Miracle and Magic in La Paz

By August 24, 2016Blog, Bolivia
A pre-Christmas procession on El Prado, the main avenue of La Paz
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It had been a long and tiring journey. First an overnight bus from Rio De Janeiro to Sao Paulo, then a flight to Santa Cruz in Bolivia. And no, that’s not all. Then I had to brave a 16 hour bus ride from Santa Cruz to La Paz. I had not just traveled about 3500 kms in distance, but also 3500 metres in altitude. Making this journey in less than 48 hours, I was bound to suffer with altitude sickness, which I did.
Lying in my bed at a friend’s house in La Paz, I missed the warmth of Rio, both of the weather and of my friendship with many Brazilians. It seemed that La Paz was the lowest point of my planned travel for ‘The 12 Project‘ through Latin America . How ironical that it was the highest capital in the world!
The loud noise, parties and often poor infrastructure of hostels had gotten to me. But my long trip meant that I could not afford anything super expensive either. Hence, seeking value, like most times I got on to Airbnb and looked for a place. This is because my friend from La Paz was leaving for Spain for his December holiday

Living in a restaurant? I’ll take that!

A couple of days later I was climbing the steps to a chic restaurant called Cafe MagicK. And no, I wasn’t there to eat. The restaurant also had rooms on the first floor and through Airbnb I had booked to live there for a week. With a bed to myself, a table, strong WiFi and a wonderful restaurant overlooking Sopocachi, it seemed like a great deal. That, I was going to share the room with the restaurant staff, assured that this would be a unique experience.

Discovering the city

In the next days, the biting cold disappeared. Slowly, in the winter sun La Paz revealed its bright side to me. First it was the Witches Market, a small street where items used in witchcraft ceremonies are sold. It is a corner of the weird. From miracle powders to devilish figurines, the market offers eccentric things you may have no use for.  Most of us would not even know that fetuses of Llama(a domesticated Camelid animal) are used in some indigenous ceremonies in Bolivia. This market gives you a sense that La Paz is amalgam, of the old & new, of the modern & the mysterious. And you stumble upon different ages in a matter of few footsteps.
Llama and their fetuses are used in some indigenous rituals in Bolivia. The Witches market in La Paz offers things needed for such ceremonies.

That week, I made time to write and walk the El Prado, the city’s main avenue. I looked for hidden mercados(markets) where the best local food was served. Customers & the staff at the restaurant became friends, and I spent time talking to them about the future of democracy in Bolivia.

Eating in a local mercado in La Paz, arguably the best lunches are served in such places
La Paz also threw some pleasant surprises. Like the teleferico, the cable car, which connects this valley city. Less than a dollar for a ride, it is definitely the most picturesque for the price. But the bigger revelation was the Govinda restaurant, not far from MagicK. With its sattvik vegetarian food and Krishna devotion, for a while I felt I was in some place familiar. Also to meet your own culture in a land far far away is subliminally special.
The teleferico in La Paz that connects with El Alto

But will I remember La Paz for these things?

More than these experiences, I will remember La Paz for MagicK, my home for a week. Who would have thought that staying in a restaurant was possible? Who would have even thought that the staff would become friends? Also, that they’d invite me to have shots of the local Singani every night. And for sure, I had never expected to sit and exchange stories of India with my host who once rode a motorbike through my country.
It was Stephan(a Danish guy) and his wife Ali(she’s Bolivian) who had created that special place. They invited me not just into their restaurant but also into their lives.
Stephan with sharing a relaxed moment with his staff at his restaurant in La Paz

Stephan sharing a light moment with this staff at Cafe MagicK

One night, I was in an underground disco with some pretty crazy people and Bolivian Cumbia(a form of music popular across South America). Another night I was part of a new menu at tasting at MagicK with locals and expats. Yet another evening, I found myself sharing a delicious pre-christmas meal with some friends. All of this, thanks to Stephan and his people who turned out to be my caretakers in La Paz.
What began as a dull & grey week, ended in a beautiful and memorable experience. And that is my memory of La Paz. It just goes to prove how much people & places have the ability to transform you. Wouldn’t you say that is magic?
If you ever find yourself in La Paz, and are looking for some magic, you know where to go.

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  • Skyler Haupt says:

    Nice article! I’m spending January & February in La Paz for a photography gig (and hoping to travel South America for the year). This is my first trip outside of the country (I’m from the US). I’ll have to drop by MagicK & Govinda for a bite. Safe travels!

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