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La Paz, Bolivia
Sitting at a breathtaking 3,660 meters (12,000 ft.), it's no wonder La Paz clenches the title, 'Highest Capital City in the World'. Surprisingly though, a stiff ascent is not required to reach her heavenly realm. Instead, a downwards dive. Thanks to the 'El Alto Plain', an immense expanse of high Andean plateau, La Paz lies successfully hidden just below her expanisve horizon. If not for the majestic snow covered peaks resting virtually on par with the road, this capital cities true height would never be known.

Situated in the deep valley below, La Paz was literally built, from the ground up. City proper residing in the lowest portion of the valley, with the, 'not so proper', city crawling upwards and spilling over top her natural bowl. Rundown buildings, aging cobblestone streets, and weather worn signs all built at a permanent slant, desperately clinging to her sheer mountain side. The only thing more "breathtaking" then her gravity defying scenery, is getting to it.

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Translated as, "The Peace", La Paz also holds, at least in my mind, another title, "Most Inaccurately Named City". With no hope of ever escaping her high, impermeable walls, a constant haze of exhaust and fumes swallow the city whole. Avenues are transformed into mazes of street stalls, where "large and in charge" Bolivian women rule their 5 X 5 vendor domains from day to night. From an outsider looking in, I can't help but beg the question, "What do they do all day?" The only answer I can find is...sit...and eatonly rising from their banana crates when absolutely necessary. For some, not even a bathroom break qualifies. Guess that's why they all wear skirts... And when it comes to their business habits, what business habits? In hopes of gaining more 'consumer traffic', vendors vie for the coveted, curbside positions, in which to arrange their ramshackle food carts. And while they do get more "traffic", I'm not sure if it's the type they want. Besieged by the constant drone of automobiles and breathing in unthinkable amounts of exhaust, it's no wonder vendors are usually in a bad mood. For instance, when a tourist asks for something you may not have, instead of yelling, "NO", maybe offer something similar in place. Or, instead of refusing to bargain at all, how about raising starting prices enough to leave room for bargaining? In this way, foreigners get the satisfaction of, "talking the sellers down", and sellers get the satisfaction of the sale. But then again, what does a business graduate from K-State know anyways? The most well known market to travelers, also happens to be the least known to locals. Tourists refer to it as the, "Witches Market", but witches, I mean local women, just know it as the mercado. Vials of multi-colored potions, bottles of floating eyeballs, bone necklaces, and decaying animals, oh yeah, this market has it all. The putrid odor of decaying baby alpaca, mixed with pungent wiffs of coagulating blood, complete this often revolting experience. I'm still not sure who's stranger, the women selling these "goods", or the people buying them. Believe it or not though, these decomposing animals do serve a purpose...luck! Bolivians bury these good luck charms under the foundation of every new home or building to ward off bad spirits. Hmm...and I would think they would attract them. Despite the insanity that is La Paz, I managed to spend 2 weeks discovering for myself why this town, for many, is like an addition. In an attempt to be brief (yeah right, me brief) I chose to cover only 3 of my most memorable La Paz experiences: San Pedro Prison, Chalita's Wrestling, and the famous, Adventure Brew Hostel. For many, the stories behind San Pedro Prison are nothing more then myth. Lies conjured up for tourist hype. However, to many others, those who have been inside, her 'myth' reigns true. Built on a foundation of corruption with walls mortared in fraudulence, this has to be the only prison where inmates rather stay, then go. Within these walls, they are still very free, enjoying the luxuries of plasma screen T.V.'s, internet, and penthouse suites. Oh, and of course, drugs, as the same drugs that landed them in prison, still circulate within. With luxuries such as these, it's hard to imagine inmates are, 'paying the consequences', for their crimes. Instead, the only thing they are paying for, comes in the form of a hierarchy system. Entering her confines with money, like many of the drug dealers, enables the purchase of their very own Hilton, 5 star penthouse suite. Common criminals, on the other hand, do not share the same luxury and are instead placed in Super 8 alternative cells. You may be wondering how they can do this? Well, with no guards inside, this prison is sufficiently run by criminals. Tours have even begun, allowing tourists access behind her bars, to see for themselves what is truth and what is fiction. Getting in, however, is far from easy. A system of knowing someone, who knows someone, who knows someone, is just the first step. Bribing the guards to get in, is the next. And finally, once in, gifts such as

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cigarettes, shampoo, and soap must be offered to your inmate guide. I'm sure the entire "tour" is absurdly remarkable, but the highlight for most visitors comes at the end, concluding with a visit to your inmates cell. This is where La Paz really lives up to it's title, "The Highest Capital in the World". Cocaine is distributed freely within the cells, along with marijuana, alcohol and probably everything else an addict could ever desire. The only catch is visitors cannot leave with anything. Otherwise, they run the risk of being caught by the same corrupt guards that let them in and becoming the newest addition to the San Pedro family. Curious, as always, I wanted to see for myself what lived behind her walls, however, logic won out. Did I really want to support the same corruption that continues to plague Bolivia today, with my bribe money and inmate gifts? Nah, I'd rather spend my Bolivianos elsewhere. Like...at the famous Chalita's Wrestling! My second La Paz feature also goes down as the, 'most random day ever'. Where else can you see big Bolivian women going at it, while barrading them with braised chicken legs and getting showered in Orange Pop? Men, women, even midgets collide in the ring for this once in a lifetime viewing. WWF has met it's match. Still not sure which has worse actors, but if it came down to the costumes, Chalita's would win hands down. Fully (and poorly) choreographed performances starring Batman, the Karate Kid and Mortal Kombat's, Green Ninja...and that was just the first round.

Second round..Ding...Ding..Ding...the Chicks...or should I say, the Chalita's. Dressed in their full traditional garb; gigantic layered skirts, braided hair, and ballerina like slippers, contender #1 (let's just call her, BIrtha) took out the trash with Karate Kid. Battering him with punches, choke holds, and finishing with a colossal rope jump, suffocating him under her massive....braids....Birtha was nothing but a 'lady throughout. And she was just warming up. Props, fake blood, midgits with beating sticks, and of course, her opponent...Thelma, graced the final round!!! This is where the crowd goes wild, expressing their contender hatred by chucking everything from popcorn to soda into the ring. Not wanting to be left out, Thelma decided to express her distain for the audience by not only spitting on us, but also spraying her very own 2 liter of Orange Soda all over us. That was it, now it was personal. Masks on, this was war! Juice bottles, potato chips, and even my cooked chicken leg became ammo, as the war waged on. Talk about a food fight! Now, I can successfully say I hit a Bolivian wrestler in the head with marinated chicken. Like I said, this goes down as the most random day ever.

Finally, the famous Adventure Brew Hostel. Known all over South America, this on site brewery hostel attracts travelers from far and wide. Between the beer malt wrestling, beer tubs and of course, beer bongs, this hostel pretty much speaks for itself. How great to be behind the bar once more. And eventhough the free room and board did not come close to payment for 7 hours of bar work a night, the social life did. I even ran into a few of my old Aussie buddies. The same blokes who skulled pots of VB at my bar in Geelong, now sat across my bar in La Paz, chugging pints of Saya. Talk about a small world. La Paz can not be "done" in a day, or two, or even in the 2 weeks I stayed. It is a city of constant discovery. With so many personalities, La Paz could easily be classified as skit so frantic. Wonderfully incurable and wonderfully unique for it.

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