Things do not change much in La Paz. The people are always stone-faced and busy, the city is a little smelly, and the empanadas are forever amazing. However, a ride in the teleférico, which is a popular mode of transportation within La Paz, helped me to see the city in a new light. It was sunset.
The teleférico is basically a cable car that has three main stations spanning La Paz. For just three Bolivianos, which is about 5 cents, you can take a trip starting in the heart of the city, to the top of the valley to catch a glimpse of La Paz and the surrounding area. However, I wanted more than a glimpse. I got off the cable car at the top and walked up the stairs of an abandoned restaurant. The restaurant had a lookout point here called “The Titanic,” appropriately named after the two corners of the platform that met at a 45-degree angle.
I pressed myself into this corner and peered over the edge. As I looked down over the city of almost a million people, I couldn’t help but feel very small. Of course, not in a bad way. I felt small in a way that I usually do when I feel small; not insignificant, but simply, humbled. I reached into my pocket for my phone so that I could take a picture of this vast city. But it wasn’t the view that made me want to take the snapshot, and I slowly retreated my hand. What I wanted to capture was the feeling of knowing what it was like to pull my head out of the sand and finally get it. I understood for a brief moment that I was not the only one going about my daily life. It was like looking at the stars and realizing how each of them has their own sun and their own galaxy. Except for this time, the stars were people, and the sun was their lives. The sun represented their passions, their problems, the other people who love them. Everyone was so intricately intertwined at this moment, but not because these people all knew each other, and especially not because I knew them. We are not intertwined by relationships, but rather by circumstance. Each one of us darting through the best we can. And I was only a blur in the lives of these people if anything at all.
Both heartbreaking and exhilarating, I realized I could never capture everything to explain this feeling. The smell, the xylophone that was being played by a child next door, the piercing, cold wind on my face, all to remind me that I am small, and I know nothing. I reached my hand back into my pocket. The city was beautiful after all, and I still wanted to remember this. But as I tried to capture the miracle of the millions of galaxies with my fingertips and a glass square, I remembered my passion.
I can never know every language in the world, I’d already come to that sharp conclusion, like the platform that jutted out in front of me. It occurred to me, however, that even Spanish, the language I am so desperately attempting to learn, would never give itself over to me like English does. Even if I tried to get to know everyone in the city, relating in terms of culture would be impossible. How could I try to put these people in a box? Not this time. This moment was too abstract to do anything with, but to attempt to put in words. I knew I would remember this moment without a picture.
If you would like to see an overhead view of the beautiful city of La Paz, you can easily google search for one. I apologize though because it will never be attached to the thoughts that I had for it or the feelings it gave me that I’ve tried once again to put meaninglessly into words. Maybe the person who took those pictures felt something similar when they tried to steal souls, as many Bolivians believe taking a picture will do. I did not want to have the distraction of a camera, however. I wanted to live here in this moment forever, feeling perplexed and nostalgic and infatuated all at once.