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Time to make out your shopping list. Let’s see … a dozen eggs, some milk, you’re low on toilet paper, some pork chops … oh, and don’t forget the dried llama fetus, because you never know when your home will need protection from someone trying to hex you!

Wandering around the Witches’ Market (El Mercado de las Brujas) in La Paz is a cultural experience like no other. The hills of Calle Linares, not far from downtown La Paz, (where the market takes place) become a maze of wizened vendors, smiling toothless behind tables laden with dried animals, potions, clay figures, candles, incense and bunches of pungent herbs. There are rolls of snakeskins, small, grinning figures of Andean men with play money sticking out of their tiny pockets (a prosperity charm) and remedies for everything from stomach ailments to lovesickness.

You don’t have to be a witch or a warlock to purchase something: the vendors are accustomed to foreigners and are happy to tell you what everything is used for. Today, much of the business done at this traditional market is with tourists.

“The dried frogs bring money,” a cheerful crone assures me. “The clay figures are for many different things.” There are dried armadillos for home protection, burnt llama fetuses for prosperity, and any number of charms, potions and candles that promise a better sex life. (Let’s see … more money, better sex life … sounds like the spam folder on my e-mail account.) The dried llama fetuses (which, by the way, look extremely creepy: you may mistake them for desiccated birds) are traditionally buried under homes when the foundation is set: they bring security and prosperity. Some estimate that upwards of 95% of Bolivian homes have a llama fetus in the foundation.

I ask the woman if she knows who Harry Potter is. She gives me a blank look, and I assume that Harry and his friends must do their shopping elsewhere.

You can even purchase spells. Want a special someone to fall in love with you? No problem. Kids getting bad grades in school? Not for long! Starting a new business venture? You won’t need a marketing plan if you have the power of white magic on your side. If you want to simply know the future, you can have your coca leaves read, sort of a South American version of telling the future with tea leaves. The coca leaf reading is still very popular with Bolivians, although relatively few tourists try it.

Tradition is important in Bolivia, and many Bolivians still seek out these traditional mystics and healers. The Witches’ Market in La Paz isn’t the only one in the country: other cities have them as well, although they’re smaller. It’s fortunate that such bastions of traditional Bolivian culture remain, although the time may soon come when the Witches’ Market only caters to foreign tourists. I suggest you hop on your broom and get there before it loses its unique charm.



Did you like this article? Then you'll like these: Trekking the Cordillera Apolobamba, Cal Orko, Tiwanaku, La Paz, The Peoples of Lake Titicaca, F.ocampo Sandy Art Selling In Sucre, Authentic Rurrenabaque: Sustainable Tourism At Work, Lake Titicaca and the Island of the Sun, Samaipata and Festivales de Misiones de Chiquitos.


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