7/5/2011: La Paz to Home

In the morning, I saw the rest of the climbers off. I felt melancholy to see them going for the climax of their trip as my trip was ending, but I felt that it was the right call for me.

Illimani from La Paz

Earlier, I had gotten my ice ax back. It turns out that Agata had it. Similarly Pam had Sebastian's crampons. Didn't these people go through their packs when they got back from Huayna?! I did that first thing and found I had Jeff's boots (and promptly returned them to him).

I also found that the two other weakest climbers had bailed this morning, so I was not the only one leaving early. In fact, I led the pack by bailing the night before!

It was a good thing I was not staying longer as I had barely enough cash to have lunch and dinner and then get to the airport. Rumor had it that there was a $20 exit tax that no one told us about beforehand. (Also, I was almost out of paper in my journal. : –)

Despite my time spent at higher elevations, and my time acclimatizing, I would have thought that down in La Paz doing normal things and breathing would be easy, but I still found myself getting winded going up stairs or hills. To be fair, I was breathing better then when exerting myself then I had when I had arrived, but it was still not as good as 8000 feet lower.

I did a final shopping run in the morning. On the way back, I went down a street lined with vendors on the sidewalks. Lots of fruits and veggies, but also a few places with meat just sitting out in the open–unchilled. It makes me queasy thinking about it.

The vehicles and in particular the buses there are terrible with respect to particulate exhaust. When they gun their engines, it looks like the mosquito fogger from when I was growing up.

I was taking a picture of a church, and I stubbed my left foot badly on a large block in the walkway. It hurt for the rest of the day, but I didn’t want to take my shoe off to take a look at it. It was the same toe that hurt from climbing. (After I got home, that toenail turned funny colors, and after a month or so fell off.)

I went back to the salteña place for lunch. I had three of them, along with juice, and it only cost me Ba15 or about $2. Not bad.

I was entering into my final hours in Bolivia, and I felt content and happy to be going home. I wrote: Just think – in less than 24 hours, I should be home. But for a brief moment, I stood on top of a 6000 meter/20,000 foot mountain.

I packed up my bags and left them at the hotel. I paid for the local call to change my flight, which ran about $7. I tried to find the park where we set off the fireworks, but I couldn't retrace our steps. I eventually gave up and saw a movie. I chose one that was in the right time frame, and which was in English with Spanish sub-titles, so I had no problems following it. :-) I made sure to avoid one that had been dubbed in Spanish.

Some of the places there had strange hours. The Japanese place we went to on the 4th opened at 7:00 and closed at 9:30. Similarly, the salteña place opened at 11 and closed at 1. I wonder how they can stay in business with such short hours? Other places opened late (maybe around 10), but then they stayed open late.

I had dinner in the hotel café, and then took a taxi to the airport. It was nice having a bellboy insist on helping me with my luggage to the taxi. I’m not used to that kind of service. On the way up the hill to the airport the lights of La Paz looked very pretty. I wish I could have gotten a picture of it.

Driving in La Paz makes Boston look sane. The concept of not entering an intersection until you can clear it is unknown to them. So you constantly get quasi-gridlock. There is copious beeping.

On the main road (several lanes) to the airport, one side was full of markets, and the rest were lots of cars pulled up on the side, and people, a vast number of people walking everywhere, including the road. It was a real zoo.

Then the airport was “hurry up and wait”. I think I stood in line (after getting there three hours early like they requested) for at least 20 minutes without my feet moving. It looked like the American Airline counter had little to no staff. Then people arrived, but it still took me about an hour total to check my bags. Then I had to pay an airport tax. I don't know why they can't build this into the ticket price. I also wonder what happens if you do not have the money. So I was leaving the country basically broke. I had Ba20 and about $4, for a total of less than $10.

Due to the elevation, planes take off from La Paz with relatively empty fuel tanks. So we stopped in Santa Cruz (down in the Amazon basin) to refuel (and let passengers off and on).

It was strange in Santa Cruz. We had to all deplane so that the plane could get "security cleared". On the way back on board, we got a token luggage inspection, but that seemed more for show.

At Miami, we had to go through customs and immigration then we had to essentially get all of our luggage, leave the secure area, give them back our checked bags, and go through normal US security. At one point, my strategy of finding the biggest line and getting into it was wrong. I stood in the line for checking-in for about 15 min. before I realized what line it was, and that I only had to go to security (which was a different line).

When we were landing in Miami there was a bang from just in front of me on the plane. I didn't know what it was, but after we landed and stopped the plane, one the flight attendants picked up a piece of trim that had apparently fallen off of the wall above the door as we hit the ground.


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