When you are traveling, basically everything is interesting. This can be really frustrating (like the drama of buying movie tickets and having the machine flake out on you, requiring you to mime and gesture and essentially beg the Spanish-speaking staff to let you see Casablanca) or it can be super cool. Today was one of those super cool days, so I figured I’d share some of our experiences shopping in Bolivia.
When we began our journey in Puerta Natales, Chile, we learned that the influx of tourists in the past decade had allowed for the opening of a big supermarket. Great for the tourists! But bad for everyone else who had been operating their little corner tiendas for generations. When we went to Erractic Rock’s “3pm Talk” to prepare for our 10 day trek, they suggested buying as many provisions as we could at the family-run (and pretty run-down) tiendas in order to support the local economy.
So we have this in mind wherever we go. My American soul flutters when we arrive in a new city and I see a big store with brand names. ANYTHING FOR FAMILIARITY. Seriously, I crave it. But, we challenge ourselves to buy from small family-run stores as much as we can. In Bolivia, this means literally buying from people on the street.
Lucky for us, their produce always looks better and costs less than stuff in the store. And we get to meet more people, ask them all about their wares, and be exposed to new and interesting things.
But before we get to food, I’d like to introduce you to Ramon who we met in the tiny, dusty town of Uyuni, Bolivia.
Ramon makes rings out of coins from different countries. He tried to sell me a US one, but I told him it was boring (and I’m so proud that my Spanish has improved enough that I know how to say “No, thank you. The United States is boring”). Though we almost never buy souvenirs when we travel, I bought a Bolivian coin (their currency is called the Boliviano) ring, hand hammered by Ramon so that “1892” is visible around the outside and “Republica Boliviana” can be seen on the inside. Ramon travels all over South America selling these unique rings and it was an honor to have him show us how he works.
We were recently in La Paz for a few days, had a harrowing but interesting few days in the rainforest, and now we’re back in La Paz, resting and relaxing for a week. Many streets in the city have people selling herbs, produce, meat, and clothing all along the road and we’ve loved buying in these little shops rather than in the (one) big supermarket.
We take pride in supporting these local shop owners and love the opportunity to chat with them.