Updated: Feb 12
In the previous post I talked about the Top 10 things to do in La Paz. But those were really experiences - tours, hikes, bars and restaurants. In this article and the next, I want to talk about the thoughts and feelings that really stuck with us, the quirks of living in La Paz - for good and bad.
Top 7 Things We Love About La Paz, México:
1. The Lack Of Tourists - And Gringos
If there's one thing I've never understood, it's why so many people want to travel the world and recreate what they've left behind. When I was a kid, package holiday tours to places like Spain and Greece were just becoming mainstream. Ordinary families could afford to fly off with the kids for a week to places like Magaluf, Benidorm, or Corfu. It was amazing!
What did they do when they got there? Partly, I think, it's the fault of the tour operators trying to offer a 'one size fits all' product to a mass market. But for so many people, their first experience of Greece or Spain was spending most of the day by the hotel pool drinking cheap ouzo or sangria, eating 3 buffet meals a day on Full Board basis, and taking a few carefully managed trips on the Thomas Cook tour bus (RIP).
Sadly, many of these people were more or less looking for back home, but with cheap beer and sunshine. They had little or no interest in learning about the language, culture and history of the country they were visiting.
This era and mentality were brilliantly parodied in the movie "Shirley Valentine":
For us, one of the criteria for selecting our destinations is whether it is largely made up of nationals, or tourists/expats. Whether you need to speak Spanish, or whether everyone speaks English.
La Paz scores pretty well on this. It's an authentic Mexican working city, and you don't need to venture far from the malecón before you get blank looks if you speak fast English. While there are expats living and working here, they seem to have integrated pretty well, and are not trying to turn it into Disneyland Mexico. (I'm looking at you, Cabo San Lucas).
2. Low-Cost Quality Dentistry
I'm a phobic. I hate the dentist. I've always hated them. When I was four years old, one persuaded me to open my mouth "just so I can have a look. I'm not going to hurt you."
She lied. I bit her. There were consequences.
Chewing away on dinner one evening, I lost a filling. "No problem", I thought, "it's just a filling." After some careful research online I found a reputable dentist who took one look and said: "The tooth is rotten. You need a root canal on that one, a crown, and a crown for the one next to it."
Two crowns and a root canal? Never mind the terror I felt rising up about the procedures - what was this going to cost? I have some savings, but I work as an online teacher. I'm not exactly flush with cash!
I went back for the crowns - two appointments, one to prep and one to fit.
If I'd had this work done in London, depending on where I went, I'd have paid something like £450 for the root canal, and £750 for each of the crowns. About £1,950.
Here I was charged MX$2,000 for the root canal and $6,000 each for the crowns, fitted. A total of $14,000 which translates to around £570 - something like 30% of the cost.
Facilities were extremely well-equipped and the standard of care was excellent. Both spoke perfect English.
3. (Almost) Really Good Internet
There are so many reports online about the quality and speed of internet connectivity in Mexico, that it's hard to know what to believe. The only real way to find out is to get on the ground, connect and see.
In summary though: cellular coverage is fast and reliable. On Telcel I discovered no blackspots, a few areas where signal dipped to 3G from 4G, and no problem with speed or contention. Working while tethered is perfectly feasible here, although it will chew up your free data allowance over time.
Using the wifi in our Airbnbs I would get between 5Mbps and 30Mbps, depending on time of day and so on.
(That's apart from our first place, where we discovered the host was sharing one low-speed router between 3 apartments without telling anyone.)
Rural Mexico will be different, but honestly, if you're working in the major towns and cities - La Paz included - internet access should not be a problem. It's pretty fast and modern, and improving.
4. Discovering An Authentic Mexican Zumba Place
Mrs Wench is a big fan of Zumba - in fact, she's written about it. In keeping with my thoughts earlier about travelling and doing it like the locals, she wanted to find a place which was frequented by Mexicans rather than tourists/expats, and ideally not in a big facility or chain gym.
Boy did she find one 😀 - but I'll let her tell the story herself!
5. The Paceño People
It's almost a cliché when you travel, to report back that "the natives were friendly". I think that's at least partly because people tend to go to tourist areas, and people who work in the tourist trade appreciate that if they're not friendly to their customers, pretty quickly they're going to have no customers.
La Paz isn't a tourist trap, by any means. Most of the people we interacted with were just regular folks working regular jobs. And they are, by and large, lovely.
People will nod as they pass and say "Buenas tardes." You respond in kind. In London, if someone does that you immediately look for their accomplice who's about to pick your pocket.
It's all those little things. Holding doors. Actually smiling at you, and not in a fake way.
The shoeshine guy who called me over, and walked me across the road when he saw I was looking for a vape shop.
The paceña friend we'd just met, who insisted on driving us home and helping with our bags.
The tour guides who easily became friends after the excursion.
There's something about Mexican kids, too. Back in the UK, kids often seem to look a bit... well, miserable! Maybe it's the weather here, maybe it's just the slower pace of life and comparative lack of stress. Families with kids are everywhere, in restaurants, bars, early on or late in the evening; and it just seems natural. And the children just look happier.
Maybe we're missing a trick back home.
6. Carrying A Torch - Everywhere
A good friend of mine, who's spent more time than I travelling in Foreign Parts, gave me an interesting present when I left the UK. She gave me an LED torch, and this piece of advice:
"Never go anywhere in the developing world without a torch."
I'll admit this threw me a little at first - but it's pretty good advice. Compare La Paz to any major Western city, and street lights are few and far between. The power drops out from time to time. Entire streets have no lighting.
While this is a fantastic opportunity to stargaze, and just admire the heavens - it also means you can't always see where you're going. Combine that with the state of the pavements, and you have a problem.
Carrying a torch avoids this, lets me play to my inner engineer, and at a pinch would be fairly effective at blinding a would-be attacker - or whacking them.
7. The Weather
Most of the time, the weather in La Paz is pretty much spot on. Nicely hot, not too humid apart from August to October when it gets a bit sticky. 3,300 sunny hours per year - compare that to 1,400 back home in Scotland!
It doesn't rain much and the winds are generally modest. Check out today's forecast from the BBC:
And remember it's the middle of winter. While it isn't perfect, you can see why people come here to soak up the rays.
It sure beats London in the middle of winter.
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