EDITORIAL BY Amaru Villanueva Rance
It was 1971 and Ivan Illich had spent over a decade and a half in Latin America. This was his utopian vision for a transportation system which was at once practical and built for a society like ours. At its heart was the idea that the six-horsepower engines that powered these ‘mechanical donkeys’ could also be used as a plough and pump, and designed in such a way that anyone could learn to repair them.
Fast forward four decades and look around La Paz. While there are no mechanical donkeys in sight, the system we have in its place is just as outlandish—and sometimes almost as visionary. The country is home to an estimated 1.2 million vehicles, of which over 300 thousand can be found in La Paz alone, a figure that has risen 90% in the past fifteen years. Bridges and roads are constantly being built but the traffic seems to grow at twice the rate.
Heads peer out of the windows of minibuses shouting destinations; young men and women dressed as zebras teach people to cross the road; cholitas wearing Robocop-style helmets enforce traffic routes to prevent trameaje; a 50-year-old blue bus known as ‘El Inmortal’ continues to grumble in circulation. A steel spider web is also being spun up above: the teleférico has arrived, and dangling cabins henceforth associated with Swiss ski resorts will soon be part of the world’s largest network of urban transit cable cars.
This superorganism is evolving beyond the infrastructure. With the gradual disappearance of the voceador comes the rise of a new character known as el datero who, in exchange for some coins, tips off public transport drivers allowing them to better plan their routes: ‘the 230 just passed, followed by an empty 355’. Local minibuses have invariably been adapted to fit an extra row of seats (the move is consistent with the anatomy of most locals, but remains a practical joke on anyone taller than 5’9’’—ie most tourists). And roaming alongside 1967 Land Cruisers are living-room-sized-2013 Hummers, unviably huge compared to the narrow streets of the city centre. It’s retro-futuristic, anarcho-anachronistic, organised chaos in all its glory.
Whether or not you are aware of it, you are also part of this superorganism. The moment you set foot out of your house you are plunged into a whirling world of pedestrians, vehicles, smog and chatter. E pluribus unum: ‘one out of many’; each element seemingly follows a logic of its own, yet somehow it all comes together as a single whole on the busy arteries of La Paz. Missed connections, chance encounters, transport strikes, and the daily honking war are all part of this choreography.
As if caught in a trancadera, these musings are (appropriately) going nowhere. We invite you to stay put, hop on the Bolivian Express and start flicking the pages. We’ll help you get to nowhere twice as fast.
ARTICLES FROM THIS ISSUE
THIS WAS KILOMETER ZERO
28 Feb, 2014 | Nia Haf
La Paz’s train station has been closed for passenger services since 1996. The abandoned building is now engulfed by the construction site of the city's new teleférico and yet there are clear remind...
TO EL ALTO BY BIKE
28 Feb, 2014 | Alison Walsh
Why getting up the hills is only part of the challenge. La Paz is not a cyclist’s city. A child wobbling around the Plaza Avaroa, a group of lads on BMXs doing tricks, someone slowly plodding up...
MORNING ON A MINIBUS
08 Mar, 2014 | Finn Jubak
La Paz is due for a huge change in how its citizens commute. Finn Jubak tags along on a venerable mode of transportation that might soon be a relic of bygone days. I stood in front of the Iglesia...
28 Feb, 2014 | Alison Walsh
From El Alto to Zona Sur La Paz: a unique city, scrambling its way up slopes so steep that only a madman, you would think, could possibly imagine building anything here. And its transport problem...
08 Mar, 2014 | Claudia Méndez
THE NEPTUNE The Neptune also known as the aguatero is one of the mightiest of La Paz’s police riot control water engines. It has a 2000 liter capacity and 2 power jet motors, yet this aquatic monste...
28 Feb, 2014 | Wilmer Machaca
It’s been 10 months since El Alto introduced their Municipal Transport Guards (GMTs). It is the city’s response to the friendly zebras roaming the streets of La Paz, cartwheeling across the s...
08 Mar, 2014 | Nia Haf
Seconds, Minutes, Hours It's rush hour in La Paz and hoards of people are making their way through the city. Queues of pedestrians begin to form as people wait to return to El Alto, some heading...