November 9, 2005
Early this morning, Matthieu, Julien, and I walked to the bus station to buy our tickets out of town. The bus we will be taking has seats that recline into full beds, and the 13-hour overnight ride will only cost $7.50 each. It's crazy how cheap things are here.
I was hungry when we were walking back from the bus station, so I grabbed some empanadas, which are basically just deep-fried pieces of bread with cheese, beef, or chicken inside, from a street vendor. Until that point, I had only eaten empanadas with cheese, but this place didn't have any of them, so I got one with beef and one with chicken instead. This would later prove to be a very bad idea.
I still had a few hours to kill before meeting the guy for the book exchange, so I decided to mail some stuff home. Matthieu and Julien figured they would want pizza too, so they agreed to meet me later at the same place. After walking down the extremely crowded main artery of La Paz, I found the post office. The guy who inspects the packages to make sure you aren't mailing bombs or coca leaves wouldn't be in for another hour and a half, so I left to torture myself at another Internet cafe. I went back to the post office and finished getting my stuff mailed at 2:45, only fifteen minutes before I was supposed to meet the guy at the pizzeria.
It would probably take thirty minutes to walk through the overcrowded streets from the post office to the pizzeria, so I decided to try and take a shortcut instead. I walked up a giant hill in generally the right direction, and thought about what a genius I was because the street was almost empty. Then, when I got close to where I thought the pizzeria was, I realized that I had no idea where I was. Nothing seemed familiar. The entire city of La Paz looks exactly the same except for the cathedral at the center of town, but that cathedral is only visible if you are a block or less away from it because it is at the bottom of a hill. I guess walking through random parts of a big city where you don't know any street names or even have a map is generally not the mark of a genius.
I thought about taking a cab, but I didn't know the name of anything in town, including my hostel, because it was a Quechua name that was impossible to remember. Finally, I remembered that my hostel was near the Solarium, another hostel. I got in a cab and told the driver to take me to the Solarium, but he didn't seem to know where it was. I told him that it was a few blocks up the hill from the cathedral, and he suddenly seemed to know where I was talking about. He drove around for about ten minutes and dropped me off. I still didn't know where I was, but he assured me that the cathedral was just a few blocks away. I started walking and saw a cathedral, but not the cathedral. I had no idea what to do, so I just kept walking until finally I saw something familiar: the post office!
I was right back where I started, but I didn't care anymore. I walked the long way to the pizzeria down the busy street and up the huge hill. I arrived almost an hour late in a ball of sweat, and the guy with the book was long gone. Matthieu and Julien had just finished their pizzas and were wondering what happened to me. When I told them I got lost, they chuckled but seemed to understand. Later, I borrowed one of their guidebooks and it actually said that it is nearly impossible to get lost in La Paz. Talk about adding insult to injury!
It was finally time to leave La Paz. The bus out of town was spacious and comfortable. It also stopped every five minutes, though, so it was very difficult for me to get any quality sleep. At one point in the middle of the night, we drove through a small town, and the people in the street started pounding on the outside of the bus. "Welcome to Bolivia," I thought. I probably slept for eleven out of the thirteen hours I was on the bus, but it was such poor-quality sleep that it was the equivalent of only about two hours in a regular bed. At least I made it to Sucre in one piece.