Playoffs in La Paz

So there we were… Adam and I, with our arms thrown around three other Canadian guys (and a guy from Seattle which we figured was close enough), crammed in the upstairs bar of the Wild Rover in La Paz, shouting “Oh Canada” at the Television screen in a deafening screech. Playoff Time… Happy hour was over, we’d been streaming hockey onto the pub television for 3 hours now as we watched the Flyers beat the Penguins: I’m not going to sugar coat it, we had been drinking.


I don’t think La Paz realized that hockey Playoffs would have been such a draw to their pubs; perhaps if they had, I wouldn’t have had to threaten the bartender’s life when he refused to play the Canucks game. In the end, he weighed his options and streamed the game. Good man. 
Sadly, and I mean sadly from the bottom of my heart, we all know how this game ended. What you don’t know, is how we ended up watching hockey in La Paz. So here you go…


Three days earlier…


After a 5-hour, incredibly sickening, bus ride from Copacabana, we arrived in La Paz and had a fairly uneventful evening. It was Easter Sunday morning when we finally started exploring the city. La Paz is huge. It only has a population of 1.5 million people, but the way that the city is built within a canyon, all houses clinging precariously to the steep edges, makes it dizzyingly large. The upside to this city planning is, there is only one major street in La Paz, “Av 16 de Julio”, and it is at the deepest point in valley. If you ever get lost, just walk downhill and you’re right back on track!


We spent the entire day walking through La Paz’s many districts. We started off at the infamous San Pedro prison in the San Pedro district. This place is unbelievable. For those of you who have read Rusty Young’s novel “Marching Powder”, a true story on one man’s life in San Pedro, you’ll know what I’m talking about. For those who haven’t, I hardly know how to explain. The prison has no guards once inside the outer walls, inmates are left to defend themselves and work out their own system of government. They have shops, restaurants, and APARTMENTS, in various “neighborhoods” throughout the jail: all run and operated by the inmates. Many of the inmates’ wives and children live with them in the prison (but are free to come and go as they please) and they drink and party and do drugs as freely as if they were on the outside. In fact, the best and purest cocaine in the world is manufactured within the walls of San Pedro: hard to believe. Up until a few years ago, they used to host tours for tourists to go inside, for a small fee, and see the workings of the prison themselves. The prison tour was even a must-do in the Lonely Planet guide one year. Unfortunately, since the “tour guide” of the prison was released, they have stopped all tourist access. So all we got to do was take a couple sneaky photos outside (which they frown upon now) and watch the going ons from the plaza outside. Being Easter Sunday, there was a huge lineup outside the main gates of the prison. From the plaza, you could see right inside the prison gates to the main courtyard inside. People had already set up for a huge party and you could see the inmates greeting their friends and family as they arrived. Very unusual rules here in Bolivia…

So we continued along our self-proclaimed city tour and headed East. Only 10 blocks or so from the prison, in the Rosario district, are numerous small shops, all lined down one or two streets, this is considered the “witches market”. They sell some very odd looking things. 
The “witches” are really just Bolivian women all dressed up in traditional garb. The clothing is similar to Peruvian, BUT, the Bolivians do sport a new hat! Bolivia’s hat fashion statement is the bowler cap! This is similar, and yet dramatically different, to the Ecuadorian fedora and the Peruvian “Robin Hood” style hat (These things are very important, you know, just in case you’re not quite sure what country you’re in).  
Anyways, the witches market sold everything from herbs, special healing elixirs in glass bottles, souvenirs, stone statues and even dried llama foetuses… Yes, that’s right, dried llama foetuses.  They were disgusting, bony, sometimes even hairy creatures, that we at first thought were shrunken llamas (not sure how you would shrink a llama, but I assume the Bolivians could figure it out if they wanted).


From the witches market, stems the “regular” market. Here there are endless streets full of a designated theme. A whole block full of electronics, or jeans, or shoes, bath products, snacks, fresh vegetables… You name it, it’s SOMEWHERE wrapped up in the maze of streets that makes up La Paz’s market area. It was exhausting. For someone who loves markets it was exhausting!  Needless to say, it was time to head home.


For our very special Easter Sunday dinner, we decided to go to the Steakhouse. We have heard people talking about this steakhouse for weeks now, and Easter seemed to be the perfect excuse to check it out. I knew this place was going to be amazing the second I saw the sign (yes, I also judge books by their covers). Their tagline was “A Rare Steak… Well Done”. A pun AND meat?! Two of my favourite things in life! 
The place was tiny, all wooden inside with classy looking picnic style tables. You could see right into the open kitchen to watch each individual steak being cooked. We ordered a bottle of wine as our liquid appetizer and watched the rest of the place order. 600gram Jack Daniel steaks came out, still sizzling in the pan, and were lit on fire right in front of the guests. Quite a show! All the steaks were served bohemian style on a thick wooden cutting board and served with a bowl of mashed potatoes and all you can eat garlic bread / salad bar. Mouthwatering…


We decided, on the excellent recommendation by our friends Charlotte and Craig, to order the Argentinean sirloin tip, 400grams. Holy crap was this one of the best steaks I’ve eve eaten in my life! Tender, juicy, perfectly grilled, and excellently paired with our second bottle of Cab Sav. Mmm mmm! Our food looked so excellent, in fact, that two girls waiting for a table asked us what we ordered because they wanted the same. This is an absolute MUST stop for anyone in La Paz (unless you are a vegetarian, that is).  After dinner we rolled ourselves back to the hostel for a relatively early night. We had a mountain biking trip down “Death Road” in the morning that we weren’t to miss (see following blog for details).

Our last two days in la Paz were a little more relaxing. We ate good food, enjoyed the city sites and lounged around playing cards in the “4 Corners” area of the city. Adam spent some quality time drinking coffee in various cafe’s and I got my teeth cleaned and fixed at one of the billions of dentists that exist around La Paz.
  On our last full day we found ourselves with the blues at a cafe called Luna y Sol. Today was the kickoff for the Playoffs; game 1 Canucks versus the Kings… And we were going to miss it. Nobody will play hockey when Soccer cups are on in South America! This is one of the few times we’ve been homesick for Canada over the past few months. Alas the day.


Then one of us got the idea that MAYBE they would play it on a single TV, out of the way, at the bar we were at. We got excited; our hopes rose! We looked at the map and picked all the touristy places that MIGHT have mercy on two hockey-crazed Canadians. We would go to them ALL, begging and pleading with each one, until we found the Playoffs!  We started with Luna y Sol… They laughed in our faces; “The TV is for soccer only”. It was like a kick in the face.


So we dragged our sorry asses back to the hostel.  We asked the Irish guy at reception if he could help us out. He said unfortunately no one in South America would even HAVE a channel that showed hockey. If they wanted to, they couldn’t. The only way would be to watch it online, but no places in La Paz would have Internet fast enough to stream the game. “You need to make a LOT of money to have that kind of high speed Internet in Bolivia,” he said, “and no one would… 
Except, For THIS hostel.  WE have fast Internet here, all the soccer matches are over in the afternoon today, so I’m sure if you asked the bartender nicely he would stream it onto the TV at the bar!”  SUCCESS!


And the rest is history…