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Day 32 – Traffic Zebras

November 11, 2010

Location: La Paz, Bolivia

Date: Thursday, November 11, 2010

La Paz is a wild city. Not only is it seated in some dramatic mountains, it’s a strange combination of cosmopolitan and developing world. As you pass through the outskirts of the city, you see everything typical of a non-Western city. Masses of people move through dust covered streets crammed with a random mix of shops and street vendors. Men offer all forms of transport from collectivo vans and taxis. Mixed with the crowd are women (for some reason it’s mostly women) in national dress: bowlers, colorful scarves, and black, formless dress. Children mix in, fearless as they run through the streets, seemingly unattended.

A glance at the city center, though, and you could be in any of the world’s cosmopolitan cities. Family owned shops are replaced by brand name stores. Men in suits power walk through the crowd, talking to each other about the most important thing in the world. The youth are dressed in the fashion of their time.

In fact, with the steep hills and narrow streets, it almost feels like San Francisco. Almost. One difference you notice is the drivers. Unlike San Francisco, here the drivers are murderous and the pedestrians suicidal.

All of which has led to a uniquely Bolivian approach. The city has hired men, women, and children to dress up as zebras and run through traffic. On the city’s busiest intersections, herds of the traffic zebras wave cars through on green lights, try to prevent pedestrians from jaywalking, and run and jump across the intersection when it’s the pedestrians’ turn.

Once I saw a zebra working a street alone, dodging collectivos as they swooped to the sidewalk to pick up passengers. I had a vision of someone dressed as a lion running through the crowd and tackling the stray. It would have made my day, maybe even my life.

Traffic zebras. Indigenous to La Paz and a sure sign you’re not at home.

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GALLERY: No bonus pictures today.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Doug permalink
    November 18, 2010 9:39 am

    Things you can only see when you travel.

    • November 20, 2010 1:53 pm

      With a little luck, the indegenous La Paz zebras will soon be coming to a zoo near you.

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