Today is Bolivian Independence day and its a big fiesta. In celebration, I’ve been thinking about all the things I love about La Paz. Here in no particular order is my top 5 reasons to love this city:

1) The traffic zebras. The first time I saw these guys I had no idea what they were doing. Dressed up in big zebra costumes (or occasionally as other furry four legged friends), they dance, juggle or strut about in front of the cars and buses at traffic lights. Sounds weird? It’s genius. La Paz like many cities used to have a problem with people not obeying traffic laws. Traffic police didn’t seem to be working, so someone came up with the idea of the traffic zebras. If a trigger happy taxi driver or over zealous bus driver tries to jump a red light, the traffic zebras pounce on mass and *mock* the driver into stopping. Its easy to shout abuse at a traffic cop and look tough, harder to argue with a teenager dressed as a zebra and save face, especially when everyone else starts to laugh at you too. It worked – no one runs down a zebra. They have expanded recently into other forms of traffic control, but with the same tactic – tough-guy drivers that want to break traffic rules may not fear the police, but they do fear a crowd of watching pedestrians and drivers laughing at them as they are clowned at by a zebra.

2) An honest war memorial. The memorial to the unknown solider in La Paz used, I think, to be the usual kind of marching, earnest young thing, off to die gloriously for his country. Now the memorial shows the solider dead on his face in the dirt.

3) Active street art. La Paz is covered in street art and commentary, from graffiti to murals and everything in-between. For some reason a lot of the graffiti all over the city is written in a beautiful copperplate handwriting. As someone once told me, graffiti is the sign of an active political life in a city. And La Paz certainly has that in abundance. Some of the graffiti stays around for years as a reminder of struggles past – I came across some anti-Goni slogans a few days ago. Others become the focus of protracted exchanges between different paint wielding commentators, and whole conversations come and go on the street for passers-by to see. There are also a large number of official murals, one of which has been in the process of being painted on the main street down town over the last few weeks.

4) Its possible to buy anything under the sun on the street. Walk long enough and you’ll eventually find a little old lady selling it. From the latest season of your favourite TV show to ironing boards, from dolls house furniture to military grade binoculars, school books to love potions – whatever you need someone will be able to sell it to you. And they will probably have all the above in the same stall.

5) The Prado on Sunday mornings. The Prado is the main street downtown, a long avenue that runs right through the centre of town. Every Sunday morning they shut down the busy traffic running in two directions and the street turns into a pedestrian cultural zone. Bandstands appear with classical, folk, and rock/pop music evenly spaced out so as not to disturb each other. Chairs are arranged for the fairly considerable audiences that arrive to listen. Whole sections are turned over to children’s activities – bouncy castles, go-cart racing, skipping competitions, puppet shows, drawing and puzzle areas, story telling and so on. Its all free, and whole families turn up to join in. Booths appear from various cultural organisations – the Hari Krishnas rub shoulders with the likes of the Bonsai society, Origami makers, and old Aymara men reading coca leaves. People wander up and down the length of the Prado all morning, watching and being watched, listening to the music, taking it easy. By mid-afternoon it all closes back down again for the week.

Of course there are many other things I could mention, but that’s just my selection for today.

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