Bolivia is amongst South America’s poorest & least developed countries. Regardless, its impressive geography, rich culture, & natural resources… definitely make it a destination worthwhile.
While visiting the world’s highest (de facto) capital city of La Paz at a literally breath-taking elevation of up to 4100m above sea level, you’re pretty high up there… but not even close to as high as you’d be if you were to venture to the local after-hours lounge Ruta 36.
Route 36 is the world’s FIRST COCAINE LOUNGE. Yes, you heard me right. I heard about this phenomenon before going to South America, but hadn’t heard from anyone who had actually been there, so I wasn’t exactly sure…
I only had one night in La Paz & knew I had to at least try to find this place, so I jumped into a cab with a friend after a few late night drinks at the hostel pictured above.
¿Conoces Ruta 36? Sure enough, Si si si! Un momento por fa… The cab driver started driving as he casually made a call on his celular. After a couple of minutes, he hung up & gave us a thumbs up. Game on.
After about 10 minutes of driving around random streets in La Paz, he pulls down a dark alley, pointing to a large metal garage-style door. Someone from the inside pulls it up… peeks out, looks left, looks right, & then quickly motions for us to come in. Rapido!
Elated, we run in as he pulls the door shut. We walk along a long dark hallway…. & then… BOOM! Raging music, disco balls, & tons of chatty, giddy travelers all over the dance floor & in booths with their silver platters. I recognized probably 20 people from my hostel.
We sat down with some fellow backpackers receiving menus describing the cocktails & grades of cocaine that were at our disposal. Naturally, we ordered ungodly amounts of the highest grade (for a meager amount of Bolivianos, at that), & a couple minutes later were greeted by our drinks & silver platter of Bolivian joy. Amazingly casual.
The lounge was awesome & made for quite the experience. Needless to say, it was a long incredible night of epic conversations, tons of new friends, & newly acquired blown out, disco-style Salsa-dancing skills. We didn’t get back to the hostel til mid-afternoon the following day. (& I’m pretty sure we never slept anyways.)
What was interesting was having conversed throughout the night with one of the servers, whose family just so happened to own & run Route 36. He told me that they have to pay the police X amount of dollars every month, & that they are required to re-locate every 4-6 months, or until the neighbors start complaining…
Saying that, the Coca leaf is an undeniable part of Bolivia’s indigenous culture. Bolivian President Evo Morales is well-known for his belief in the Coca plant, as he himself has been a cultivator for traditional purposes… tea, medicine, etc.- likewise, he supports his fellow Bolivianos in doing the same. He even went as far as expelling all of the previous USA DEA agents a couple of years ago that were regulating in Bolivia.
As the world’s third largest cocaine exporter (behind Colombia & Peru), with the industry absolutely booming more & more so for Bolivia, it’s difficult to say what the future may hold. With such extreme levels of poverty, plus the ability to cultivate & export a product that is so well-known for creating huge internal national concerns – yet, is so highly in demand across the world, we all know that production won’t be slowing down any time soon.