A testament to the Andean gods survives in Bolivia’s capital
LA PAZ, Bolivia — At the Witches’ Market in Bolivia’s capital city, llama fetuses hang above stalls as offerings to the mother earth spirit known as Pachamama. Tourists and residents line up to buy medicinal plants to heal their bodies and ward off curses, while “yatiris,” or indigenous healers, offer to read their fortunes on coca leaves. Incense perfumes the air.
It’s all part of the mystical aura of this colorful market devoted to the worship of ancient Andean gods. The market seems stuck in time amid the urban chaos of La Paz, in a neighborhood just blocks from the presidential palace.
Before the Spanish colonizers arrived, this was sacred ceremonial ground where animal blood was offered to thank the gods for an abundant harvest. Those sacrifices don’t take place here now, but other practices once considered pagan have survived efforts to uproot them. And the site has become a major tourist attraction.
The market is also a bridge to modernity. The indigenous women of the Andes usually wear traditional bowler hats, wide pollera skirts and embroidered shawls. But at the market, T-shirts depict one of them at sea riding a surfboard, even though Bolivia is landlocked.
Tourist agencies at the market offer an adventurous bike ride through “el Camino de la Muerte.” That’s the Highway of Death, a 40-mile road carved into mountainside that drops 11,700 feet from the snowcapped Andes to the steaming jungle.
Medicinal plants at the market range from herbs to cure coughs to natural Viagra. Popular treatments include aloe vera to heal ailments, and herbs like rosemary and broom to attract good luck and keep curses away.