time to got those knees sorted
08.12.2009 - 12.12.2009
As we had booked a ticket to La Paz we did presume that the bus was going to take us all the way there but sometime after midnight it came to a halt and everyone got off. We'd got as far as Oruro and it soon became apparent that we would be going no further. We got off and tried to communicate with the bus boy who I think in the end took pity on us and guided us to another bus where he spoke to some people and we were told to get on. We thanked him for his help and sat down. Even though the last bus had probably been the worst we'd been on in South America I soon missed it because this new one was awful. My seat didn't go back but was instead incredibly upright so I was stuck in a very unnatural sitting position that was not going to allow me to get a good sleep. We swapped a couple times trying to make the best of the situation by one of us half lying on the other, it wasn't restful and it was also absolutely freezing! When we finally arrived in La Paz at about 7am we were very relieved.
A taxi driver took us to a hostel I'd read about in the guidebook but it was too expensive so we asked him for somewhere cheaper and he took us to one he knew about. It reminded me of a block of flats all of them facing in on an inner courtyard. It wasn't the prettiest of places but when he told us it was only £5 for a double room with a private bathroom we couldn't really say no. The only real downside was the fact that it was cold, I felt it more so than Adam and it's hard to fully relax when you can't get warm.
La Paz is generally cold due to it being the highest city in the world and we were there in summer so I dread to think what it is like in winter.
It is a crazy place to build a city in many ways, and the mind boggles a little as you stare out at all the thousands of houses sprawled across the mountain sides.
Most of which look unfinished with exposed brick, sloppy masonry and flat roofs with rods sticking out the top which Adam says is so they can easily plonk on another level if they need to. Due to its positioning, getting around La Paz is quite a tiring affair as you keep having to go up and down which at altitude leaves you panting. The centre of the city has real charm though, and there are some lovely buildings around the Plaza de Armas.
Out of all the capital cities we have visited, I think La Paz retains its culture and heritage the most, bar India but I preferred La Paz to any city in India so I'm a bit biased. A large proportion of woman wear the traditional dress and have brightly coloured shawls wrapped around their shoulders so they can either carry produce or a chubby faced baby. There are people selling on the street everywhere and although it is obvious that many people are poor, you also get a very strong sense that they are intensely proud.
We walked down to the Plaza and then up the other side and into the area where there are a number of other hostels, tour operators and shops selling products made of llama wool and other souvenir type things. Here we had breakfast and discussed what we were going to do about my knees. I had phoned the British consulate in Uyuni and they had emailed me their approved list of Doctors, one of which dealt with Orthopaedics and sport injuries, so he sounded like the best bet. We did a little bit of shopping, decided to get the purchase of the magnets out of the way quickly and then returned to the room. The rest of the day was basically spent trying to get hold of this doctor, Mr Nils Calderon. I was on and off the phone with my mum who was doing her best to help as for some reason our mobile would now not connect to any numbers in Bolivia. When we used to a public phone and rang the number I'd been given for him, he hung up on me, so we weren't being very successful.
The following morning over breakfast we decided to take more decisive action, the main problem seemed to be the language barrier so we caught a taxi to the British Consulate. It was in the South of the city, in a much posher part of town where there were some upmarket hotels and big, modern hypermarkets. Once we had cleared the security check we walked into the consulate and it was so strange, we really could have been in England. There were middle aged men in suits talking with quite clipped British accents and it was strangely comforting. We also found a very helpful, bilingual receptionist who quickly called Dr Calderon's office and made me an appointment for that evening at 6:30pm. Now the appointment was actually made I began to feel quite apprehensive. I was in a very foreign country, where I didn't really speak the language and I was going to ask some doctor I didn't know to stick a large needle into both my knees. I felt a little unsettled for the rest of the day. While at the consulate we decided to nip upstairs and ask if they could insert more pages into Adam's passport which is now pretty much overflowing with stamps and visas. Unfortunately they couldn't and we have since found out this isn't a possibility anymore. He has now circled all “available” space with a pencil and we go through each border crossing with slight apprehension as we're faced with the standard surly looking immigration officer as they angrily leaf through Adam's maxed-out passport.
