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Two Dragons welcome the sunrise with an improvised dance atop the Andes. Photo by Ryan Gasper.

An Adventure In the Flea Market

I stopped and stared. Stretched out in front of me, in both directions is a river of stores, booths, and vendors, filling up the street and pouring out into side alleys and properties when there isn´t room. This chaotic patchworks of commerce, is Ferria Deiciseis, El Alto’s bi-weekly flea market and the largest in South America.

Our instructors had given us the opportunity to come here before we headed back out into the mountains again. Loud, full of color, and crowded this market was the opposite of the mountains with the exception that both are giant and overwhelming. I had originally hoped that the market, with its enormous size would make it easy to find gifts for my family and friends but I soon realized that perhaps I had bitten off a bit more than I could chew. Stores of clothing were next to food vendors and booths of auto parts in no apparent order. And the further we got into the market, the more overwhelming it became. Quickly our group began to split, Olivia, Johnny, and Katherine near the stand full of Bolivian hats, Ella and Emi I lost track of near the ponchos our group of 7 becoming two, with just myself and Sofie remaining.

As the two of ventured us further into the market my feeling of being overwhelmed grew. At one point we climbed a hill in the road expecting to see the end of the market only to find it continuing, winding its way around the building and eventually out of sight. It is at this point that we asked for directions and learned we had been going into the household repair part of the market, and what we sought was in the exact opposite direction.

Yet, as I descended down the hill my spirits began to rise rather descend as I took in more of the events occurring in the market and the people who visited it rather than focusing on a single goal. Tucked in between two large stalls I found a woman selling the most beautiful jewelry and who eagerly told us about her pieces. At another stall, I engaged in conversation with a woman about the wonders of sweater dresses. I even turned around at one point and saw a man selling canneries! Perhaps most surprising was when Sofie and I ran into Katherine, Ella, Emi, and Terri a miracle considering the many people at the market.

That night in my journal I reflected on my experience in the market. While it had been overwhelming at times and its sheer size made shopping for anything specific a maddening task, the size is also what makes it such an exciting place. Standing there on the streets watching people and browsing in many, many, booths there is a sense of possibility, that anything can be found if one is patient enough and has just a bit of luck.