If you had to name your favourite city, where would it be? It’s a tough call, but the first that comes to my mind is La Paz city, in Bolivia, South America. There are many things that can astound the traveller upon entering a city, but one of the most notable about La Paz is its geography.
Lying to the west of the city, is the country’s tallest mountain. Here it sits with its snow capped brothers and sisters, towering in the distance, looking especially spectacular by moonlight. Turn around and you’ll see streets heading upwards on a 45 degree angle to the top of a valley.
Interestingly, La Paz city is organised roughly by hierachy, so the more affluent city folk are stationed at the bottom, while the poorer folk are breathing in the altitudinous air above. Being a curious chap, I walked up the steepest streets I’d ever walked, and when I got to the top (a while later), I hung out with the locals, had a drink of something strong, and gazed at the mountains by moonlight. Something I’ll never forget.
Such friendly locals they were too, amazed that I was there, wondering what I did and where I came from. I spent weeks in La Paz, on and off, and on my many jaunts around the varied cityscape, I saw kids not much older than six hanging off the back of beaten old lorries flying up the mountain. Their scabrous shoes hanging inches off the road.
Then there were the shoe shiners, who I wish I could show you a photo of. I’ve never been to a city where boys polished shoes for a living donned in black balaclavas. Also known as lustrabotas, they hid their face to evade the social discrimination of working on the streets. It was very clandestine, and must have been very hot in the summer too.
These masked proletariats, who were living off the affluent part of town, looked fantastic amidst the colourful sights of the city. Amongst the hills, the winding alleys, and the toothless smiles of La Paz city, I felt very happy.