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balance (2): bruja

Sunday, November 18, 2007


woke up to a crappy breakfast again (in both peru and bolivia the free breakfasts are gross, everything is always ice cold and the coffee is instant), so trudged up the very steep hill outside my hostel and got a real, delicious cappucino and oatmeal with fruit at a cafe called 'luna', run by a very nice bolivian man who charmingly tried to practice his english and kept failing miserably. then i set off to look around. it was sunday so most of the shops were closed, to my disappointment. i headed to the coca museum, knowing it would be open. it was small but pretty interesting- just a few rooms of displays. the owner handed me a notebook of information in english to read as i navigated the hallways. it explained the history of coca in relation to bolivians, who have used it therapeutically for centuries, especially in mining areas. it showed how to chew the leaves for the maximum effect. it explained the difference between the coca leaves which are chewed and made into tea (even today) and consumed by about 90% of native bolivians, and cocaine, the drug, which is of course more concentrated, addictive, and processed differently. also it mentioned the western influence on drug laws here, the resulting drug war, and the (mis)treatment of addicts. there were several pictures of different products made with coca throughout history, including at one point, coca-cola! overall, they tried to impress upon visitors that coca leaves are harmless, in fact even quite healthy, and should not be vilified as the drug cocaine and it's offshoot, crack, are, and bolivians should not be persecuted for the harvesting of coca for their personal consumption. i of course agreed.

next i wandered in the direction of the 'mercado de los brujos' (witch market), which is what i had been anticipating most about bolivia. i was dissapointed at first to see just a few stalls along the streets with a few novel trinkets, but when i explored further i realized that behind the small holes in the wall were large emporiums of witchery! i spent a couple of hours here, as it was all pretty fascinating. they sold normal medicines and antidotes, but also customized herbal concoctions in pulp fiction boxes with names like "polvo de odio" (hatred powder?) and "llueve dinero" (raining money). there were sections on black magic with ominous looking candles and statues. there are stone amulets in the form of llamas and turtles (health and long life), condors (for luck on journeys), owls (for knowledge and intelligence), snakes (to prod you in the right direction), and pumas (to help you achieve victory against enemies). there are also dozens of dried aborted llama fetuses, taxidermied birds, and dead toads and such for use in magic spells. i bought some little bottles of colored stones containing miniatures of things like taxis, houses, money, etc. which are supposed to bring you luck in all those areas.

after the witch market i wandered through the artisan shops all along the alleyways. bolivians have a reputation for being insular and unfriendly, but i like them better than peruvians. i like how they retain their culture- in a huge, relatively modern city next to students and sharply dressed business people, the women still wear their traditional thick petticoats, embroidered shawls, and bowler hats. they have so many nice things to buy that i was a bit overwhelmed. i did get a woven hammock (for thong nai pan), a couple of woven placemats (since i can't carry blankets and wall hangings!), and a nice alpaca sweater and shawl. i ran into the same dirty artisan guy that i had met in cusco, on the street. he invited me to go travelling with him to a nice town named 'sorata', but i am not so stupid. i still had a nice chat with him and his friend while he tried to hawk his pathetic jewelry.

my next stop was the 'museo nacional del arte' (art musuem). i had to walk to a less touristy area of town for that. i was a bit disappointed, the art was pretty amateurish, of course compared to NY. some of it was just plain ridiculous. but there were a few pieces that i found worthy of being in a museum, and it was a nice way to spend an hour or so.

by that time it was dark and rainy, so i popped into a chinese cafe called 'jackie chan' and had some horrible noodles and a decent beer. i had planned to stop into a nearby bar but that, too, seemed to be closed on sundays, so i trudged back home to sleep in front of cable.


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