standstone sculpted by years of rain and wind. We stayed there drinking beer until dark at which point we figured we best actually try to get back to La Paz. The taxi we managed to find, was already half full, but it was cheap.

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La Paz itself is cheap and cheerful, and has lots to offer. And while itself might not be the pretiest of cities, it is a gate to other parts of Bolivia including the jungle and of course the Death Road (about that a little later). And actually La Paz itself isn’t too bad either, it’s vibrant and happening kind of place; the night life is good, and you rarely get back before 6am when going out, but then again, you rarely go out before 1am anyway.

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Thou if you are here right now for an illegal tour to the infamous San Pedro prison, you are out of luck it seems. San Perdo, which is walking distance from the centre of La Paz is basically an economy of its own. While there are of course guards on the gate and on the walls, there are non inside, leaving the prisoners to organize things as they please. And the tours were part of this economy.

The prison tours, originally made popular by the book Marching Powder, seems to have completely stopped. The way it used to work, is that someone from inside the prison would organize you to visit him, claiming you were a relative.

There are rumours going around that a group of reporters had gone in on an illegal tour a few weeks ago and had filmed the whole thing. And of course there is a movie in planning based on the book. All this has brought a little too much attention on the tours, which subsequently have been forced to stop. So if you are currently being offered a tour to San Pedro prison, you will most likely just be ripped off. We stopped by the front gate of the prison on the other side of the road, the guards were pretty quick gesturing us to move on, clearly not happy about us hanging about.

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La Paz is worth the visist, thou it has to be said that La Paz is right now very popular with the backpackers, the first hostel I arrived to was full; and two others that I contacted afterwards were also out of free beds. Thankfully I found a hostel that still had some space. Could had something to do with the fact that it had opened only two weeks earlier. But no, I still don’t do bookings when I travel. Things always work out, somehow.