Tarabuco is the small town with the famous market that we stopped at on the way back from Candelaria, as [unnamed child] was making his miraculous recovery last Sunday morning. Along the road to Tarabuco, seeing all the adobe (mud-straw brick) houses that the local people live in, and passing men and women leading their donkeys to town, we felt as if we’d stepped back not hundreds, but perhaps even thousands of years in time.
Arriving at the market at 7:30 a.m., we were astounded to see the cooked food stalls buzzing with activity as campesinos took their typical breakfast: overflowing plates of beef, noodles, potatoes and hot sauce (only 4 Bolivianos, or about 60 cents) Quinn ordered one of these breakfasts of champions and dug in with gusto.
We then wandered around taking in the sights and sounds of this all-indigenous market where bartering for produce is still common (heck, that’s common in Nelson too) and where the local textiles attract buyers and admirers from around the country. In fact, this market has become a really big draw for tourists; by 10:00 it was Gringo City. Seeing so many seemingly overgrown, overfed, and often very hairy whiteys walking around in packs, many of them haggling with vendors, was a tad unsettling for me – like looking in the mirror and not liking what you see. I mean, do you really need to haggle? That’s really not done here, you know. I mean, do you really think you’re getting ripped off buying a naturally-dyed wool wall hanging for $60 that some old lady probably spent 200 hours spinning and weaving? Do you just feel like a saavy traveler when you can talk someone into a two-for-one deal? Overhearing some people’s boasting about the deals they got left us feeling a little uncomfortable in our own skins. For in many Bolivians’ eyes, how are we any different?
This is the first place we’ve been where we saw prices that were anything but fixed (the vendors too were playing the game: “That is 400 Bolivianos…..For you, I go to 350”) and the first time in Bolivia we have encountered hard-sell tactics, like putting the item for sale on you in an attempt to get you to buy it. It made us uncomfortable, but largely, I blame the tourists.
Aside from that, we encountered a number of fascinating and/or ironic sights (like the woman in full traditional clothing with a cell phone on a cord around her neck) that made us think of doing a scavenger hunt. These would be the things you’d have to find:
1) Large slabs of meat being sold directly out of wooden trolleys right beside a stall selling cell phones
2) Woman in high heels carrying a live chicken in her purse
3) Teenage Quechua boy wearing Harvard Business School sweatshirt
4) Coca leaves being sold by the garbage-bag-full
5) Live baby chicks & ducklings for sale (1 and 2 Bolivianos respectively)
6) Man hurrying by, carrying squealing piglet(s) in a potato sack
7) Cow’s heads for sale, eyeballs and hairy muzzles still intact (photo request refused by vendor)
There was also the large bloody statue of a triumphant indigenous warrior who has just killed a Spaniard and torn out his heart (with his teeth?) – a terrible way to die, of course, but on the other hand, nothing compared to what the Spanish did to the native people. It was erected by the town council and stands in the main plaza. I am including the inscription below the statue for those who can read Spanish. Note the warrior’s attire, particularly his hat. This is a style characteristic of the area, which many people still wear, and one that the Tarabuco school has incorporated into the architectural design of its entranceway (see photo).
So that’s it for Tarabuco, a fascinating place indeed.