Tuesday, July 24, 2007

La Cancha

Sorry it's been so long since I've written. I hope to not go that long without writing again. Thanks for hanging in there with me. Tonight I thought I'd elaborate on La Cancha. La Cancha is hard to explain if you haven't ever been there. I wish I had some pictures to show you, but it's likely that if you take a camera to La Cancha you won't come home with it. So, you'll have to rely on my insufficient description. La Cancha is the biggest outdoor market in all of South America or so I've been told. I believe it because it's HUGE...pretty much the size of Washington DC with even more crime believe it or not. Most people either love it or hate it. I love it. I love going there. I love shopping there. If it's available in Bolivia you can probably find it in La Cancha. Of course my favorite part is the used clothing section. By section I mean 5 square blocks. Big blocks at that. Imagine 5 streets, 5 blocks long full of nothing but thrift store rejects. It's paradise. No, really the stores/stalls are mostly well organized. Some are so specialized they carry only Abercrombie and Fitch or Hollister clothing. Others have only purses. Today I saw a Kenneth Cole leather purse for less than $2. I didn't buy it because I don't carry a purse here. If it doesn't fit in my jeans pocket I don't carry it. I have a whole system: lip balm and Purell in my back left, cell phone in my back right unless I'm in La Cancha where it's likely to get picked (Seth had his taken on Sunday), small bills and change in my front left, larger bills in my small 'watch' pocket (this is my new favorite pocket...I keep most of my money here in case I'm mugged or pick-pocketed no one will know it's there and I won't you are sworn to silence too), and my list of stuff I need to buy in my front right. But I digress, on to the tour of La Cancha....besides any possible type/brand of used clothing from Neiman Marcus to Wal-Mart you can also find all kinds of other 'used' items. Earlier this week when I was shopping with Seth we saw one of those plastic handles used to hold a half gallon carton of milk. My granny used to have one of these when I was growing up. I wonder who is going to buy this since milk here comes in those little one liter plastic bags I've told you about. No cartons. No half-gallons. Oh well, it brought back a bit of nostalgia for me. La Cancha is made up of several sections like districts in NYC. There's the:

  • used clothing section,

  • new clothing section where some of the aisles are so tight that you can hardly pass someone. There is stall after stall of the same merchandise yet they all seem to make a living selling.

  • shoe section,

  • computer section where we've bought 3 pair of computer speakers for $7 each,

  • appliance section where there is a 42 inch big screen TV for $2400 right across the street from a lady that sells goldfish in glass bowls for 12 cents each. When I say street I mean street. Busy, crowded streets where taxis with whole living room suites of furniture piled on top don't mind bumping into gringos if they forget they are in the street. And it is easy to forget you are in a street since there are new appliances piled up everywhere with barely room for a car to get through. The stores need a scratch and dent section for merchandise that has been scratched or dented by cars!

  • material section--a seamstress' dream where you can find materials as varied as lace to polar fleece,

  • Little Miami: which is the electronics section,

  • plastics section: We love this section. It's one of the few places in Coch we can find plastic stuff. As a general rule plastics are more expensive here than in the about $25 for a cheap plastic kitchen trash can,

  • furniture section where we've bought most of our furniture made by hand by Bolivians. The stores don't deliver so you have one or two choices if you don't have a car. You can pile it all on/in a taxi which the taxi drivers don't mind. They are happy to put a couch, loveseat, chair and ottoman on the top of their car or even a couple of goats....really! Your other option is to rent a transport truck that comes with a driver. They will deliver to anywhere in the city for less than $10. You can also pay a couple of guys $1.25 to load and unload it and for an extra 60 cents they'll even carry it upstairs. We have chosen this option several times now. In fact today we arranged the transport all by ourselves and even we're able to tell them how to get to our house....a small victory.

  • tool section,

  • meat section where you can a whole cow head, or just it's brain, tongue or heart, chicken intestines or feet, etc., etc. Bolivians don't waste any part of an animal. You can't even imagine the smell in this part!!

