Friday, January 20, 2012
At Home in the Andean Sky - La Paz, Bolivia
Summertime La Paz and walking on sunshine is a joy. Newly returned after months of travel, walking affords time to reaquaint myself with a city that pops with color, colonial architecture and the gift of art/graffiti. And being at an altitude that ranges from 10,600 ft to over 13,000 ft (3400 to 4000 m), the sky is even bigger here than most places in the world. This is an old city in terms of those in the Americas. Fifteen hundred forty eight (1548) was the year of it's inception. That's ample time for man to change his surroundings as they change him and evidence of that is all around. As a walker in a city with history, I notice things like skinny sidewalks comprised of rectangular slabs lain in a now forgotten year - stone slabs cut by brawn, chisel & hammer then placed by hand. With settling, cracks, repairs and replacement with more modern materials over the centuries it all translates into "watch your step." Yet at the same time you´ll want to keep your eyes up, forever up to relish the sky! Oh, the glorious sky!
Walking is a guiltly pleasure that requires no apology. I walk everyday, to market, to appointments, to take a late afternoon coffee. Sometimes I walk only to escape an insistent computer that sits prominently on the corner desk. Quietly pressing, it nags me to finish the task at hand, to tackle the next. And as anyone who works principally at home knows well, there's really no rest. In response I lace my shoes and without destination, I walk. The city is built on steep hills and justifies the old local joke that there are more "ups & downs" in La Paz than elsewhere. Not as funny as it is true. In stretching my legs on the inclines, I stretch the mind, as well. I often think that the city is like a beautiful Blue Sapphire Ring encircled by diamonds. Sapphire blue is the color of the sky. And since the Andes run southeast of near by Lake Titicaca, and just east of La Paz, the city is adorned by six summits higher than 19,685 ft (6,000 m) all glaciated and attended by many others capped with snow produced through proximity to moist Amazon lowlands. These are the sparklers that complete my image of a radiant ring of blue. And what a city for walking, with all the distinctive and intimate facets to make this an attractive gem.
The greater metro-area has a population estimated at a little over two million inhabitants living in the shadow of the triple-peaked Illimani, a mountain that accompanies us in day-to-day life. This is the Aymara Capital of the world. A strong indigenous influence makes this a unique place to walk. And I take it all in on my rounds here, there and beyond. I keep walking to know well the city, it's people and the sky and I have no doubt that the cranky computer impatiently awaits my return. But first an empanada and a little chat with the locals. And once again, I am at home in the Andean sky...