Monday, September 05, 2005

La Paz

A stall in the Witches market
After our beach holiday we rolled into La Paz. As the bus drew closer to what we guessed was the city we were still none the wiser apart from the odd building and an increase in traffic. Where was the city? Suddenly our bus took a corner which put us on the rim of a massive drop into a canyon – my jaw dropped open as we took in La Paz, which looks like it has just been spilled down the inside of the canyon littering the place with houses, highways and highrises.

Out of the three main Sth American cities I have visited La Paz is definitely the most strange but also the most affable. It is like the Adams family of cities – not quite aware of it’s kookiness and almost falling over itself to be friendly. It is a city of narrow twisty streets, buildings that have seen better days and a fascinating array of people walking the streets. Most women still dress the way they did in the 18th century. The “Chollas” sport long black plaits, multilayered skirts and petticoats, little cardigans, elaborate embroidered shawls all topped with the ubiquitous way too small bowler hat in brown, black or green perched at a rakish angle on the head. They look so demure and dainty – until they open their gold filled mouths. These are not women to be messed with.

Although it is a country of staunch Catholics the Bolivans like to mix their religion with a big helping of witchcraft and superstition. Cars are blessed with beer in the cathedrals, people carry talismans for luck and plenty of people have the little household god ekeko in their homes laden down with things they would like in the next year (money, food, cars, even first class plane tickets to Miami!). Best of all are the Witches stalls where wizened old crones sell all manner of charms and herbs for luck. The strangest item in their stalls would have to be the dried Llama foetuses. Looking like tiny dinosaurs they come in either small ( furless with huge big eyes) or large (looking just about ready to be born with fur n all.) It is estimated that up to 98 percent of buildings in La Paz have a Llama foetus buried in the foundations to ensure it's good fortune. Of course rich people don’t go in for all this palaver, they just buy a live Llama and then sacrifice it on the spot where they need the luck.

Had dinner in a 300 year old building last night, it was all low ceilings and wonky walls, lit with candelabras and decorated with odd antiquities and a whole wall covered in different clocks, all set at different times. I felt like a character in a Harry Potter book.

Old US Dodge school buses plough through the tiny streets

Trying to be a Cholla in a bowler hat - it is a mystery how they keep them on their heads

Talismans galore in the Witches market - for about 1 dollar I picked up some luck in the intelligence, travel and relationship areas - a bargain.


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