La Paz, Bolivia – January 24, 2019
On Thursday, Leslie joined me at the office. The occasion? Alasitas!!
Our Community Liaison Officer (CLO) coordinated a trip to the opening day of Alasitas. Alasitas begins on January 24 every year. As stated on the LAPAZLIFE site,
“Taking place just before Carnaval, Alasitas Fair, or Feria de las Alasitas in Spanish, is a month-long festival, where locals purchase miniature items to give to Ekeko, the Aymara god of abundance, in the hope he will bring fortunate [sic] and happiness to their lives.”
One can read more at LAPAZLIFE by clicking on this Alasitas link.
Before we left my office, Leslie and I huddled to agree on a strategy for our shopping. We agreed we might buy one or two items and then just look. After departing the market, we could decide if we wanted anything else. If so, we could return on another day. That strategy held solid…until we arrived at the market!
At about 11:00, we made the short walk to the Saint George station of the Celeste Line of the Teleférico. The Teleférico was very crowded. No doubt we were not the only ones bound for Alasitas. We waited for several gondolas before one had enough room for us to board. Once onboard, we sat back and relaxed for the ride to the Prado station, the end of the line.
Between the Open-Air Theater station and the Prado station, we “flew” over the Alasitas venue. It did not take a rocket surgeon to see there were hundreds and hundreds of people in attendance. Our path took us directly over the main entrance to the venue. We saw the official Alasitas opening ceremony was in full swing.
Arriving at Prado station, we disembarked and waited for the rest of our group. When we were all accounted for, we began our walk. CLO strategically selected the Prado station as our starting point because everything from there is downhill. That is a huge benefit in this city of monstrous hills.
As soon as we walked under Calle Bueno, we saw the beginnings of the vendor stalls at the Campo Ferial Bicentennial, the venue for Alasitas. At this far end of the site, only a few of the vendors were open. There were, however, many foosball tables and pool tables. They were all undercover. Many of the tables were in use. I assume one must pay a fee to be able to use one of the tables.
Some of my colleagues at work had told me that there are usually miniature Teleférico gondolas for sale. I knew I had to get one each of the green and blue gondolas. I saw some hanging at one of the first booths at which we stopped. There was a wonderful woman there. She sold us the two gondolas. As part of the sale, she provided miniature certificates for each one. They are copies of documents for each of the actual gondolas on the operating Teleférico. She said she is an artist. She made several of the items in the booth, including a green bus. As we departed, she gave us a blessing in the Aymara language. That is the language of one of the indigenous peoples of Bolivia.
Our next stop was a booth with dozens of Ekekos of varying sizes. Ekeko is the Aymara god of abundance. He is the one the believers think will grant what is desired in their lives. The miniatures found at Alasitas represent those desires. We opted for one that is about six inches tall. He will reside in our kitchen. The young who sold the Ekeko also provided us with a cigarette. Those are typically lit and placed in the mouth of Ekeko. We decided it will just be by his ear.
By this time, nearly noon, the central aisle was more and more crowded with people. That is because many believe that they need to purchase their miniatures and have them blessed on the first day of Alasitas, literally at high noon. For a blessing, one can go to a Catholic priest or an Aymara shaman. It is customary to pay for this service. The payment is probably around $5 Bolivianos (US$0.75).
We veered off onto one of the side aisles. The aisle was virtually empty of shoppers. About halfway down the aisle was a vendor stall that had llama miniatures. That particular stall also had a little girl that was beside herself, wanting ice cream. As soon as her mother gave her one, she was very content. The little girl’s mother was very kind to help us find just the right llama.
I seem to be a sucker for color, as evidenced when we walked by a stall that had several Bolivian branded items. In particular, some shot glasses with colorful leather holders caught my eye. The young woman that helped me a lot of fun and very lively.
At the end of the side aisle, I saw some beautiful chess sets. I am not the best chess player in the world, nor do I have a collection of chess sets. That changed today, the collection part when I bought a chess set pitting the Spaniards against the Aztecs. I probably got the European discount, which means I probably overpaid. Regardless, I thought $250 Bolivianos (US$36) was very reasonable for the set. My “collection” now includes that chess set and an agate set I bought when we lived in Islamabad.
There was a booth that sold nothing but miniature food items that were refrigerator magnets. We had to have some of those, including my favorite, a salteña.
Our next stop was a father and son booth that specialized in small grocery items. In this case, small truly means small. There were boxes of food that could not have been more than one-half inch tall. I have no idea what we will do with them. I guess we will just have them and love them.
Just down the way was a stall with all sorts of miniature construction items and tools. Some of the devices were about three inches long. However, I opted for the wooden toolbox. This tiny toolbox held eight small tools, each about one-half inch long. The pliers work! A miniature blue hardhat topped off my purchase. The vendor tried to sell us miniature Academy Awards statues, Golden Globe statues, and a personal computer. We thanked her but decided we had enough already.
One couple was selling miniature currency from around the world. We knew these would be for sale. A colleague from the office gave Leslie and me some tiny money. She said people frequently hand these out to strangers. We had to buy a golden US$100 bill.
After the currency purchase, I vowed not to buy anything else. I finally remembered the well-intentioned strategy Leslie and I agreed upon; albeit late!
Since we were finished flinging money around as though we had it, we decided to walk to the Teleférico and head back to the office. As we walked through the crowd, heading downhill, we passed several Aymara shamen who were blessing items people purchased. Part of the blessing entails smoke. The smoke comes from wood, sugar, and something else. We both thought the odor was quite pungent. We did not stop for any blessings, opting instead for fresh air.
When we walked through the main entrance, on our way out, the crowd seemed to multiply. Above the main entrance is a very large Ekeko. The sea of people seemed to go on forever. We happened to be walking behind a group from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Many of them were carrying colorful god’s eyes. As we walked along behind them, we took the opportunity to hand out some of the miniature currency my colleague had given us. The recipients indeed seemed to enjoy receiving them.
We finally got to a side road that led to the Teleférico, thankfully not crowded with people. However, there were several dozen Bolivian police standing in formation. I am not quite sure why they were standing there. Leslie and I took advantage of the opportunity and handed out the rest of our miniature currency. Like the other recipients, they were happy to receive the notes.
At the Open-Air Theater station, I stopped to take a photograph of the side of the station. Since it is on the Celeste Line, the panels are various shades of blue. I knew I needed such a shot for an upcoming photographers’ group competition. I am not sure what the other photographers will think of the photo, but it is by far one of my favorites.
We boarded and rode back to the Saint George station. At the station is a beautiful mural. The mural is only about two or three months old. I have always meant to stop and take a photo. Today, I stopped and took a photograph.
From there, we walked back to the office and had lunch.
When we got home that evening, we unwrapped all of our loot. We are happy with it; although, we are not sure what we will do with some of the items!
We thoroughly enjoyed our first visit to Alasitas. For anyone traveling to Bolivia at this time of year, Alasitas is a must-see!