Thursday, May 19, 2005

La Paz and Markets

EDIT: Fixed the link below (to pictures from Tarabuco Market)

After the Death Road experience (and coming back up it in a van, which was probably more scary than the mountain bike descent) I am back in La Paz to get a better feel for this very cool city. Thibaut headed off yesterday to meet up with a friend at Machu Picchu and to go on from there into Peru, so I am by myself again, getting re-accustomed to the solo travel routine. I am sticking around La Paz for a big festival (Festival del Gran Poder, or Festival of the Great Power) on Saturday, which is supposed to be great. I will probably take lots of pictures of it with my new camera! Yes, after more than a month I finally have a new turned out to be less expensive to buy one in the US and ship it, and I picked it up at the Fed Ex office yesterday. What a relief! (And thanks again, Dad!)

Anyway, I spent a good portion of today walking around an absolutely huge market portion of La Paz. This city is really amazing, it is very large (more than a million people), and has skyscrapers and billboards and traffic and all the usual big-city things, but in many places it maintains a very rural feel. The market I was walking around in was mainly for fruits and vegetables, although there are plenty of stands selling all the shampoo, toilet paper, laundry detergent and boxes of Frosted Flakes you could want. Sometimes the market is really specific--I walked down an entire street selling mainly potatoes! And there are buildings dedicated to selling meat...walking through there you can see pig or cow heads hanging from hooks and all manner of organs and parts for sale. Almost all the stands are run by women, usually wearing traditional clothes, arranging their onions or carrots in the most appealing display, shouting "comprame (buy me) señorita!" or occasionally taking a nap amongst the turnips. And among all the shuffle, it´s not uncommon to see a man in a business suit buying fruit for his lunch. It´s all very photogenic, but I´ve discovered that Bolivians generally don´t like to have their pictures taken. They turn their heads, or yell at you, or alternatively, ask you for money. Sometimes they just don´t want you to take a picture, regardless of whether or not they are in it. This is why I have no pictures of the potato street; no one would let me take pictures of their potatoes! As a result, I try to go with stealth photography techniques, taking pictures while looking the other direction, or under the arm, or around the back, or while seemingly holding the camera in my hand and walking aimlessly down the street. This, unfortunately, doesn´t produce too many award-winning photographs.

The first attempt at stealth photography happened about a week and a half ago, at the Tarabuco market, outside of Sucre. The first attempts were of the tops of many people´s heads (Bolivians tend to be quite a bit shorter than me). Luckily, I had the chance to get some pictures using Thibaut´s super-zoom lens, unobtrusively snapping portraits from across the street or on a park bench. I uploaded the photos yesterday, so you can see them now by clicking here. There was a busy fruit and vegetable market, where one could buy 20 figs, or 10 mini-avocados, for 1 Boliviano, or around $0.12. It also had a fantastic selection of alpaca-wool clothes and fabrics. (You´ll notice that I came away with a hearty helping of souvenirs). That market was full of people in traditional dress, including several variety of hats, which you can see in the photos. The hat worn by the woman in the photo above is less typical, but the way she carries her baby is not. Everywhere I go, in cities or in the country, women carry their babies like this. Yesterday I saw a woman strapping her baby onto her back, and I have to say, it was a little scary. She wrapped up the baby and then swung the whole parcel around her shoulder as if she was tossing on her backpack. I suppose they have lots of practice at doing this, but I bet doing it for the first time would be a challenge.