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Day 37 – The La Paz Cough

November 16, 2010

Location: La Paz, Bolivia

Date: Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I have the La Paz hostel cough. It seems like everyone here at Loki Hostel has, at one point, had the sniffles. A combination of late nights, dry altitude air, and cold means at some point you’re probably going to be under the weather. It doesn’t help that most of us are sleeping at least 8 to a room, which makes any bug easy to transfer.

In every dorm room, at least one person is hacking. In my room, it’s me. All that means is that I took it easy today. I couldn’t even be bothered to take one pic (now you know something’s wrong).

I did go out, though. Made a jaunt to the square next to the famed San Pedro Prison. You can book “tours” here by bribing the guards. They’re technically illegal, but for the price of anywhere from $60 to $100 USD, you get an escort of up to two prisoners (often convicted murders) and a prisoner guide.

The prison is unique because the inmates basically run the joint—guards man the walls but rarely interfere. The place has evolved its own little society. If a prisoner has the cash, he can pay $5,000 USD for a penthouse suite complete with TV, private bath, and all the fixings. If not, then a prisoner has to shell out money for a shared room. In other words, the prison is funded by the prisoners themselves. It’s like, to pay for your crimes, you’re forced to pay for a hotel with varying levels of comfort. Prisoners have to provide their own bedding, toiletries, food, and water.

In fact, whole families sometimes move into the prison to support their convicted loved one. I’m told kids run around amongst the felonious.

I debated going in, but in the end decided not to. I’m uncomfortable in situations where I’m an obvious interloper on someone’s day-to-day life. I don’t like busting out the camera to take pics of someone buying groceries or working in their shop. If I snap a pic, it’s either with their permission or on the down low. I feel like it’s a matter of respect. They didn’t ask to be travel celebrities—they’re just trying to get by.

Standing outside the peach colored prison walls, looking at the Bolivians standing in line to see their relatives, I couldn’t bring myself to walk past them, plop down the equivalent of three months of their salary, and waltz through to gawk at their imprisoned relatives. I couldn’t even take a picture of the front of the prison. It felt like an invasion of privacy. It’s not like these families wanted to be here, much less be photographed by a Western tourist.

That said, I don’t begrudge anyone for visiting the prison. It’s a unique experience, I’m sure. Everyone I’ve met who’s visited (and that means most tourists here) has said it was fascinating–a once in a lifetime experience. I guess for me, it’s a onetime thing that I’ll have to miss.

I Swallowed – A Periodic Feature on Drink Told (Sometimes) in Pictures

As I said, I was feeling under the weather. So much so that when Jamil and I decided to stand around with some locals and sample a Bolivian roadside drink, I forgot to take a picture.

What was it that we had?

I don’t know, actually. I do know that an old lady pushing a cart was mixing up a concoction of beer and cream in a glass cup. She laughed at us gringos when we ordered one and then, after discovering it tasted good, a second. Her friend got a kick out of it when I tried to pay after I thought Jamil had only paid for his; turns out his 4 Bolivianos covered for the both of us. Guess not everyone in the developing world is out for a quick buck; she could have taken my money and neither Jamil nor I would have been the wiser.

The drink tasted like a cream soda made with beer and was light and airy–more of a whip than a drink. Anyone have any idea what this is called? Internet here is spotty and the few searches I’ve done haven’t turned up any names.

All’s to say, when I get home, I’m trying out a Guinness float. I have a feeling that is the Western equivalent of this Bolivian treat.

GALLERY: No bonus pictures today, obviously.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. November 21, 2010 5:51 pm

    I’ve never heard or seen that particular drink – of course, if it was clearly alcoholic, I wouldn’t have…..

    My funny drink story was on the train in Ecuador – a cold day and a lady came around with a tea kettle offering “canela”…which is cinnamon, of course. Earl, thinking “cinnamon tea” – great!, asked for a cup.

    The lady grinned, pulled out the cup and a bottle, poured a slug from the bottle into the cup and added hot water….Earl was suspicious, but not very….ignorant, a lot.

    I took a big sip, and almost did the movie thing of blowing the entire mouthful all over the train car….now filled with locals laughing at the dumb gringo!! Hehe…. The “canela” was cinnamon-flavored moonshine – I have no idea of the proof, but it was enough to burn the mouth and I only barely got it swallowed, with red face and sweating forehead.

    The lady and half the car were laughing out loud, now…as did I, as soon as I recovered. I offered the cup to Gail, my brother and sister, our Brit friends we’d met a day or two earlier, and finally back to the lady, since I got no other takers….I really couldn’t manage even one more swallow!!

    Live and learn…..

    One thing you’ll miss not traveling on the trains – the whole roasted pig on the station platform, with the owner carving off whatever part you choose to serve you on a piece of doubled newspaper! I have some great photos of these LARGE swine! Yikes!

  2. Sally permalink
    November 22, 2010 11:12 am

    Me buy you beer float in LA.

  3. Doug permalink
    November 27, 2010 1:43 pm

    Did you ever think it was name of the hostel that is the culpable.

  4. Gibralter217 permalink
    November 28, 2010 11:22 am

    I just had some Chinese liquor a couple of nights ago. Our new neighbor friends brought it out for our thanks giving leftovers potluck. 55% alcohol. Maybe she meant proof, but maybe not. Burningest stuff I’ve ever had. I almost declined the second shot. the next day I had a morning and evening hangover, one for each shot I’m guessing. You’ll have to try it when you get back.

    She also mentioned that in china they have a delicious alcoholic beverage made from horse’s milk and, well, she didn’t know what else. I wonder if it’s similar to what you drank.

    • December 4, 2010 1:17 pm

      If you’re referring to baijiu, the stuff I had in china, then you might have.

      If you’re talking about the stuff that got me sick in La Paz, I think it was a matter of “quantity” rather than “quality.” Note: I did not have a hangover at any point, I just beat the living hell out of my immune system by staying up late and doing too much. It’s totally different. I think.

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