Sprawling across the Bolivian altiplano at between 3 200 and 4 100 metres above sea level, La Paz is an incredible city. Incredibly difficult to walk through: the altitude makes the air thin and the steep hills add huffs and puffs to every excursion; after three weeks in the city climbing stairs were still an issue. Incredibly busy: the population density in the city is 1,861.2 people per square kilometre (2008). Incredibly misleading: rather than assaulting you with surface beauty, Our Lady of Peace opts instead for slow-burn love – soul over aesthetics, grit over grace.
You’d think I’d have seen more of La Paz since I had three weeks in the city. But what I did see has not been matched by any other place: skyscrapers stacked together like a city of Lego, the uniformity of it making the skyline no less intriguing. The witches’ market with standard issue knickknacks but dried llama foetuses, potions and aphrodisiacs. San Pedro Prison, which I saw from the outside – sadly the tours were discontinued when I was in town.
I place the blame for my laxness squarely on the shoulders of:
Loki Loki Loki, oi oi oi
One of the Loki shirts quotes a Lonely Planet review: “If you haven’t heard of it, you probably shouldn’t stay there.” What an apt description of a place that is notorious for pulling people in with its force field of cheap booze, tab systems, four-hour long happy hours and the late check-out times – if you’re still at a place like this at 1pm, you’re liable to stay one more night. And another. And then just one more.
Many tales of woe of this nature were related to me during my time behind the bar at Loki La Paz. Dean was meant to stay for only three weeks, but that was eight months ago, and now he’s managing the tour office with no set departure date. Jamie the GM had his bus ticket out of town ripped up by one of the owners, and that was a couple of years ago. Mark managed to leave once, and then was lured back by this irrepressible force. Every time I spoke to Dion he was aiming to leave the next day. The Three Musketeers from London spent three of their eight weeks abroad here. “Gotta get the hell out of Dodge” is the desperate mumbled mantra that haunts all who dare walk through the doors of this place.
One does not simply get the hell out of Loki.
No more telling embodiment of this than the Canadians who had their room number and the Loki logo tattooed on their butts one particularly jovial night. Tattoo artists were brought in every Sunday and the lines that formed for ink were frightening, now that I think about it – pay no mind to the ethical grey area that this tactic represents on the part of Loki management; I sure didn’t.
Apart from the extreme activity of El Choro and Titicaca, my time at Loki is a haze of late nights, Blood Bombs (the signature drink), attempts to sleep all day in the noisy staff room, breakfast at 5pm, rinse, repeat. I will say it was fun being back behind the bar, and I missed Zula in Cape Town, and toyed with the idea of being a professional bartender, approaching the vocation as I do with a sternness that favours efficiency over over-familiarity. It might not be the textbook way to work a bar, but it works for me. Being of “a certain age” I also felt that someone needed to keep half an eye on things. I only lost my stoical way once or twice (who’s counting?).
Can’t neglect to add that for the first time ever (but not the last) I became a pub quiz champion, with the help of teammates Jordan, Alex and William. Life’s ambition fulfilled! I am complete! I can die happy now! Impossible to overstate how chuffed I am about this.
I’ll always be indebted to Loki for the kindred spirits that I was lucky enough to find there. Rhys from Australia effortlessly restored the rest of my self-esteem simply by being a friend and by approaching life with a kind of sincerity and astute observation that is sadly dying out but happily not extinct yet – what a truly magnificent bastard. The Three Musketeers (Tom, Jordan and Alex) from London are only 21 but added so much silliness and joy to my world, made me feel young until they made me feel old. Sabrina, Marianne and Lois, generous and thoughtful girls who exhibited wisdom beyond their years without shunning that enthusiasm that will keep us all young. And Mark, who defies description.
More about these beauties the people page.
By the end of my three weeks, Loki cabin fever had all but spun me out completely. I wrapped things up with a larger-than-technically-necessary one-last-time only-at-Loki party, missed my early-morning bus to Cusco, and stayed … just one more night.
Upon balancing the books, the Loki shenanigans left me with one overriding impression: I’m too old for this shit.