Once back in the centre we bought a much needed English to Spanish dictionary and I began to look up words like, “knee” and “drain”. We then had lunch and took the rest of the day easy as walking around was really becoming a bit of an issue on my oversized knees. As the prospect of unpleasant things to come usually speeds up time we were soon in a taxi to his office which was also in the south of the city. As I sat in a chair in the waiting area I began to nervously fidget. I obviously couldn't be sure he'd even do the procedure and part of me didn't want him to but I also knew I needed him to. Also I usually go through this with one or both of my parents, who are also knee draining veterans, so although having Adam there was very comforting I felt a little more anxious.
When we were shown in to his office it was clear from the outset that one he didn't speak any English and secondly he had a fairly abrupt manner. Still I was pleased that his office was very professional, there was even a pot plant which I think is a good sign. We managed to explain though that I have Rheumatoid Arthritis and I'd had it since I was three. He asked me to get up on the examination table where he moved my legs about and felt the inflammation in my knees, all a little rougher than I'm used too Then after some initial confusion about whether he was going to, we established he was going to drain both knees and inject them with Cortisone (steroids). So now I was pleased that I would be more mobile but really scared. I hate the bit where they're getting all the equipment prepared, seeing the needles, syringes and wipes. My heart started pounding but at least Adam's hand was there to grip. Usually my consultant at home would inject a small amount of anaesthetic into my knee first but Dr Calderon wasn't a fan of this because he said it was then two injections, so just a bit of numbing cream on the skin. Then it began, and it was painful, very painful. I can't really describe it, it just feels wrong, a completely unwanted, sharp, prolonged intrusion into a sensitive area. He was quite rough when it came to applying pressure to my knee which made it hurt more. Adam said he felt a bit dizzy but mainly because I was so obviously in pain, and he couldn't really do anything. In the end he extracted 12cc from one knee and 15cc from the other, so a fair amount. Then the Cortisone which just feels like a rush of coldness. I have a love hate relationship with it, on the one hand it keeps the inflammation from coming back for up to 3 months, on the other it gives me a moon face for a bit which is pretty unattractive.. When it was all over I thanked the doctor and he suggested I engage in some physiotherapy sessions but they were in this part of town which was quite expensive to get to and also I actually thought my thigh muscles were in pretty good knick after all the walking we'd been doing.
That evening and the next day we really took it quite easy. I decided though that I could make it to the cinema and we went to see 2012 which was ok. It had all the cheesiness that disaster movies have, but I did get quite teary when certain people met their ends and asked Adam if he ever thought stuff like that was really going to happen. He said he didn't. Then we went back and had a take out dinner before trying to get warm enough to sleep in our chilly little room.
Next day I really wanted to try my new knees out properly and it was great to feel completely mobile again. We went back to the touristy area and bought a few llama based products, I definitely have enough scarves now. Then we walked around the outside market which covers a number of streets and sells a vast array of things from bathroom fittings to frilly tutu type skirts. We were on the look out as always for a new watch as thus far we hadn't found a reasonably priced one. Thankfully our search came to and end and although it wasn't the prettiest in the world it only cost about £2 so it would definitely do.
We decided the following day that we would move hotels. Mainly because we wanted to a room with wifi because we'd been using the internet cafes around the city and they were painfully slow. I wanted to try and get some of the blog on and we needed to start researching plane tickets from South to Central America. So we moved to Hostel Republica, the first hostel we had looked at upon our arrival in La Paz. The hostel was in a converted ex presidential home and was quite grand. It also had an inner courtyard but it was much more nicely maintained then the previous hostel. For these reasons we were quite expectant with regard to what room we would be given and so were slightly disappointed when we were put in an oversized cupboard. It was dingy, and was not much warmer than the other place, its only saving grace was the bed was better. However the real sting in the tail was we could just not get the internet to work. Frustrated with the situation we went to a little restaurant and had a fairly good almuerzo which means lunch and generally consists of one or two courses. It was a pretty good one, but I had to eat Adam's desert as it was cinnamon flavoured slop, basically his worst nightmare. Then we headed to the post office to send yet another box full of goodies back home.
The rest of the day was spent mooching about, trying to get the internet to work but finally admitting defeat and then a whole chicken for dinner and a couple of beers. The next day we would be heading north to the small town of Coroico, we were looking forward to somewhere a little quieter.
Laura & Adam