  • fruit section,

  • party section where you can buy bags of confetti bigger than my five year old and fireworks that make you hope no one is smoking nearby. I saw some with a diameter of 18 inches on the street within a couple of feet of passing cars. They also have pinantas and huge bags of candy and bags of hundreds of those cheap little Chuck E. Cheese-type toys,

  • office/school supplies where a package of constuction paper costs $18. Yes you read that right. They generally sell it by the sheet, but a whole package costs $18. A thin spiral that costs 25 cents at Wal-Mart costs about $2-$3 here which is less than the $4 ones at the gringo grocery store.

  • toy section,

  • bedding section,

  • housewares section,

  • electical and lighting section,

  • toliet section,

  • mattress section,

  • flower section where I can buy a couple of dozen roses for about $3,

  • and plenty of others that I can't think of right now and many more sections that I'm haven't even been to yet

Scattered in between all these are some Pil and Fino stores. Pil is the brand of milk here in Bolivia. They also make all kinds of dairy products. Fino is a brand of vegatable/cooking oil. You can buy it in a bottle like in the states OR you can bring your own bottle and they fill it from a pump on a 55 gallon drum full of oil. There are also scattered booths on the streets selling just pens and pencils, or just electical cords. There are also row after row of booths of pirated DVDs and music CDs of every kind and quality. We now only buy from the stalls that have a TV there so we can see if it really is in English and also see the quality. We've been burned a couple of times. I guess for about a buck, it's okay. We actually have 2 copies of Meet the Robinsons cartoon that are messed up at the same place. About 1/4 of the way through the sound track and the video get out of about 2 minutes. You hear what's going to happen two minutes before you see it. I guess the master pirate copy was messed up.

Remember when I say section I'm literally talking about city blocks and blocks crammed packed. Wednesday and Saturday are market day when people come down from La Paz and other various locations to sell blankets and all kinds of other wares. On these days La Cancha expands even more. We bought some thick wool blankets to keep the kiddos warm on these cold July nights. They cost us about $4 each.

I haven't even begun to do La Cancha justice. You must come and see it for yourself. Suffice it to say it's place you can buy a Van Halen t-shirt from their tour in the 80s, a 19-inch flat screen computer moniter, a llama fetus (that's from the witches part of La Canch that I forgot to mention)...really they use them for 'spells' and such, Barbie sheets, all 9 seasons of X-Files on DVD, llama skins, digital cameras, and everything in between. And I there's no way to describe the smells...mostly bad like urine and animal guts but some good too like the fresh fruits and flowers.

One of the things I'm grateful for in La Cancha is the pay toliets. I'm grateful because since you must pay to go, they are mostly clean. At the entrance to the restrooms there is a little lady sitting with a few sheets of toilet paper. When you give her 6-12 cents she'll give you the TP and let you enter. It beats going on the street like lots of people do.

I think I've seen just about everything there. Everything that is but chocolate chips and pets. They don't have chocolate chips in Bolivia. I think this should have been disclosed before I signed up to come here. :>) And pets you must buy at another market. Every Sunday beside the futbol stadium there is a pet-mart where you can find all kinds of animals. Last Sunday we bought a puppy. She's so cute and tiny!! Hopefully in a day or two I'll post some pics of her and of our house.

I am so grateful to be here and to be having such fun experiences as shopping at La Cancha.


D&P said...

Glad to hear about La Cancha. Can not wait to see it. Thanks for taking the time a trouble to keep us updated.


Anonymous said...

My cousin Kurt, wife Cindy, and kids (their 3 plus others that they have become guardians to because of the kids'parents dying of AIDS) are in South Africa. Cindy ALWAYS requests bags of chocolate chips in their care packages! What is it about these countries!!

We're enjoying your website and blog-

Dianne Buchholz and family

Janice said...

Wow, that's awesome! I had a complete visual of the place as I read your post...what a place!!

denise holman said...


I've been trying to find your email address. Please email me ( Thanks for keeping up with us from sunny California!!