We started off today by sleeping in…well sort of. We still woke up at 6.30 in the morning but lounged around in bed for a while before getting up around 8.30 and grabbing breakfast downstairs. After breakfast, we spent the rest of the morning unleashing a torrent of backlogged blog posts on you guys before deciding we needed to get out of the room and see the city a bit.
We started off trying once again unsuccessfully to go to the Cuban Restaurant. Their doors were once again closed despite their listed hours saying they were open. Oh well, neither of us were terribly hungry so we started instead with the Museum of Iglesia San Francisco. The museum is an old Franciscan monastery, convent, and church, that is partially still in use. After some initial confusion figuring out where the museum started we were given a guide who spoke basic English and given a quick tour of the museum. She moved a lot faster than either of us would have liked and we probably would have gotten more information from just reading the signs that were also posted in English, but she did have some interesting insight into a room full of paintings of the Virgin Mary. There were probably 15 or so painted by indigenous Bolivians anywhere between the late 1500s and end of the 19th century. It was interesting to see the indigenous influences in them, for example, she was always drawn with a large dress in a triangle shape to also represent a mountain or Pachamamma. There was also always a crescent moon below her, if it was facing up it meant she had not had Jesus yet. If it was facing down, she had.
Our guide also took us up some very narrow stairs into the belfry of the old church where we saw some of the bells that had been cracked when some overeager revolutionaries rang them too hard to summon the people in the failed revolution of 1809. We finally ended in the crypt of the church where Franciscan monks had formerly been buried, but now was home to heroes of the state including a number of leaders of the 1809 revolution who had been executed. We didn’t know who any of them were but our guide was in reverence of all of them.
After the church tour we once again tried for Cuban food and this time success, they were open! We managed the entire ordering conversation in Spanish, even answering questions and dealing with them being out of black beans. We settled on a Cuban sandwich each, with some hot sauce, navy beans, a juice for Lynn, and a mojito for Doug. The sandwiches were delicious and the closest thing we have had to our gold standard – a corner shop near Georgia Tech where an old man and his family sold only Cuban sandwiches. (They are sadly no longer there).
Our afternoon activity was to ride the new cable car up into the mountains around La Paz for some stunning views and to take in how big this city really is. For a mere 3 bolivianos (they are trying to undercut the bus service) we rode on a brand new cable car system installed by a Dutch company a little over a year ago. We shared the car with some Australians who were very hung over from their Australia Day celebrations the day before and it made us very glad we were not in one of the many party hostels around the city. The big two seem to be Adventure Brew and Loki if you ever come to La Paz and need to know where to avoid, or maybe where to go.
Company aside, the views were quite lovely. The mid-rise, clay block apartments sprawled out into the valley and splashed up onto the hillsides surrounding it. We later learned two and a half million people live in La Paz, mostly in these partially completed dust colored houses. We floated over the main cemetery of the city, which seemed just as expansive as the city itself, and as we got close to the top there was a car wedged in among some cliffs, clearly having gone off the edge of the road above it. It was a sobering reminder that the deadliest road bike tour was not just a tourist gimmick, nor was it the only dangerous road in Bolivia.
Our cable car finally arrived at the top, in the suburb of El Alto, and we walked down the road a little bit before deciding the neighborhood was starting to look a little too rough for our liking. We headed back to the cable car and caught a ride back into the city, this time sharing our car with some quiet locals who actually use it for transportation and not just admiring the views.
After the cable car we headed back to our hostel where we decided that neither of us were excited enough about some dinner reservations we had made for Gustu to justify the price (another top 50 restaurant). We decided to cancel them and would probably go to trivia at a local pub instead. We spent the rest of the afternoon watching a recent Sandra Bullock movie about a Bolivian presidential election called Our Brand is Crisis. The movie, while mediocre, had what we thought was a very realistic portrayal of Bolivia including the driving on back country roads.
It was now 6.30 and we thought we should get some dinner before trivia started so we chose a Moroccan restaurant around the corner and headed out. It was busy outside and there were a large number of people packing the sidewalks and traffic backed up in the street. We crossed through some cars and were walking down some steep steps when it felt like a bunch of rice fell on my head. There had been some TV footage earlier in the day showing people celebrating something and with confetti all in their hair so my first thought was that we were caught in the middle of a celebration. I reached up to check my hair and an old woman in front of me turned around and started pointing up and yelling at me in Spanish. Quite confused, I turned around and looked up but didn’t see anything. I pushed my way passed her and out of the crowd and waited for Lynn to catch up. As soon as she caught me I commented on how weird that was and then immediately realized what had just happened. I checked my pockets and yep…my phone was gone. We looked back up the street and the large crowd had completely vanished. A quick check revealed we both still had our wallets at least and Lynn had her phone, safely zipped up in a jacket pocket.
We headed back to the hotel room and spent the next hour and a half changing all of our back passwords, and talking to T-Mobile. We were able to have T-Mobile cancel the SIM card, block the phone’s IMEI so no carrier will accept it (essentially making it worthless as a phone), and having google wipe it if it ever connects to a network again. I was in a pretty unhappy mood after all of this. More because being pick pocketed makes you feel vulnerable and unsafe, which was quite a wake up after it felt like we had become such good travelers.
To try and cheer me up we decided to head back to the nearby Mexican restaurant for margaritas and some spicy food. We ended the night with The Americans cuddled up in bed to try and take our minds off of it.
Daily Walking Mileage: 4.5 miles
- If you have an android phone, Google can remotely locate and even wipe it for you through the Android Device Manager (thanks Jeff for the tip!).
- Our Brand is Crisis is based on an actual Bolivian presidential election which was one by a Bolivian-American who ended up stealing half the country’s money and fleeing to Maryland where he still lives today. The U.S. refuses to extradite him for trial because he is a U.S. citizen.
- We can claim my stolen phone against our travel insurance but would need to file a police report first. Having seen the hours long lines at every Bolivian police station we decided that probably isn’t worth it for a phone that was almost two years old anyway.