La Paz is the city in the sky that my inner voice or an unstoppable itch sent me to, in fall of 1987. Maybe it was just the excitement of the unknown and the quest to experience life, that at the age of twenty-seven, I ventured to Bolivia. “South America is all the same”, I thought.
After almost 14 hours in the air, the captain alerted us, “we are descending towards La Paz”. I stretched my neck from the aisle seat for one last glance at the clouds and the peaks of the beautiful Andes. Suddenly a boom. Something hit us in mid-air. In shock, my head lashed back then jolted left to the window. I could still see the clouds within reach. I will die young. The old heavily wrinkled lady next to me said something in Spanish while her hand gestured our landing. I did not understand the words but her gentle smile was heaven-bound. There was a runway in the sky outside her window. The captain announced, “welcome to La Paz, the highest international Airport in the world”.
Like Michael J. Fox, I crashed-landed somewhere in the sixties. Classic cars of the sixties and the fifties were still running in perfect harmony. In a Chrysler Rambler winding down the mountain to the city-centre, I gazed at the aboriginal ladies with kids wrapped in colourful wool sheets to their back, carrying produce to the market. Bolivia was the untouched native land of Quechuan and Aymara. The land of hard work, sky-high virgin mountains, snow rivers that one could drink from, and wild llamas running free.
In the coming months, I was the celebrity traveler from the promised land, although, no one questioned who I was on the streets. Friends of the family took turn to tour me around the city. We braved the slim and winding roads of the Yungas region with straight drops that seemed miles long. Only afterwards I discovered the route was code-named “the death road”. On that trip, I saw a wild eagle sitting on a rock staring at us from outside our Ford Falcon.
After being pampered for a couple of months, I went back to the future. It was time to face the realities of the eighties and its ugly fashion and bad haircuts. My Toyota Corolla ride home from Pearson airport, felt like a Cadillac cruising on the perfectly paved HWY-401. At home, I rushed to tear all my credit cards except for one.