7/4/2011: La Paz (4th of July)

I had breakfast with some of the other clients. It was rather strange as I already thought of it as me different from them. They were talking about the upcoming trip to Illimani, and I was thinking but didn't yet say anything about my not being a part of it. So their concern was Illimani and mine was heading home.

It is interesting (and it feels good) when you've been around someplace so long that the (attentive) staff gets to know you. I was getting into the elevator just after the bellhop, who offered to push the button for my floor without asking what floor it was. That morning, at the breakfast buffet, one of the servers asked me if I wanted an egg before I asked for one. Speaking of which, I really liked their Café con Leche there. I don't know if it was the brand the hotel used or just the style (one quarter strong coffee, three quarters warm milk), but I liked it.

I spent most of the day doing some shopping and feeling melancholy. Some of it was loneliness, and some was because my vacation was about to end. Part of me thought that I shouldn't have changed my flight, and spent the extra days going on tours of the Salt Lake etc., but I wondered how much fun it would be by myself, particularly if everything was in Spanish. But at that point it was moot.

After lunch, a bunch of us went to an ice cream place. You paid in one counter and got a receipt. Then you took the receipt to where the ice cream was and placed your order. The ice cream was served in a bowl shaped "cone". Today's special was 2-for-1. So I thought I was ordering two scoops in one "bowl". But instead I got two bowls. I ended up throwing most of one away. We collected three others, and gave them to a beggar woman on the sidewalk.

We ran across a herd of “zebra” who were helping people across the street at crosswalks, and thus trying to encourage them to cross at the crosswalk.

It looked like I might be missing an ice ax and long underwear. They hopefully came down with porters from Huayna, but who knows if they did or what happened. Gaspar was describing one to me that didn't sound like mine, but since no one else is complaining of missing one, maybe it was mine.

After dinner, I had the wildest and craziest 4th-of-July that I’ve ever had. Apparently fireworks are legal in Bolivia, so two of the guys bought about Ba500 or $80 worth of fireworks. After dinner, as a “demo”, they set one off in the alley way where the restaurant was. It made a fearsome bang and seemed to set off all of the car alarms in the area.

Then about half of us went to a local park square to shoot them off. This was in the middle of the city! After the first few, one was a semi-dud which launched, ended down the hill in front of a door, and then went off. Apparently that door was to a police station, because shortly thereafter two officers came out and told us to go somewhere else.

Night View of La Paz from Park
Stone Church in Park

Some of the guys were holding the mortar tube as it fired the shell. After the first such attempt, they found that the breech blew off. So then they were holding it against a railing or tree for support.

We went to the other end of the park, near where two officers were hanging out, shot off a few more, but then they came, cleared us out, and confiscated half of them (they didn't find the other half).

So we went to another park and fired off almost all the remaining ones at the same time. One was a box that fired off 12 shots sequentially. It fell over after the first or second one launched, so the shells started shooting out sideways. Of course, every time one shot off, the box would spin, so the next one went off in a totally random direction.

I was trying to shoot a video, but most of what I got was me running to put more distance between myself and that launcher.

They set off the last two oversized firecrackers in the park across the street from our hotel.

I was sorry to be leaving these guys, but I was glad that I wasn’t packing for an early departure the next day for Illimani. It would have been nice to summit it, as it is the biggest thing around, and is 1000 feet higher than Huayna, but I really didn’t think I was up for it, or that the pain and suffering would be worth it.

Some miscellaneous thoughts that came to me:

It is interesting how things are different in different cultures. In the grocery store, they had little plastic baskets similar to the ones in the US, but these were on casters so they were near the floor, and one had a handle to pull/push them around. Functionally they were like shopping carts back home, but smaller and at ground level.

There were shoe shiners everywhere, but for some unknown reason they all wore balaclava type hats, so that the only thing you saw was their eyes. Weird.


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