It was nice to justify a lie-in due to the expected lack of sleep from flying to Ecuador later tonight. Having studied the Bolivian football fixtures I realised that my La Paz team of choice, The Strongest, were playing away today. However their big rivals, Club Bolivar, who both share the national stadium, were entertaining Wilstermann at 4pm. This afternoon’s entertainment was therefore sorted. I headed over to the stadium a couple of hours in advance to see the nearby Parque Urbano Central. It’s nothing to write home about with a few grass banks intersected by roads although its higher points offer a nice city view.
Over the years Bolivia have had some famous victories over some of the biggest names in world football at the Estadio Harnando Siles. Obviously the altitude provides more than a bit of an advantage. At one point FIFA banned international fixtures from being played at such altitude, stating that all internationals should be below an altitude of 2500m above sea level. When Bolivia pointed out that there were no stadiums at this level in the country, FIFA backtracked and allowed games to continue here. The ticket options for today were £8-£10 in the fanciest stand, £3.50 in the side opposite or £2.50 in the home end. I was unsure what reaction an obvious outsider would get in the home end so I went for the £3.50 seat. There were no issues though as they’re probably used to visiting tourists. I was slightly worried that a security search would reveal my wallet brandishing the logo of Bolivar’s rivals, The Strongest, but the security was laid back and I just walked straight in. There were plenty of police present but they seemed more interested in watching the game than hassling spectators. Most of the seats were filthy but as the stadium was maybe one-third full, finding a reasonably clean one wasn’t too much of a problem. The stands were really steep with hardly any leg room for anyone bigger than about 5’8. There was a good atmosphere in home end with a band playing and singing for whole game. My section was a bit more sedate. There was a polite ripple of applause when the teams came out, a bit of moaning at a couple of offside decisions and some cheering when Bolivar scored a late winner to make it 2-1, although they didn’t seem that excited around me. Many of the South American stereotypes were present during the game – a dive for a penalty, a red card and plenty of petulant play. All that was missing was a dog on the pitch!
After last night’s dilemma of not being able to find any decent food I had my tea at the football. I bought a hotdog and a steak sandwich, both of which were cooked on a barbecue and were delicious. They also sold that really sweet Fanta, which I believe is banned in most first world countries, and still got change from £3.
Tonight’s/tomorrow’s flight time of 4.55am wasn’t the greatest. It made sleeping difficult as getting up at 1am isn’t really viable. I ended up getting a taxi to La Paz’s all-singing-and-dancing new airport at 9pm. I was hoping to be able to check-in and sleep by gate but the check-in desk was shut. I did manage to find a reasonable chair to sleep on though. There were no safety issues, with plenty of fellow sleepers and security around. The only problem was that it was a bit chilly. At this point I discovered that my sleeping bag had either been left behind or half-inched. I suspect the latter as I got it out in the La Paz hostel the other day to give it some air and I distinctively remember checking nothing had been left behind in the room prior to leaving.