Our Strangest Trip: The Witches Market, La Paz, Bolivia

Two of our dearest friends were invited to attend a wedding in La Paz, Bolivia (how random is that?) and they asked us if we wanted to join them.

Heck yes! (it doesn’t take much to get Missy and me to jump at a chance to go somewhere we’ve never been before…) And we all decided that, since we’ll be in the neighborhood, we should stop by Machu Piccu in Peru to take in one of the world’s most awesome sights at the same time!

So off we flew! Miami to Panama, Panama to Ecuador, then over the great desert lake of Titicaca and straight on to Bolivia…

When we arrived in La Paz, which is the world’s highest capital at 11,200 feet, we were instantly struck with severe altitude sickness. If you haven’t experienced it before, it’s pretty horrendous… It not only makes you feel extremely nauseous, but you also feel totally stoned and it’s really difficult to function mentally or physically. The locals immediately got us drinking buckets of cocoa tea, which helps a lot. We finally regained enough equilibrium to venture out into the streets… And there we discovered one of the strangest sights we’ve ever seen anywhere…

On a mountain clearing which Bolivian residents call holy ground, amidst the smell of smoke and animal sacrifices, we found medicine women, astrologers, fortunetellers, and sorcerers crowding the cobblestone streets of an old quarter known for generations as the Witches’ Market. (continued after photo gallery)

Smiling, self-proclaimed witches, in full colorful dress, ran the hundreds of stalls and shops selling toad talismans, owl feathers, stone amulets, candles, gems, and soaps. Old liquor bottles held potions concocted by boiling medicinal plants and animal parts, such as boa constrictor heads. Soothsayers divined the future by examining a scattering of coco leaves. Smoke from burning animal carcasses filled the air…

But by far the most prominent product available at the Witches’ Market were dried llama fetuses, which are fairly large (and I must admit, moderately disturbing). Llama fetuses are always buried in the foundations of new constructions or businesses as an offering to the goddess Pachamama. This sacrifice encourages the goddess to protect the workers from accidents and bring good luck to the business. The fetuses are only used by the poor, because wealthier Bolivians are expected to sacrifice a live llama to Pachamama.

We walked around for quite some time, taking in the sights and sounds of an entire neighborhood devoted to magic… We even bought a couple potions. ☺

After our strange and fascinating time in Bolivia, we took off to gorgeous Macchu Piccu… But that is another tale….

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