Jonathan likes markets, and as Thursday is the El Alto market on Av. 16 de abril, we decided to go. When we went to the hotel desk to ask about getting a taxi, one of the bellmen suggested we take a taxi to the main aerial tramway station and ride the tram to El Alto. The ticket is three Bolivarianos a person, about fifty cents, and you get off in the middle of the market. He went on to say that we could make the return journey to the hotel completely by aerial tram, circling the city. It sounded like a bit of a headache, but he said we could buy all the tickets at the start of the journey so we didn’t have to stand in line at each station. We would ride the red line back from El Alto to the end at the central station, the take the orange line to where it ends and then the white line to where it ends just below our hotel. We’d save money on the taxi fare, too.
The taxi ride to the main station convinced us. Traffic was heavy, inching along every street. It took almost a half hour to get to the station. The aerial tramway is a different world. It is new, uncrowded, and clearly marked, with lots of staff. There was almost no line and you get in your eight person gondola while it shuffles along at a snail’s pace. At the end of the runway you swing out and up and you’re over the city with a breathtaking view both down into people’s backyards and out across the valley. I looked up at the valley rim and thought, “We won’t go up there.” We touched down at a station and changed direction, but my smugness evaporated as we swung up and over the edge of the valley into the next valley that holds El Alto, Peru’s second largest city. By the time we arrived in El Alto we were sold on returning by air.
The market was huge, full of every imaginable household item. I bought a nailbrush. We would have bought one of the brooms they sell for sweeping sidewalks made of a bundle of reeds tied together, but neither of us thought we could get one through Peruvian customs.
We followed the suggested plan, paying for the six tickets we needed in order for both of us to get back to the hotel. The ride was spectacular. From El Alto you can see snowcapped mountains ringing the valley, while back in La Paz, Illimani is a single huge beacon over the city. We could see the whole bowl of the city with it’s patch of twenty story buildings right in the center. It was easy to change from one line to the next. There are elevators and elevated walkways that meant Jonathan could avoid stressing his knees. Those who’ve ridden subways know how rare it is to find a seamless system without stairs. Our swing around La Paz, literally, was a good way to get a sense of the city.
Note: The young man at the ticket booth in El Alto didn’t give us all the tickets we paid for. Whether it was an error or by design, count your tickets and your change and politely ask for what’s missing if necessary. To save face, most people will comply.