In the capital city of the South America´s poorest nation (Bolivia) there is no shortage of street level activity. The markets of La Paz are the pulse of the city. From dawn to dusk, women of mostly indigenous descent come down from the surrounding slopes to open up their tiny shops selling everything under the sun. You´ll find bargains you´ve never imagined, fake goods that will frustrate you to no extent (i.e. fake memory cards), and cheap eats that will satisfy your ever craving.
The shops are predominantly run by elderly women dressed in their most colorful traditional clothing. The expressions on their faces are telling. The ongoing demands of daily market life does indeed take its toll. You can visibly see the quiet desperation on certain faces and on others the very outwardly signs of external struggle. One can only imagine the challenges of toiling away at such repetitive work with very little material rewards. However, the occasional smile and sense of entrepreneurial spirit still very much exists. Bargaining is the name of the game as prices are seldom fixed and even if they are, very much still negotiable. If you´re a standout foreigner (red hair, nearly albino, limited Spanish) the first price is likely at the highest of the ´toursity´ ceiling hierarchy. However, with a plucky positive attitude and a little persistence both parties end up walking away with what is considered a favorable transaction.
A short clipping out of my Lonely Plant guidebook describes it best:
“Here, locals embrace their frantic daily life. Women, sporting long black plaits, bowler hats and vivid mantas, attend to steaming pots or selling everything from dried llama fetuses to designer shoes while men, negotiating the heavy traffic and its fumes, push overladen trolleys.”
Being the highest capital city in the world most are in awe of its first view – snow-capped Mt Illamani (6402m) and buildings sprawling down from the canyons in all directions. Indeed, it is stunning and captivates all of your senses. However, my most lasting impression of the city will no doubt be what is found on the most basic ground level – the dizzying and logic defying markets.