Wednesday 20 May


San Fransisco Church

In the morning, I feel better, but John is worse still, with a splitting headache and hot and cold flushes. We get up late, and James, Jay, and I go off to obtain some much-needed local currency. It is with much disappointment that we discover that the ‘shampoo shop’ mentioned in the guide book as the most fascinating cambio in South America is no longer there, so we are denied the opportunity of being ushered through to the back of the shop like extras in a spy movie and into a carpeted, computerised, clandestine bank complete with besuited tellers. We finally find a more conventional cambio that accepts travellers’ cheques, on the main street a short distance below the San Fransisco church. I return to John with some water while James and Jay go to find the Iberia office to reconfirm our homeward flight. The guidebook turns out to be at least six years out of date; after walking some considerable way down the hill to the most exclusive part of La Paz, they discover that the office has moved to within a few blocks of where we had changed our money.

On the way back to the hotel, I pass through some of the back streets nearby. One is lined with furniture shops, another with shops containing sacks of various unidentified varieties of grain, another with stalls stocked with yet more sacks, this time containing what look like over-sized multi-coloured party nibbles. When I arrive back to the room, John is no better, but manages to drink some coca tea. I eat a breakfast of sorts—a banana sandwich and Fanta.

Later that afternoon, Marcia comes round to the hotel to see us. She is a Bolivian student of communications, just in the final stages of writing her thesis. Several years ago, she met Jim Gleve, who came to Bolivia from St Nic’s to raise money by kayaking all the way around Lake Titicaca. Marcia has been keen to meet us to practise her English, and we are delighted to be given a guided tour of part of the city. John is feeling well enough now to join us.

The Bolivians are very proud of their museums, although to us they are not a great deal to look at. We learn something though of the turbulent history of the country, which has the dubious distinction of having had more presidents than any other. A glance at some of the portraits in the Casa de Murillo might give some indication of why. Some of the presidents clearly had ideas well above their station, striking poses ludicrous in their pomposity—even the gods look on to pay homage to one such victorious conqueror!

By the evening, John is worse again, the afternoon having tired him out. We bid goodbye to Marcia, promising to get in touch to have a meal together, and leave John, who by now is running a high temperature once more, at the hotel. The rest of us head off to a pizza restaurant that Marcia has recommended. I think it may illustrate the expectations that Bolivians have of westerners that she had directed us to what must have been the most American restaurant in La Paz. The final straw is the ‘entertainment’ at one end of the room—a man with a Casio keyboard set to ‘auto accompany’ who is systematically murdering a selection of jazz standards. We leave and find a good restaurant just up the road. The smart decor and the aloof air of the waiter tells us that this is a place only for tourists and the upper stratum of La Paz society. But at around £6 a head, we, at least, are not complaining about the prices.