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We flew into La Paz, the administrative capital of Bolivia, before embarking on our altiplano expedition. La Paz has a population of nearly 900,000 with a metropolitan area of 2.3 million. The city is built in a large canyon sprawls upward onto the altiplano, from 9800 ft near the base to over 13,000 ft in the neighboring city of El Alto. Unlike many cities where wealthier people live at higher elevations, the wealthy districts in La Paz are also the lowest. Affluence decreases up the canyon walls.
La Paz lies on the western edge of the Cordillera Real of the Andes. From the city you can see Illimani, a 21,122 ft peak at the southern end of the cordillera fittingly named the Guardian of La Paz. The city is built on unconsolidated glacial deposits from the past ice age through which Choqueyapa River has cut to form the steep sided canyon. Because of high rainfall, unconsolidated sediment, and steep slopes landslides are a common occurrence in La Paz.
The city embraces its cultural Quechua and Aymara history. We were lucky enough to catch a very colorful parade.
We met our drivers for the trip and stocked up on supplies in La Paz. While we would be able to buy essentials (like toilet paper) in other cities along the way, there are some things (such as peanut butter) that you can only find in La Paz. We also met with Mayel Sunagua at Sergeotecmin, the Bolivian geologic survey, to get permits for transporting our samples back to the states. Finally, we were ready to set off on our altiplano adventure!