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Bolivia Diaries: Day 1, Part 1 - The El Alto Market

by: Jill Richardson

Mon Aug 08, 2011 at 05:46:35 AM PDT

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Me, covered in wonderful Andean handicrafts I've bought - handmade alpaca sweater, scarf, hat, and gloves. The hat is called a lluchu.

On the first day of our trip, we went to El Alto, the big, mostly indigenous city next door to La Paz, to visit their market. It was quite a spectacle. We made it through with only one pickpocketing incident, and the pickpocket only got a few dollars that had been placed in the victim's pocket for that very purpose. We were warned to leave our valuables in the hotel, be alert, and stay together.

Jill Richardson :: Bolivia Diaries: Day 1, Part 1 - The El Alto Market
Our van dropped us off outside the market, and we began our trek up to it among an untold number of indigenous people who were on their way to do their shopping. A few people sat along our way, some obviously begging, and others perhaps just resting with their children. FYI, the indigenous women here are referred to as "cholas" or "cholitas."

The trickle of people walking to the market, which turns to a sea just above these stairs

Cholita woman with her child, who is drinking a bottle of Coke

More people, heading to the market

A view of La Paz and the Andes from here

Cholita woman with her child

The market sold EVERYTHING. And I mean EVERYTHING. I took pictures of what I could, and did not take pictures of much more, which I will try to list at the end of this diary.

Herbal medicine

Boxing gloves

Local beverages. The cinnamon colored one is mocochinchi, made with a dried peach boiled with cinnamon and sugar.

Antiques, a wheelchair, and a walker for sale

A display of hats, many of which are labeled with American cities, universities, and sports teams. This one is from Oklahoma.

Two cholitas with a child. One is carrying a huge stuffed panda. I wish I got a close-up of them!


Booze, I think.

Crunchy roasted peas.

El Ceibo chocolate. This is the good stuff.

Adorable Bolivian child

A Spiderman themed blow-up slide.

A mother with a child.

Some kind of fruity treat.

Our guide, Gabriel, told us that you can buy an entire car in parts at the El Alto market. He was right. I took a few pictures and left it at that.

Car parts.

Car parts.

A restaurant.


Car ornaments - The Bolivian flag, Jesus, and Che.

Some kind of parfait.

Disney princess hats.


Car floor mats

Motorcycles for sale.


A dad with a kid.

Cholita nightgowns?

Cholita with child.

Cholita shoes.

A Pututu - a cow's horn used to call indigenous towns to meetings.

Me blowing the pututu. This thing is loud.

Cholita skirts, called polleras.

Board games like Monopoly.

The cloths used for just about everything here. These are called awayos and you see them on the backs of every single cholita.

A stand selling local grains, beans, and snacks.

The brown bean in the front center is a fava bean.

In the front left are crunchy peas, in the back are favas again.

Andean sweet popcorn

Guinea pig meat.

Kimsa charani - A small whip with three tails made of pigskin. Used to punish bad Andean children.

Anti-GMO graffiti.

Statue of Che Guevara.

So what was at the market that does not appear in these pictures? Just about everything on earth. Fruits, vegetables, every single part of any kind of car, batteries, tape, CDs, movies, children's toys and stuffed animals, American-style clothing, Andean clothing, furniture, and electronics. In one case, a member of our group stopped to buy a flash drive. I noticed they had all of the same brands we have at home, and they had sizes up to 64 gigs, which I believe is the top size being sold in the U.S. right now too. This market was a convergence of tradition and modernity, Andean culture and international mass marketing.

Perhaps the most notable category of items not in the pictures is animals. We were warned to take NO PICTURES because the animal vendors are wary of animal rights activists. That surprised me. Then I was more surprised when we got to the animals because most of the animals for sale were puppies and kittens, being sold as pets. They also had lots of bunnies, guinea pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, and parakeets. I assume many of those (not the parakeets) were for food.

The chicken breeds they had were strange. Araucanas and Ameraucanas are South American breeds but I did not see any of those, at least not that I recognized. I saw a lot of a breed I could not recognize that may not be a standard breed. It was crested, with brown feathers with a partridge pattern, and had feathered feet. I'm pretty sure I saw some Polish chickens too. I think the majority were another breed I didn't recognize with brown and white plumage, a single comb, no crest and no feathers on their feet.

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Way cool! nt (4.00 / 2)

Normal people scare me.... But not as much as I scare them.

wow...keep the pics (4.00 / 2)

1493 (4.00 / 2)
Charles Mann, author of 1491, has now published 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created.

As Charles Mann shows, this global ecological tumult - the 'Columbian Exchange' - underlies much of subsequent human history. Presenting the latest generation of research by scientists, Mann shows how the creation of this worldwide network of exchange fostered the rise of Europe, devastated imperial China, convulsed Africa, and for two centuries made Manila and Mexico City - where Asia, Europe, and the new frontier of the Americas dynamically interacted - the center of the world.

Heh. (4.00 / 2)
I haven't read it yet, but I have an interview with him open in another tab.

I never did get around to finishing that first book...

