Its slightly eerie in La Paz today. I noticed it immediately I woke up. Usually I get woken by the sound on traffic outside, even though I live on the 16th floor. But this morning I was woken at 7:30 by a military style band blasting out a rousing little number, then promptly stopping and leaving behind a deathly silence. Lying in bed listening to the rather disconcerting sound of nothing whatsoever, I eventually got curious enough to drag myself to the window. Outside the streets were deserted – barely a single car and hardly a person on the streets as far as I could see (and from the 16th floor I can generally see pretty far).

Its been like that all day. The only vehicles out are taxis with official looking notices on their windscreens, and they mostly seem to be ferrying officials and journalists between the municipal buildings and the newspaper offices.

I took a walk down town in the afternoon to see what was going on, if anything. Its oddly quiet in the city without any traffic. Nearly all the shops and cafés are closed – the single fast food joint open, Dumbo’s, was packed, while the Starbucks-esque Alexander’s Cafe was still only serving its loyal crowd of American ex-pats sucking on over-priced lattes. The usual Sunday cultural events on the Prado were cancelled, but there was something of the holiday feel in the air as families and couples strolled up and down the street. The parks and plazas were packed with children playing and lovers cooing. Even in Plaza Murillo, where the governmental palace is, there were still the usual crowds of tourists snapping pictures and small children feeding/stomping on pigeons under the doting eyes of their parents.

The peaceful holiday mood clashed somewhat with the high police presence in the city, particularly around places where people are voting. That strange and exotic feeling of being able to meander through the middle of what ought to be a hectic thoroughfare was broken every now and then by a convoy of police on bright red motorbikes racing their way through. Given that (once they have voted of course) no-one has anything better to do today than wander the streets, I guess its not surprising that I came across at least one big fight in the street. Outside a church on the Prado a middle-aged woman in a pink sun hat and holding an ice cream in her hand was berating a group of embarrassed looking young men. As they traded insults a crowd began to form, occasionally heckling or joining in. Two giggling women who looked like mother and grown-up daughter got into the mood by sitting down on the church steps and shouting slogans for either side, much to the amusement of the onlookers. But others were far more serious, not least the women who seemed to have started it. A young man in a MAS jacket seemed to be the prime target of the women’s rage. He got eventually dragged away by his friends to the hooting jeers of the crowd, but by this point enough people had joined in for the argument to continue a good while longer. There was something a little surreal about seeing the peaceful Sunday strollers meandering up the Prado get to the church and suddenly launch themselves into a political street brawl. A few police eventually came by and pulled aside a man still holding the hand of his young son while shouting red faced at the old woman with her ice cream.

By the time I got home an hour or so ago the crowds of reporters outside the municipal building where they are counting the votes had thinned a bit. This morning they had been camped out on mass on the pavement (or, to be more accurate, queuing round the block for the hot-dog stand opposite the municipal building with one eye on the food and one eye on the big gates in case anything happened). What’s going on inside that building will determine whether things remain this quiet over the next few days, weeks and months.

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