I travel to Latin America for many reasons. The culture. The natural beauty. The people. However, one of the best things about traveling to Latin American countries is the shopping. In Cochabamba there is a market called La Cancha and named this with good reason. This market is atleast the size of a soccer field, but I have a sneaky suspicion that it is much larger. La Cancha is where Cochabambinos buy everything from household goods to new cell phones to dried baby lambs in the witch market to lunch. Anything and everything and its all at a good cost.
Winding ones way through the maze of aisles and confusing intersections its easy to get lost in the shear enormity of the market. And what’s more confusing is that just because you find a stall doesn’t mean that you can find it again. Perhaps the owner closes for lunch or for good. We spent a good half an hour trying to find a snappy haberdasher who had a hat stall that sold the hats of the cholitas from the highlands. Our guide, who was a Cochabambino had a difficult time remember where he had previously located the stall. The good thing about wandering around lost is that you find all sorts of interesting stalls. We wandered at one point into the witch market. Dried lambs and skeletons of other small animals lined the aisles. The counter tops were covered in a myriad of dried plants and herbal concoctions. I attempted to take a picture and was fussed at.
“No photos. Put your camera away,” a women waiting for her fortune to be told by a man behind a curtain shook her finger at me.
Next we found the women selling the coca leaves.
“No photos!” fussed the woman behind the bag.
Too late, I had already snapped a picture. We bought a baggie of leaves to compensate. It cost 3 bolivarnos.
Of course the best part of the market was the long aisle of artisan crafts. Alpaca wraps and sweaters. Llama woolen rugs and wall hangings. Incan inspired clothing, belts, hats and do-dads. Brightly colored table clothes, shawls – the kind the cholitas wrap around their backs.
Ariel, our wonderful guide leaned in and asked me, “You know what Chileans call those brightly colored shawls?”
“Beautiful?” I replied.
“No, Bolivian suitcases.”
We left La Cancha with satisfied with our contribution to the Bolivian market and with bags filled to the brim. And my cholita hat.