We decided to leave Cochabamba after one day there. I had fell for a scam and we had been robbed when we first got into town (click here to read about it). From then on the town failed to catch our interest.
So, we left for La Paz, a 380 km trip, at about 11 am. We arrived in La Paz at about 5 pm. We crossed the Cordillera Oriente and reached a whopping 4496 metres at the summit. That's 14,750 feet! Although it was brillantly clear and sunny, the temperature never rose above 17 degrees C/62 degrees F. I was affected by the altitude a little, Dimitri wasn't at all. The road was paved all of the way but fairly poor as we ascended to the summit. It was wavy with big drops in the height of the pavement. I was driving at the time and was afraid to ride with the big hump in the middle--I thought that the car was too low and the hump would scrap the bottom. I rode on the left side at times. The tolls were Bs 12.
When we were 30 km from La Paz we started seeing the snow covered mountains surrounding the city. Even though it was hazy, the view was pretty special.
Dimitri hadn't found a good city map for the greater La Paz area so he printed out Google maps when we were still in Cochabamba. We had also gotten detailed instructions for driving to Casa Grande Apart Hotel in the newer, southern area of the city. But we wanted to check out the Casino Real Apart Hotel in an area closer to the city center. With Dimitri's Google maps and a city center map from a tourist handout, we drove straight to the first apart hotel without getting lost. Pretty impressive.
The chaos of the traffic getting there was something else entirely. There was a divided 4-lane road when we got to El Alto. But traffic came at us every which way (on our side of the divided road!). The number of minivan buses was gigantic and they stopped at will. There were police directing traffic with little effect. Dimitri said that he really didn't want to experience driving in La Paz again (and, you know, he did very well driving in Cairo). We decided we'd put our car in the hotel garage and take taxis.
There is only one road into La Paz and it turns into a limited access highway which is called the Autopista. Our instructions were excellent and so were the maps Dimitri printed. The infrequent street name signs gave us comfort that we were going the right way.
The first view of La Paz is eye-popping. It is spectacular, as in a spectacle. And it is unique. And then we descended from 4000 masl, some 400 metres, to the center of town which is in a huge bowl or canyon. La Paz itself is at about 3600 masl/11800 fasl.
When we got to the first apart-hotel I stayed in the car guarding it (better than 2 days before), while Dimitri checked out Camino Real Apart Hotel (Calle Capitan Ravel No. 2123, tel (591-2) 244-1515, web: http://caminorealaparthotel-spa.com/). The apartments were nice, he said, but the gym was minisule and the spa only had a sauna. We decided to drive to the other apart-hotel that was in the southern end of La Paz.
Following the directions we were given we continued to descend and descend and descend to get to Casa Grande Apart Hotel (Av. Ballivián 1000 esquina Calle 17), Calacoto, La Paz, telf (591-2)279-5511, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, web: http://www.casa-grande.com.bo/). The neighborhood was nice and the building architecturally interesting. Both Dimitri and I were able to go into the building to see the accommodations because we could park in front of the door and there was a doorman (actually there were 2 doormen). We saw a one bedroom and thought it looked nice but the storage was limited. We really liked the 2 bedroom and we negotiated a great price for a one week stay (US $115--down from the rack rate of US$200--a day). It included breakfast, garage, Internet and the use of the fabulous Go! gym associated with the hotel. Incredibly there is no central heating in the building. We were brought 2 portable heaters. The building must be well insulated because that was enough. The bathrooms have wall heaters which work well.
We stayed one night on the first floor (and it wasn't noisy). Then (after a great breakfast of American-style pancakes and maple-syrup) we moved to another 2 bedroom on the 7th floor. We have a magnificent view of the southern side of the humungous bowl/canyon in which La Paz is located. We see the detail of the shapes that water and wind have created in the sandstone sides of the canyon. We weren't sure that the bottom of the canyon would get sun but it did.
After our pancake breakfast, we went out to find the laundry and a place to get our Subaru aligned. We have been having a shaking-type movement at high speeds and Dimitri said we needed a re-alignment. We tried to find a Subaru dealer in La Paz but, evidently there isn't one. We did find a mechanic who "does Subarus" in the center of La Paz. Because we are in the southern area, we didn't relish the idea of driving to the center. We saw a Mercedes dealer and went there to ask for advice. They sent us to an authorized Goodyear dealer. For US $47, we got our re-alignment done and something else Dimitri said needed doing. Pretty good and it was only a block from our Casa Grande Apart Hotel.
I made a salad for lunch in the kitchen of our apartment and we enjoyed nesting there. After lunch we went to the Go! gym. It was terrific. We spent an hour doing cardio and machines (pretty impressive at 3200 masl/ 10500 feet). Then we wanted to use the sauna and steam. Too bad--not open until 8 pm. So we returned to our hotel and used the sauna and steam at our hotel. Not bad!
Dimitri, however, started feeling bad. We decided to stay in and have soup at the Casa Grande Hotel's restaurant. Dimitri ordered a chicken soup and couldn't even finish that. What is it? Did he get sick from drinking the tap water or was it the salad? What? He is having diarrhea and is throwing up. Oh boy. Getting sick on the road is not part of the plan.