Last Saturday I took a stroll around La Paz`s Mercado de las Brujas (Witches` Market), marvelling at the unusual array of items on offer. Nestled at the end of a narrow, cobbled street where tourist shops stock colourful alpaca hats, woollen jumpers and hand-woven bags, a cluster of small shops overflow with ingredients for Aymará rituals and witchcraft. A pungent, unfamiliar smell greeted me upon entering, a musty mix of animal corpses and herbal remedies.
Here you can find potions, perfumes, incense, candles and powders for a whole host of afflictions and conditions. Whether you`re battling to quit smoking, suffering from anxiety, in need of financial luck, looking for an aphrodisiac, seeking marital bliss or perhaps beyond that point and hoping to expedite separation…rest assured, a remedy awaits! I even noticed a `love, sex and money` perfume, for those who prefer an Aymará all-in-one approach.
Most intriguing of all are the dried llama foetuses, reminiscent of the kind of extraterrestial creature about to burst forth from Sigourney Weaver`s stomach in the opening sequence of Aliens. These poor critters sucuumbed to natural deaths in the womb and are traditionally buried under the foundations of new houses to bring about good luck and prosperity, as sacrificial offerings to the much venerated Pachamama (Mother Earth). Baby llama corpses are also on display, strung up unceremoniously on hooks in every spare inch of ceiling space. These perished at birth from the cold or other natural causes.
Brimming bowls of clay amuletos and talismans promote amongst others: health, love, intelligence, protection, happiness, wealth and longevity. Pachamama charms and statues are available in all shapes and sizes.
7 year old Yessica, whose aunt owned the shop I ventured into, was a well-informed host, helpfully bringing me items and enthusiastically pointing out photo opportunities. I took a shine to her after she asked my age and expressed disbelief upon hearing 32, announcing I looked jovencita and no more than 15. (Exemplary customer service skills, I concluded.)
I bought a fridge magnet as a gesture of goodwill, too overwhelmed by the odours and options to make a more adventurous or authentic purchase (this time…).