Where the Real Sidewalk Ends
When we’re not walking the mostly-well-maintained Malecon, circumnavigating La Paz on foot is often akin to boulder-hopping in remote desert anchorages. There is no such thing as a stroll anywhere else in La Paz; we are most definitely on a hike, or a trek, sometimes a downright slog. From day one, we learned quickly that we’d better be looking down at all times or our next schlep will be to the hospital. IPhone-gawkers beware - texting while walking here really is hazardous to one’s health.
Why? Finding contiguous and consistent walkways are like finding a chupacabre – they’re a myth. Every store-front or dwelling is apparently responsible for its own sidewalk. Therefore, every 20 feet the sidewalk changes: from cobblestone, to concrete, to sand, to tile, to gravel, or an inexplicable conglomeration. In my (expert) estimation, only 3% are well-maintained. The rest are a veritable minefield.
We’ve hopped over countless, unmarked holes (perfect ankle-breakers); cracked concrete chunks; wildly uneven stairs and cobbled together curbs; slippery slopes (wheee) and sheer 3ft ledges (oops, turn around); overgrown thorny cacti and low tree branches lying in wait to scratch your legs or jab your eye out; rusty rebar poking out of the ground (we know a guy who severed his Achilles tendon falling on one); non-cordoned-off street construction (we got within 10ft of a digging backhoe); and dangling electrical wires and fallen power lines. Sometimes I feel like we are maneuvering an American Ninja obstacle course.
Motorcyclists riding en masse have a rule… if you see a pothole or rock hazard on the road, you physically point to it as you pass so the next driver is aware. Then he points to it, and so on down the line. So goes walking in La Paz. Whoever leads is sort of the Pointer dog, indicating potential problems along our route. Actually announcing the offender (“Hole!” or “Big step!”) mid-stride is sometimes necessary, especially at night. Large obstacles are usually easy to see and require no notice. It’s the ankle-twisters: 3” diameter open drain holes, a seemingly innocuous 1” step, the jagged and rusty steel signpost broken off at ground level, or the invisible power cable planted vertically mid-sidewalk (I almost ran smack dab into one on a bright sunny day). With so many obstacles, I could keep pointing the entire walk. Over there… right here… over there…
Meh. It’s Mexico.
At first, I was annoyed by all these inconsistencies. Now, it’s par for the course. Just another quirky facet of visiting Mexico that you can’t fix, so you get over it…and take photos of the absurdities to remind yourself just how good we have it up north.
Now we are fully adept at scalking: scanning ground and air while walking. Our eyes focus like lasers on the ground 90% of the time. The other 10% involves glancing upwards to enjoy the view or to make sure we are on the right street. Talking…while scalking… requires a bit more concentration. Holding a conversation while threading the sidewalk gambit, especially when walking with several people, involves silted banter with frequent interruptions. “Hole!” “Wait...what was I saying again?”
The real take-away here is: Don’t be an idiot. Watch your step!
Patchwork sidewalks do have an upshot (other than constantly testing our cognizance levels). No slip-and-fall lawyers. We are somehow (amazingly) expected NOT to hurt ourselves! SIDESTEP those holes; AVOID running into power lines; REFRAIN from touching open electrical boxes on the outside of buildings (I know it’s hard); DODGE that runaway shrubbery; CIRCUMVENT those non-cordoned construction areas. Hmmm…common sense…whatta concept. I applaud this sense of personal responsibility in Mexico, even if it is just an environmental cause and effect.
On the other hand… There are days when I dream of perfectly manicured concrete pathways, textbook curb heights, painted crosswalks. Sigh… I sure do miss a smooth sidewalk!