Wednesday, June 23, 2010

the feria 16 de julio

Without fail, every time I visit the "16 de julio" I find myself in awe. The feria is an immense and open-air market held every Thursday and Sunday in the city of El Alto--a large and fast-growing settlement of primarily indigenous people who have come from the countryside in search of a better life.

A woman dressed in traditional clothing, looks upon a pile of what I would call "junk." One man's junk is another man's treasure comes to mind often at the infamous El Alto market.

Assuming you can find it in the misaligned and tightly packed streets, you can buy just about everything you could ever need or want at the 16 de julio. There are cars, construction equipment, clothing, books, furniture, electronics, live animals, restaurants, kitchen supplies, sporting goods, barber shops, etc. And more than things to buy, there are also things to see: soccer games, live music, and, once, I think I even saw a dead person.

Treasures are definitely out there, but it sometimes takes patience to find it. On Sunday, I immediately found the bedspread I wanted, but it took more than an hour of asking where I could find an energy stabilizer before I decided that I didn't want to spend that much money. Things are somewhat organized according to sections. So, when I needed to purchase an "H" emblem for a Honda I started in the car section. And when I needed a plunger, I went to the plumbing area. But even then, you can often find single vendors hawking off whatever they can of their randomly assembled inventory. On Sunday one woman was selling oranges, old newspapers, and sad looking baby dolls.

The market is above the city of La Paz. In this photo, you can see Mt. Illimani across the distance.

Quality of items vary, as well--items are new and used...and stolen and illegal. Hanging out alongside vendors with more permanent stands, young men hold cell phones that I know used to belong to people who are now missing them. Some vehicles, brought in illegally to the country from Chile, come with false paperwork. And famous brand clothing are commonly marked with fake tags. Not keen on the idea of buying another pair of cheap, junky headphones, I sucked up my usual "don't buy stolen goods" rule and bought a pair of "original" iPod headphones to the replace the ones I lost (were stolen?) the previous week.

It's a rat maze, for sure. And, at more than 14,000 feet in altitude--the lack of oxygen and intense rays of the sun don't make for ideal browsing conditions after a couple of hours. But it's worth the visit to see the creativity that goes into making a buck...or, in this case, a Boliviano.

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