I bade a fond farewell to my Belgian hosts in Cochabamba and took a bus to La Paz today.
It was a mesmerising trip, winding our way up a steep road for a couple of hours through bare crumpled hills onto the Altiplano, the renowned landscape of Bolivia.
The altiplano lives up to it name – a flat bouldered plain that stretches to distant mountain peaks underneath an enormous skyscape. I spent several hours squinting through stark sunlight watching distant clouds doing shadowy dances across the flinty earth.
Amazingly the inhospitable landscape is home to many indigenous people, who we passed either in villages of adobe-brick houses or in fields somehow managing to draw out life from the barren soil. Their intensely vibrant and colourful clothes seemed to be deliberately defying the cold monochrome environment in which they lived.
I found it hard to imagine living here. It must be an extremely harsh life. Noticeably some villages were empty with crumbling deserted houses as people had no doubt headed to the city. In the towns that were left there was lots of graffitti for MAS, the opposition party that has vocalised growing resistance by indigenous people to a politics and economics controlled by a small elite in collaboration with foreign companies. The people of the altiplano have a constant reminder of this, in the form of gas pipelines that snake across the countryside taking wealth from their land, riches that they will never see.
Eventually we arrived at El Alto, one of the fastest growing cities on the earth which clings to the edge of the Altiplano. Below El Alto sprawled out across a tightly-packed valley was the city of La Paz with a backdrop of snow-covered peaks. It was quite literally breathtaking as my guidebook points out. We are at 3,600 metres here, and my head feels quite light and dizzy. When I catch my breath, I will let you know more.