The wind started blowing, lifting grit and spinning it into odd shapes in the air before thrusting it against walls and skin. Normally August is the month of winds, but it started in July. Everyone is talking about it. The wind makes it feel cold, cold and gritty.
We waited. Knotted around our belongings we huddled against the crowds pouring through the open aired bus station like an end of vacation flood. Monday morning all the kids in Bolivia have to be back in school after their winter vacation and we threw ourselves into the current in order to get back to La Paz. Joaquín and I had come down early Saturday morning to afternoon the station was heavily congested and every company’s desk had a thick crowd clamoring around it.
The city nestled around us like a great big hen beneath the mountains that form this valley. They circled it, making a three dimensional wall that bends and folds but always keeps the valley locked in like a very large nest.
I am staying with the Escobar family in a beautiful home they have slowly built over years in a neighborhood called Santiago II which was founded with miners from other parts of Bolivia who lost their jobs in the collapse of mining in the early eighties.
We arrived at night, three hours late. From near the lake, an hour out, you could see the city’s lights at the plateau’s edge glowing like a jeweled coiled snake in the night. El Alto de La Paz, by daylight is a gritty suburban city, of unfinished brick constructions and urban works gathered on the lip of this high plateau, the altiplano, that stretches between the twin ranges of the Andes. With somewhere between half a million and a million souls it is the highest city on earth. At the lip, or to change images, the plateau’s eyebrow, as it is called in local Spanish, it is above 14,000 feet high and slowly drops downward from there until the houses become scattered and empty fields claim the night.