Location: La Paz, Bolivia - El Mercado
de las Brujas/Mercado de Hechiceria (Witches' Market)
Street Location: Calle Linares, between Calle
Sagarnaga and Santa Cruz
"Son para dinero y trabajo," the plump little witch
raises the talismans to eye level. "Con estos tu tendras
Magic talismans for money and jobs? Do they work? Of course
not, but I need all the luck I can get, so I purchase the
talismans for five Bolivianos. Darn cheap if they'll do as
claimed. Depositing the new toys in my leather shoulder bag
I continue down the street, with my wife teasing me to the
tune of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." She says that
I have the hat, jacket and bag similar to Indiana Jones',
but lack the bullwhip and gun. I left those in the States.
The cobbled street of Calle Linares hosts a crowded line
of unusual stores collectively known as El Mercado de las
Brujas, The Witches' Market, located in downtown La Paz, and
it sums up Bolivia's strangeness quite well. Bolivia is where
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and revolutionary Che
Guevara all met their fate. This is where the British ambassador
to Bolivia was strapped naked to a donkey, paraded around
the capital, and forced to eat a huge quantity of chocolate
after declining the local drink 'chicha.' This is where the
original Garden of Eden is located (or so the locals colorfully
exclaim). This is where the Salt Palace sits, a hotel made
entirely of, well, salt. And this is where a young girl in
Aymara dress, sitting amidst an array of several curiosities,
offers my wife and I a dried llama foetus to protect our house
against evil spirits. I nod my approvement, Veronica makes
a face and shakes her head.
"Por favor entren," with a slight bow the girl
opens her hands to the store's entrance. "Hay muchas
mas cosas adentro."
The untidy place looks like something out of a horror movie.
Mounted animal heads glare at me with unseeing eyes, feathers
and potions adorn the tables, herbs spill from their dirty
bags onto the wooden floor as a dog sniffs the powerful smells.
I examine the items in no particular order as the girl offers
them. For luck with a new business enterprise I can buy a
llama foetus burnt on a plate of sweets and herbs - too big
to pack. The love amulet is to get married - don't need that
one. An amulet of a naked couple embracing to improve the
sex life - hhhmmmmm. Dried frogs for more money, armadillos
to prevent thieves from entering the house, love potions,
magic charms, animal skins, medicines and remedies used in
Aymara traditions are all for sale - what should I choose?
I notice a large collection of different coloured candles.
Intent upon making several sales the girl provides me with
an explanation of their powers. They are made of animal wax
and when burned release their magical properties. The blue
candle is for good luck with work, yellow - health, green
- money, purple - happiness, black wards off evil spirits,
only to be used in a cemetary covered by night, white - protection...
With reverence I pull the black candle off its shelf . "Look
at this Vero! This is what we need."
"Hey Indiana," she looks up from the naked couple
amulet. "I don't think so."
Where did I leave my bullwhip?
If the black candle is going to cause problems a few talismans
will have to do. I load up ten more in my shoulder bag, making
sure that I include the toad talisman for good luck with money,
and the deity talisman for buena suerte with jobs.
But do they actually work? Well, you're reading this article.
The Witches' Market is only a couple of blocks from Plaza
San Fransisco, behind the Iglesia San Fransisco, and near
the Museo de la Coca. From the centre of La Paz, Plaza Murillo,
a taxi ride to the market will cost about 8 - 10 Bolivianos
for one or two people, and about four more Bolivianos for
each additional person. A vast array of unique and highly
unusual items are for sale at the Market, many of which are
used in Aymara traditions and to honor the earth goddess Patchamama.
Bargain with the vendors and shop around to purchase merchandise
at a lesser price.
Thomas Carroll shows you how to get paid to travel the world
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© 2002 Thomas Carroll.