The World’s Highest [fill in the blank]

30 08 2008

Posted by: Laura

Travel dates: 6.08.08-6.11.08

During our trip, we have travelled on boats, buses, planes, and trains. However, watching our bus travel on a boat is a new experience.

There is no bridge across Lake Titicaca on the road from Copacabana to La Paz.  So everyone is ushered off the bus and onto a ferry, while you boat is driven onto a floating barge. As I watched my luggage putter along, I have to admit I was not completely confident with this system.  You can actually see the olive green pack cover of my bag, which is strapped to the roof.  But our luggage arrived safely, and we arrived in La Paz a few hours later.

Located 2.5 miles above sea level, La Paz, Bolivia is the world’s higest capitol. The soccer stadium here is no longer used for official games because of the disadvantage for visiting teams.  But, you can play golf on the world’s higest golf course. (It’s probably the only time you’ll ever get an aerobic workout playing golf.)  Because of the combination of altitude and pollution, I found it so difficult to breathe that Bolivia is the only country on our trip where I have not gone running.

La Paz is known for its markets, so we first visited the Witches’s Market.  We passed dried llama fetuses hanging in windows, jars of preserved alligators and frogs, and concoctions of powders to cure every ailment known to man (especially those ailments specific known to men). We did not linger long because of the pungent smell.  As we walked along the city streets, we saw people “reading” coca leaves. Along with all of the college age travellers, we visited the Coca Museum, a small museum which chronicles the history of the coca leaf beginning with the Incan people, who saw it as a sacred plant and used it to commumicate with the gods, predict the future, and supress pain. Today, Andean people still chew the leaf and use it for tea. (Don’t worry, the leaf is completely legal and I’m convinced it helped my altitude sickness in Lauca). Unfortunately, the Europeans entered the scene and banned the plant. But the Spanish unbanned it when they realized that it gave the now subjected Andean people more energy and therefore the ability to work longer hours in the silver mines. I found the museum interesting because of the history of medicinal uses of the coca leaf, but slightly biased against Europeans and Americans who now control the market for cocaine and restrict the exportation of the plant out of Bolivia. 

The coca leaf also increases your body’s ability to process oxygen. We’ve been at high altitude for a few weeks now, and I still get light headed walking up steep hills. I might need to stock up on these leaves.  However, after spending so many weeks at high altitude, I’m now convinced that Bolivia could be the next Kenya and have world class distance runners.

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