Saturday, September 8, 2007

Bolivian Shopping Spree

Day 16: September 6, 2007

La Paz, Bolivia

Given the events of yesterday and my unintentional cliff diving experiment, I decided to take it easy and sleep in until 7:30AM. Even after that I just stayed in bed watching TV. Finally got up to drop off my laundry at the front desk and pay for an extra night (a 3 star hotel for $20 a night ain't bad!). Had breakfast in the hotel restaraunt since it was now included in my room (for some reason the rooms booked through Tucan didn't come with breakfast). It was fine but I was the only one in the restaraunt so it was kinda weird. I was served fresh fruit, yogurt and cereal, juice, tea, and a pile of baked goods. I caught up with the world a bit at the internet cafe next door and then went out to begin my great shopping spree.

Prices in Bolivia are ridiculously cheap. It's like running around with monopoly money, it just doesn't mean anything. I think the exchange rate was like 7.7 Bolivianos to the US Dollar. To provide some perspecive, a small bottle of water from a street vendor in NYC is $1. A giant 2L bottle of water from an expensive hotel in Bolivia is only $.79. I thought Peru was cheap, but this was unreal. Sometimes it really wasn't even worth the time or effort to bargain. Do I really feel the need to waste 5 minutes to get something for 49 Bolivianos instead of 55? It's less than a dollar difference, who cares?

I found a leather store that would make custom garments with 2 days notice. Unfortunately I only had one day and they refused to ship stuff to NY even if I would pay extra. Not quite sure what their problem was. Ended up just getting a leather jacket off the rack, pretty nice, seems sturdy, and only 700Bs! I always wanted a leather jacket; should be a good souvenir. I also got some sweaters, alpaca ponchos, a large rug, etc. Yay souvenir stuff.

I decided to splurge for dinner. After yesterday's near death experience I deserved a good meal right? (Who am I kidding, I'm just a foodie always in search of the best restaraunts). As far as I could tell, the best restaraunt in the country was Utama, located on the top floor of the 5 star Plaza Hotel. Fidel Castro and Peru's former president Alberto Fujimori both ate there. The internet claimed Utama was the place to go so I did, I got a cab poste haste.

The views from the top of the Plaza were very nice. The city of La Paz is in a canyon with the best real estate at the bottom (where there is more oxygen and milder weather) and the slummier sections up the cliff walls. At night, the lights from the cliffs surround the lower city and it has as similar effect to sitting in a globe filled with glitter. Sparkling lights all around. I like La Paz. It has a lot of the hustle and bustle of NYC, but for a fraction the price. Anyway, back to dinner.

The staff were all decked out in tuxedos but I strolled in wearing dirty cargos and a rain jacket over my polo shirt. I felt a bit out of place but the staff didn't seem to care. I started off with a half bottle of Bolivian Merlot since they were out of Cab. It was surprisingly good! I believe it was the 2004 La Conception Merlot Reserva. It has a strong olive flavor, but in an interesting way, not a bad way. A little salty like the sea. Some fruit too. Really not bad.

The views were incredible and the service impeccable; I couldn't wait for the food to arrive (both curious to see what Bolivia had to offer and pretty hungry at this point). First my cauliflower soup arrived. Quite delicious. The presentation was a bit lacking, the plates and flatwear looked like something bought on discount at Kmart, not the fine china the fancy NY restaraunts use. The soup was in a small cup with a few small croutons on top and looked a lot like something I might get at Carrows or any other diner. Fortunately it tasted a lot better than that. I scarfed it down before even letting it cool down a bit.

Some locals came in while I was eating - I think some businessmen. They all wore suits. I feel even stranger wearing my backpacking clothes now. Quite a disparity between how the tourists and locals dress in places like this.

My steak arrived next. It was reasonably thick unlike most I encountered on the trip. It came in a mustard sauce with some french fries and a few steamed vegetables. Pretty good. Not Del Frisco's by any stretch of the imagination, but one of the better steaks I've had this trip for sure. Quite stuffed but ordered dessert anyway. Decided to try the waiter's favorite, some chocolate cake thingee. It had some sort of cream layers, one of which tasted sort of minty.

Totally stuffed and toes tingling a bit from a combination of the altitude and alcohol. It's much more effective up here. The tab only came to 153Bs. Even adding on a 10% tip (generous here) and the two cab fares it's not even $25! Absolutely ridiculous!

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