La Paz is the highest capital city in the world; it is situated at 3500 metres above sea level and lies in a bowl like canyon. It is a city with a colourful side, it looks like a normal busy city but when you start to explore you realise there is a lot of weird and wonderful aspects to La paz.
San Pedro prison is ran by the inmates for the inmates, there are no guards inside and only 15 guarding the perimeter on the outside. The prisoners are producing some of the best cocaine in South America and ironically drug production and trafficking are why they are in San Pedro in the first place! The prison was built to house 600 inmates but now houses over 2000 prisoners and their families, the prisoners have to buy their cells; the wealth ones have cells like a studio apartment. They also run businesses, ranging from cafes and hairdressers to shopkeepers.
There used to be tours of prison and I’m sure they still exist if you find the right contact, the book ‘Marching Powder’ written by Rusty Young describes the experiences of the British inmate Thomas McFadden who became known for offering prison tours to tourists.
Next up is the Witches Market, we were told not to take pictures unless you buy something or ask permission and of course you abide by these rules, these are witches remember and not the fun ones like in Bewitched!! Anyway locals buy everything they need for offerings to Pacha Mama (Mother Earth). For a new building, a dried llama foetus should be buried in the foundations. Apparently these llamas aren’t slaughtered in the womb, but are ones that die of natural causes early after being born or are miscarried due to the cold weather in the mountains.
Ok so if the Witches Market didn’t freak you out let me tell you about the urban legend where Pacha Mama requires a human sacrifice for large new constructions. The story goes that builders will befriend a homeless person, get them very drunk until they pass out and then bury them alive in the foundations, so no alcohol for me tonight, home to bed early is the safest option. Apparently human remains have been found while excavating old building sites.
We only had 2 short days in La Paz but we would have loved to have had more time to explore, it’s a city is full of colour and everyone we met was friendly, even the witches. La Paz is the kind of place that makes you glad you are a traveller, to learn different cultures and embrace other beliefs is a truly magical experience.