It may have been months ago, but I remember it as vividly now as the day it happened. We were driving for what seemed like hours through El Alto, the 30-year-old city built at the top of the bowl which the city of La Paz sits in. As we began to descend into La Paz, we stopped at a small mirador (lookout) to get our first taste of the La Paz skyline. My mother continues to remind me that she will never forget the face I made when I first looked out onto the bowl where the city of La Paz lies, red houses filling every orifice with taller buildings smattered throughout the city in the centre, and in the south. I must have stood there for a good 10 seconds, just taking it all in, mouth open wide enough to catch flies (which, I later found out, don’t really appear much here: a plus).
After boarding the bus again, I began to worry. Rio de Janeiro was one thing, but was I really up to this? I was about to do something that almost correlated to my dream job (apart from money), in a country where I wasn’t exactly fluent in the language spoken, with nobody by my side to help me through the first weeks. When my mother told me to calm down, I decided to forget about it for the next two days, knowing I wouldn’t really be getting stuck into the thick of things for a couple of weeks. My arrival at Bolivian Express, however, was scheduled for three days later, and it niggled in the back of my mind the entire time.
Our guide took us up to the city of El Alto the following day, insisting that it was one of the more interesting things to do. The activity turned out to be incredibly interesting: we were taken round the city in a minibus, finding the buildings in El Alto known famously throughout Bolivia. They are called Cholets; surrounded by unfinished red edifices and borderline poverty, these striking tall houses are used as party venues for the most part, the grandeur and pomp and circumstance being saved only for inside their walls, with a little on the outside in the design.
The buildings we were being taken around belonged to famed Bolivian architect Freddy Mamani Silvestre, who has been featured in publications such as the New Yorker and the Guardian for his amazing work in the city of El Alto. My family and I were lucky enough to be taken around one of his current projects, taking a peek at the extravagance inside. The main room, with a bar and a balcony, was absolutely incredible, with patterns on the walls and ceilings that blew us all away. The roof was a different story: the balcony had a type of gap in it that, if one looked through it, would show the streets of El Alto with a backdrop of the beautiful Illimani mountain behind it. It gives visitors a look at what is really striking about Bolivia as a country: the amazing, snowcapped mountains with sprawling cities so close below.
We were lucky enough to meet Señor Yumani outside a different budding construction of his. A humble man, he shook each of our hands graciously and told us a little bit about his newest Alteño project. ‘We were talking to the owners about the house here, and we are suggesting a different colour for these, a blue,’ he says, pointing at his new construction. There is a copy sandwiched between his two previous works on the street, green and a darker red, and although it seems rather ‘Yumani’, the doors are its downfall. Where Señor Yumani’s are ornate, decorative and exciting, the doors of this are simple shutters, more typical of the usual buildings in the city. His new work’s ground floor is almost complete, and the difference is blinding; again, an incredibly beautiful, intricate design. Copies are extremely common around the city these days, as his architecture is overwhelmingly sought after.
My parents’ last full day in La Paz took us to the Valle de La Luna. Probably one of the most famous tourist attractions in the city, it lies around 45 to 50 minutes outside of the city, but could probably be easily mistaken for not even being on this planet. It is a small park that can be toured in under an hour, with massive stalagmites surrounding the path one can walk. The juxtaposition between the moonlike landscape of the Valle de La Luna and the beautiful view of La Paz to the North really showed us the diverse vistas that can be seen in this underrated South American country.
The next morning, as my parents boarded their minibus to the airport, I took a deep breath. It was the same, almost, as when I had left my mother at the bus stop to the airport in Rio de Janeiro. Once again, I was on my own, but damn it, I was ready. I was ready to start something that would be a precursor to the life I’d been working toward since I was 14 years old: being a journalist, not to mention in one of the highest big cities in the world. It was just another adventure to start.
Reporting now, just under three months later, things are going swimmingly. Apart from Spanish lessons every week which have improved my fluency tenfold, I have fallen in love with the art of photography while writing my articles, because here at Bolivian Express, every article needs a photo. The interns I began working with have since left, one coming back for a week to visit because she missed us all so much, and others have arrived from all over the world: England, Italy, the U.S. and Australia. I have written 6 six articles over 2 issues of the magazine, and even served as photographer for an article. My life in La Paz can simply be described as a different kind of wonderful; Rio de Janeiro was amazing but, La Paz has become something of a marvel too.