Photo Gallery: La Paz’s Mercado De Hecheria

When I left my hotel yesterday morning to go investigate La Paz’s famous Mercado de Herchería (also know as the Mercado las Brujas, or Witch’s Market), I didn’t know what to expect. Would it be covered, dank and creepy, like the one in Quito? Would it sell freaky and endangered animal parts (please, god, no)? Would anyone kick my ass if I took stealth photos?

As it turns out, the Mercado de Herchería consists of a couple of gloriously decrepit cobblestone streets (Calle Linares and Jimenez). They’re lined with stalls selling folk remedies and objects designed to bring good luck; wealth; love; health; long life; or, in the case of one shop, a lasting erection. It’s fascinating, but not repellent. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed employing my crappy Spanish to ask shopkeepers what various objets are used for. I’m also fascinated by the cholitas (indigenous women from the highlands who live and work in the city); their elaborate costumes of tall bowler hats, voluminous skirts and alpaca shawls, embellished by waist-length twin braids, are stunning.

I’m also pleased to report that I saw no nearly extinct critters, just sea urchins and starfish in need of some reconstitution. I’ve also read that various creatures – probably very low on the evolutionary scale – are sometimes used in potions prescribed by the local yatiris, or witch doctors. The dried llama fetuses, however, are probably single-handedly responsible for putting the market on the map. As ghoulish as they appear to us, they’re used by the indigenous Aymara and other cultures as an offering to Pachamama (Mother Earth). You’re supposed to bury one beneath a cornerstone of a new house to ensure good fortune.

There’s nothing scary about the market, but it’s one of the most lively spots in the city, due to the number of hostels, budget hotels (mine, Hotel Fuentes, is adorable, cheap, and, it turns out, in the heart of the market), cafes, boutiques and souvenir shops. It’s a tourist spectacle, true, but tourism in Bolivia is of the most mellow kind. The mercado is also a true slice of daily life in La Paz. Who knows what you’ll end up lugging home?

Stay tuned for an account of my forthcoming visit to a local yatiri; I’ll be having my fortune told and my soul cleansed. I hope she has a sturdy scrub brush.


[Photo Credits: Laurel Miller]

Year of the Rat: Bring some luck into your life

With the Year of the Rat starting today, it’s not too late to attract good luck in order to make 2008 the best ever. Here are three ways. The first two I have tried.

Get a miniature orange tree– When we lived in Singapore we bought an orange tree every year right before Chinese New Year. The experience reminded me a bit like buying a live Christmas tree. Vendors selling these trees popped up all over the city. Size, cost and amount of oranges all figured into our decision making regarding which to buy–even the style of the pot was part of the package.

We set our tree out on the patio of our apartment and managed not to kill it for awhile. I can’t remember if we had any more good luck than normal, but I loved having such a bright, cheerful plant thanks to the oranges that were not much bigger than a golf ball.

Buy bamboo–Unlike our orange tree that didn’t last a year, (it was us, not the tree), bamboo plants will last awhile if you remember to change the water. In Taiwan, we bought bamboo just in case one of these plants would bring us good luck. I can’t say if any of them did, but I loved browsing the choices before making a purchase. The most expensive ones are grown into shapes. Like Christmas trees and orange trees, the size figures into the price as well.

Put away your scissors–Bringing good luck into your house can also be as simple as putting away sharp scissors and knives. If they are out, you can “cut” your luck.

For more Chinese New Year tidbits about how to improve your fortune, check out this link to the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco.