La Paz postcard

La Paz archetypally cosmopolitan, my first for all this time in South America, black glass concrete steel skyscrapers, painted laned wide thoroughfares, stand still traffic ravel on a street lined with banks and financial services. Weaving through crowds, women and men in business suits invariably running, late to somewhere and decidedly in the wrong footwear, a comforting bike messenger scene from NY or London. Ride by the US embassy and diplomats in sushi restaurants, a grocery store and a cineplex showing the new Twilight on several screens. From the basin of the center, all this against a distant 360 degree painted backdrop — like a special effect from the history of cinema — of sky and cotton clouds, square adobe two and three story houses clinging to the canyon walls.

Somehow there’s no discord in the scene, La Paz honking buzzing, moving but embraced embedded in its place, its past future. Not Cusco or Quito, not worse or better, a different fork taken through modernity’s constructed bustle. I like this city very much, shrug puzzled at the mixed reports of other travelers.

Now looking down at the gringo tourists bumping along the derby hat diesel fume trinket fruit candy stand street from the balcony of the Chuquiago Cyclists’ Cafe, associated with the famous La Paz Casa de Ciclistas, I’ll spend at least a little of each day and evening there. Free coffee and sympathetic crowd, chat with two wheeled travelers in the curious idiom of spare brake pads or loose hubs — a hike to Gravity Bolivia, great gang, guiding, used bikes, parts, repairs, sorts these — headwind routes dogs farmer field camping. Runar, a Norwegian polyglot with whom I’ve ridden since the border, Lena, and Rob are headed south to the Salar, Rob via Chile first; Maja and Theo, met in Puno, will catch up soon. Luis and Jerome separately north, though Jerome wonders after the hills of Peru seeing as how he’s had to load his recumbent onto buses and trucks when it got steep here in Bolivia. There is the usual mild implied friendly competition about exotic venues and outlandish circumstances. I’m teased for my “American style”: late AM starts, pathologically light weight gear, attempts at racerboy speed, no one knows what to make of the Fat Bike or the bikepacking bags but they seem clearly characteristically American, too. I plead guilty on all counts, then dish out digs on the eurostandard four Ortlieb pannier tubus rack matching bar bag kickstand trekking Schwalbe hybrid u-lock 2kg’s of porridge just in case bluejeans format, we all politely decline making fun of Jerome. Jolly, an oasis.