A tes­ta­ment to the An­dean gods sur­vives in Bo­livia’s cap­i­tal

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Travel - By Car­los Valdez As­so­ci­ated Press

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.

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