[ Parent ]
Way cool! (4.00 / 2)
Just preordered the Kindle edition. Should get it tomorrow. Thanks for posting this Count!

Normal people scare me.... But not as much as I scare them.

[ Parent ]
Kindle (4.00 / 1)
I recently got a surprise email from a cousin who has lived in Kenya for many years, telling me he had published a couple of novels (he's an anthropologist who has done archeology and has been working for conservation agencies for several years.)

Turns out the novels are a hobby, he's busy and didn't have a lot of time to try to get them published the usual way, so he self-published at Amazon in Kindle format. I downloaded Kindle for the computer and Kindle for the iPod Touch, and bought the books.

Guess what? Reading a book on an iPod Touch is very convenient! I was surprised, I'd never done that before. I don't know if I'd like to do it on my desktop computer, though. A Kindle machine might be even better than the iPod, but with the iPod the book's in your shirt pocket, readable anywhere.

After I read my cousin's books, which are surprisingly good, I read Treasure Island, one of the many free public domain Kindle books, and enjoyed it immensely. Now I've started Isaac Asimov's Foundation books, which promises to be a prolonged project.

[ Parent ]
cool! (4.00 / 2)
what are the names of his books?

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
because you asked (4.00 / 2)
My cousin is Dan Stiles. These novels are published with the pen name Dan Montana. Dan has taught at the University of Nairobi, and he has done research projects throughout Africa for NGOs and UN agencies. For the past several years, he has researched the decimation of elephant populations and, I think, been involved in efforts to deter and catch poachers. Elephants are killed both for ivory and meat. Dan was one of the white guys at the recent massive ivory burn, of which you might have seen news reports or photos.

In my experience, self-published books display a lack of proofreading. This quirkily shows up here in the misuse of homonyms - ascent instead of assent, yolk instead of yoke, etc. Both books are plotted very tightly - no loose threads or loose ends, good foreshadowing, etc.

The mainspring of Of Insidious Intent is a conspiracy to exploit indigenous people, which is in background until everything is unraveled at the end. This novel is a fast-and-furious thriller and murder mystery, perhaps reminiscent of Carl Hiaasen with more action. Interesting characters, international community, corrupt police, murderous businessmen, calls from Mom.

The Last Sura is much more ambitious. It's more than twice as long as Of Insidious Intent. Dan invents a Muslim sect, the Sabiya, whose philosophy/theology is an extension of extant Ismailism. I like Sabiyaism (in Chapter 28) a lot. He also invents a completely original take on the idea of a Caliphate as an alternative to incredibly destructive world wars and pernicious nationalism. I think the achievement is impressive.

The Last Sura is mostly Dan Stiles and partially Dan Brown and Tom Clancy. There are a couple of historical novel sections, which are set aside in their own chapters, but the real story is very much modern day - slightly in the future, actually. Global scope, but most of the action is in Africa. Perhaps slightly difficult to follow for some Western readers because so many names are Arabic, I don't know. I was able to keep track.

Only available in Kindle.

[ Parent ]
OH. MY. GOD. (4.00 / 2)
Requesting a review copy ASAP.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
Love your hat! Great pix! (4.00 / 2)
Jill, thanks so much for taking us on your adventures. I want a hat like yours, maybe in turquoise, and a year's supply of Jugo de Maca. Wonder if Jugo could fix the stock market too?
... Linda

Cook for Good

Save money. Eat well. Make a difference.

Jugo de Maca (4.00 / 2)
I wondered if any of those phrases meant "erectile dysfunction".

[ Parent ]
Want me to pick one up for you? (4.00 / 1)
I went with the colors I did because they are natural dyes. I forget the price but I'd bet it's $20+... I can't offer to buy them as gifts for everyone but I'm glad to buy them and bring them home if I can be reimbursed. The colors they have at that store are muted earth tones. They have blues but those are the only non-natural dyes they use. Purple, pink, brown, green, etc, are all natural. I can likely get something similar in a brighter color with an artificial dye at a different fair trade store if you'd like. I'm not offering to buy non-fair trade though. That would be cheaper - and worse quality too, most likely. It'd be easy to find you a turquoise hat that way.

Questions: 1. Does it have to have ear straps? 2. Does it matter what the top is like? Some have 1 pom pom, some have 2, and some have none, and some have other funny stuff on top (like heads of llamas). 3. What colors are acceptable? 4. What price range is acceptable? Might wanna email me the answers to make sure I get them. I will be back to La Paz on my last day and I can pick it up then.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
I want to know (4.00 / 2)
how they get the hair off the guinea pigs. I wonder if they scald them like you would a pig.

Seeing those reminded me of how Harold said they used to make money during the depression in rural Missouri. During squirel season in the winter, they'd hunt for the restaurants. They'd gut the squirels and pack them in oak casks where they'd freeze. Then the casks would be shipped back east to the fancy restaurants.

Normal people scare me.... But not as much as I scare them.

Kimsa charani (0.00 / 0)
I know quite a few kids in my 'hood' that should be introduced to mr. kimsa charani  ......^#%!&*% little urchins!! hahahaha

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