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Full Circle

Day 180: La Paz

Michael Palin - Full CircleSoroche. That's what I'm suffering from. It's a Spanish word, and has a glamorous ring to it that the English counterpart, 'altitude sickness', sadly lacks.

All of us are, in varying degrees, 'soroched', and we shall spend two days here retuning our systems for a further week of high-altitude travel that lies ahead.

La Paz, or La Ciudad de Nuestra Senora De La Paz as it was named by Alonzo de Mendoza, its Spanish founder, in 1548, is a strange place. The highest capital in the world at 12,000 feet (3,636 metres), but at the bottom of a hole. The rich live at the foot of the hill and the poor at the top. Mud-walled houses are piled up the walls of the canyon, while a modern high-rise city occupies the centre. Between the two is a labyrinth of steep streets that tempt the eye but test the unacclimatized walker.

Street traders seem to have taken over the centre of La Paz. The pavements groan beneath sackfuls of socks, serried ranks of shoes, mountains of embroidered brassieres and hectares of Stayprest trousers. Beside them sit Indian men and women, often in from the country, known as cholos or cholas. The women are particularly distinctive, wearing felt bowlers perched on top of dark, centrally parted, often plaited hair and carrying their worldly goods in fat cloth bundles. Their dresses are made from various combinations of bright, shiny material and worn wide and full over a stack of petticoats. Apparently the whole costume outfit was foisted on the Indians by Spanish law over two hundred years ago.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 180
  • Country/sea: Bolivia
  • Place: La Paz
  • Book page no: 240

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