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La Paz

Health & safety

Dangers & annoyances

Fake police officers and bogus tourist officials are on the rise. Note: authentic police officers will always be uniformed (undercover police are under strict orders not to hassle foreigners) and will never insist that you show them your passport, get in a taxi with them or allow them to search you in public. If confronted by an imposter, refuse to show them your valuables (wallet, passport, money etc), or insist on going to the nearest police station on foot. If physically threatened, it is always best to hand over valuables immediately.

Fake ‘taxi drivers’ are working in conjunction with gangs who steal from or – as has tragically been the case – assault or kidnap unsuspecting travelers (to extort ATM pin details). At the end of 2005 a young Austrian couple was kidnapped and murdered (their bodies were discovered at the beginning of 2006), an event which shocked travelers and locals alike. Although the perpetrators are said to have been caught, always beware of hopping into shared cabs with strangers or of accepting a lift from a driver who approaches you (especially around dodgy bus areas).

More annoying than dangerous, lustrabotes (shoeshine boys) hound everyone with footwear. Many affect a menacing and anonymous appearance, wearing black ski masks and baseball caps pulled so low you can just make out two eye sockets. It’s said that they often do so to avoid social stigma, as many are working hard to support families or pay their way through school – you can support their cause for B$1 (US$0.15).

La Paz is a great city to explore on foot, but take local advice ‘camina lentito, come poquito…y duerme solito’ (‘walk slowly, eat only a little bit…and sleep by your poor little self’) to avoid feeling the effects of soroche (altitude sickness).

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Sadly, La Paz seems to have caught on to South America’s common ruses. The bogus tourist is a popular one: on engaging you in conversation in English, the ‘tourist’ is confronted by fake ‘tourist police’. The ‘tourist’ abides by an ‘order’ to show the tourist pol­ice his bag/papers/passport, and ‘translates’ for you to do the same. During the search, the cohorts strip you of your cash and/or belongings.

Psst my friend! This popular scam involves someone spilling a substance on you or spitting a phlegm ball at you. While you or they are wiping it off, another lifts your wallet or slashes your pack; the perpetrator may be an ‘innocent’ granny or young girl. Similarly, don’t bend over to pick up a valuable item which has been ‘dropped’. You risk being accused of theft, or of being pickpocketed.

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While you're there

Medical services

For medical emergencies, it’s best to avoid the hospitals. For serious conditions, ask your embassy for doctor recommendations. The 24-hour Medicentro (244 1717; 6 de Agosto 2440) and Trauma Klinik (277-1819; Aliaga 1271, San Miguel, Zona Sur) have been recommended for general care. For emergencies, Clinica Sur (278-4001; Hernando Siles, Zona Sur) has been recommended.

There’s a well-stocked 24-hour pharmacy on the Prado at the corner of 16 de Julio and Bueno, and there’s another open until midnight on circular Plaza Egunio, the most convenient to Sagárnaga. Other farmacias de turno (after-hours pharmacies on rotation) are listed in daily newspapers.

A good optical outlet providing glasses and contact lenses is Pro Lentes (231-0937; Potosí 1301).

The following lists reputable medical and dental contacts:

Centro Epidemiológico Departamental La Paz (Centro Pilote; 245-0166; Vásquez 122 at Peru; 8:30-11:30am Mon-Fri) Off upper Ismael Montes near the brewery. Anyone heading for malarial areas can pick up antimalarials, and rabies and yellow fever vaccinations, for the cost of a sterile needle – bring one from a pharmacy.

Dr Elbert Orellana Jordan (Clinica Boston, work 242-2342, private 279-8215, mobile 7065-9743; asistmedbolivia@hotmail.com; cnr Freyre & Mujia) Gregarious and caring English-speaking doctor makes 24/7/365 emergency house calls.

Dr Fernando Patiño (243-0697/1664, mobile 7722-5625; fpatino@entelnet.bo; 2nd fl, Edificio Illimani, Arce 1701) US-educated, English-speaking, general practitioner and high-altitude medical expert.

Dr Jorge Jaime Aguirre (243-2682; 1st fl, Edificio Illimani, Arce 1701) Frequently recommended dentist for routine cleaning to root canals.

High Altitude Pathology Institute (224-5394, 222-2617; www.altitudeclinic.com; Saavedra 2302, Miraflores) Bolivian member of the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (Iamat). Offers computerized high-altitude medical checkups and maintains a hyperoxygen acclimatization chamber at the summit of Chacaltaya.

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