28 Photos

Finding Valle De La Luna
4 Amigos in South America

(Faye Xuan)
We had originally wanted to plan for a La Paz day trip with a travel agency, but we wanted a relaxed day without the "vamos, vamos" so we decided to arrange a taxi and head out to Valle de la Luna or Moon Valley on our own. We negotiated a taxi for 25 bolivianos (4 USD) on Ave. 16 de Julio. The taxi took us all the way down hill where all the consulates seemed to be located. The area was quite the contrast to the top of the hill neighbourhood we were in last night for the cholita show. There were nicely painted houses with high gates and security details. Many newer and fancier cars with foreigners driving them or in them. The taxi started doing circles in the narrow cobble stone streets. I was puzzled. Then we saw the huge crowd pouring into the streets a few blocks up. A protest, it appeared. The taxi driver was now frustrated and said a bunch of things in Spanish that we didn't understand but we did catch the part about "no pase". I paid the driver 16 bolivianos (2.75 USD) and we got out of the car. I did see a highway sign "Mallasa" and I remembered in my research that is the area of the moon valley. We started walking in that direction and figured if we walked past the demonstrators we could catch a taxi on the other side. The protest seemed peaceful. In fact many of them looked like they were just out for a stroll and some were enjoying an ice cream cone while protesting. They blocked all entrance streets to the highway. We asked a few people for directions and were told to catch minibuses to Mallasa at the round about.

After about 30 minutes of down hill (thank God!) walking we passed by many nice houses, a bridge with a stinky stream, a school, a football field and a very small round about. We hadn't seem a Mallasa minibus. With no map, we were completely working off of instinct. Finally, we flagged one down. For 2 bolivianos (0.30 USD) each, we got dropped off at the Moon Valley in 10 minutes.

I couldn't believe we made it. The Moon Valley entrance fee was 15 bolivianos (2.5 USD). It wasn't a big area. The bizarre moon like landscape was caused by erosion. It reminded me the Stone Forest in China. But this was yellow, more desert like. We spent about 1 hour there.

We wondered if the protest was done as we tried to flagged down a minibus back into town, San Pedro Plaza. The minibuses all display their destination in front of their dashboard. We saw one with a "San Pedro" sign and jumped on. The driver again said a bunch of things in Spanish and "No pase". We knew the protest was still on. I used my best pictionary skills. "Pero..." and using my two fingers to make walking gesture. He understood me and we hopped in. He took us right up to the protest line and we paid him 1.5 bolivianos (0.25 USD) each for the ride.

This time we took our time, strolled through crowd and enjoyed an ice cream ourselves before looking for a minibus to take us to San Pedro. We somehow ended up on Ave. 16 de Julio, but we weren't too far from San Pedro. It was almost 1PM and we needed some lunch. Days ago we met an Aussie who told us there is a Burger King on the street. I never thought I would crave fast food. This time was different. I wasn't wild about the local cuisine or their imitation of other types of cuisine. Burger King sounded heavenly. We found it in no time. My King de Pollo or chicken sandwich with bacon and fresh salsa picante (hot) was awesome.

We wondered if the protest was done as we tried to flagged down a minibus back into town, San Pedro Plaza. The minibuses all display their destination in front of their dashboard. We saw one with a "San Pedro" sign and jumped on. The driver again said a bunch of things in Spanish and "No pase". We knew the protest was still on. I used my best pictionary skills. "Pero..." and using my two fingers to make walking gesture. He understood me and we hopped in. He took us right up to the protest line and we paid him 1.5 bolivianos (0.25 USD) each for the ride.

This time we took our time, strolled through crowd and enjoyed an ice cream ourselves before looking for a minibus to take us to San Pedro. We somehow ended up on Ave. 16 de Julio, but we weren't too far from San Pedro. It was almost 1PM and we needed some lunch. Days ago we met an Aussie who told us there is a Burger King on the street. I never thought I would crave fast food. This time was different. I wasn't wild about the local cuisine or their imitation of other types of cuisine. Burger King sounded heavenly. We found it in no time. My King de Pollo or chicken sandwich with bacon and fresh salsa picante (hot) was awesome.

Since the book was published, it was considered a national embarrassment. Bolivian government has since banned the book in the country and is trying to block the movie from being made. Tours to the prison have become increasingly impossible. We wanted to check out the outside of prison just out of curiosity.

The prison is literally located in the middle of the bustling city. We walked up to the prison from the back and immediately noticed the very tall walls and the guard posts. But somehow still didn't look like a prison where they kept criminals. One would expect barb wires and perhaps much bigger and darker looking. When we made our way to the front, I had a video camera and was immediately gestured by the guard to put it away. To people watch, we picked a bench in the plaza garden facing the entrance.

We saw stream after stream of people going in and out of the place and imagined (made up stories) who they were and who they were visiting. We thought we were going to get propositioned for a tour, but that didn't happen. Shortly after we sat down, a young, tall and skinny white guy showed up leaning against a tree directly across the street in front of the entrance. He looked like he was waiting on someone. We watched him as he then went to the phone booth to make a call. We wondered if he was waiting for his contact to get him in and he/she didn't show. He came back to the tree and leaned for another while. He then chatted up with a well dressed and older Bolivian couple. It looked like a tour deal might be going down! All the while, a guard crossed the street and stood two feet away from them. He must be trying to listen in on the conversation. 15 minutes later, the white man followed the couple into the entrance of the prison! At this point we couldn't take our eyes off of what was going on. This was better than any television show and we were glued.

The entrance is two big doors that were wide open. You can see the tables set up to check visitor's bags. Behind the tables were metal bars and prisoners can be seemed roaming the yard. The white guy can be seen getting his bag checked. We saw the metal bar door open and we held our breaths. Then we saw him emerging out of the entrance. He didn't make it.

We started commenting on why the guy was so obvious, so in pain sight in his attempt to get in. The drama was over. We sat for a few more minutes and left to do some souvenir shopping on Sagarnaga Street for the rest of the afternoon.

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