Travelling 4000 metres above sea level took us to La Paz, the world’s highest capital city. This is a bustling place often choked in car fumes and peppered with the scent of fried chicken – a favourite food of Bolivians. The backdrop to the colourful chaos of the city is spectacular. La Paz is nestled beautifully in between many snow frosted Andean volcanoes. One volcano to note in particular is the majestic Mount Illimani, whom, like Mona Lisa’s eyes, follows and watches over the people of La Paz wherever they go.
What made our Bolivian experience particularly un-buh-lievable however was our brushes with real life magic and Andean spirituality. Andean history comes alive in La Paz as the descendents of the pre-Inca, Aymara and Quechua cultures still uphold traditional rituals and practices handed down through thousands of years.
In La Paz we visited a Witches’ Village where they sell spells, cures and read fortunes for Bolivian locals who are deeply superstitious. Many rituals take place to solve all variety of modern day problems. Building a house? You’ll need to sacrifice and burn a llama foetus. Want a career change? Burn a small effigy and pour alcohol into the ground for Pacha Mama (the name for Andean Mother Earth).
Basically if you want something in this world, you need to give a little something back to Pacha Mama. A local lady shared frightening stories where sacrifices were scaled up for bigger requests. In one example, before the construction of a high-rise apartment, to keep the workers safe and the apartment from later crumbling down in a heap, the developers would find a human sacrifice. A homeless drunk (for example) would be acquired from the streets, sacrificed and buried underneath the building as an offering to Pacha Mama. Whether this still happens today the lady says is unknown.
A love potion in a pink powder to snag that guy or gal you’d like a piece of. Just a sprinkle on their collar or hair should get the job done. A less serious approach to modern witchcraft.
These traffic zebras help to educate and direct the disobedient drivers of La Paz. As a side note, each zebra suit is a young underprivilleged student who has been recruited by the Bolivian Government to perform this function. As an interesting initiative, students are paid a decent salary so that they don’t have to work long hours and drop out of school to earn a crust. In fact, to hold onto their jobs as zebras, they need to maintain good grades at school.
After a few days in La Paz, we retreated 40 minutes from the big smoke to the Allkamari, located in front of Mount Illimani and Mururata. These Andean mountains, canyons and the Lagoon of Souls are sacred to the Aymara people and the Quechuan people who continue to come here to give offerings and perform ceremonies to the Mountain Gods that preside in the valley.
Our accomodation kissing the skies.
It was here where we encountered Quechuan shamans and had an experience of their ancient sacred ceremonies. Many shamanistic ceremonies take a person on a vision quest with the intention of healing past hurts, unveiling revelations or restoring balance in their world. These rituals can often be life-changing for a participant providing the clarity and strength they need to live a positive and meaningful life.
Where shaman Wara Wara Puma, a kind and special person, sat during ceremony.