That's what I felt like in the Ketal supermercado yesterday. I needed some snacks and bottled water, so what better way to branch out into a country and culture than to go shopping in my local supermarket? Turns out, this had to be one of nicest markets in La Paz. I've found out that my community (Zona Sur and the Calacoto community) houses some of the wealthiest in Bolivia, making it a bit safer for us to live here. Don't get too excited - this was no Publix or Harris Teeter...or Food Lion, or Wal-Mart. Here's where the fish out of water comes in...
I walk into a nice appearing establishment and was happy to find that they provided buggies AND bags for carrying! (In Spain, buggies weren't an option, and bags...you paid for those! Even the plastic ones!) What small conveniences that we take for granted! I walked straight into the section with the worst reputation of them all: the dreaded produce. [See previous blog.] This area of the grocery store felt off limits. Almost as if I needed a mask or gloves or something. (The meat guy did wear a mask though...is that normal?) I looked around, just out of curiosity, and I was only deterred by the pile of apples that increased my doubts about my previous apple ingestion. So I moved on, noting only the mountains of potatoes. [Fast fact: out of 600 different types of potatoes in the world, Bolivia grows 400! They love them here!]
Then I turned to find the meat section. More reminders popped into my head: "Don't eat ANY raw meat. Only totally cooked! You don't want to be sick for weeks!" In front and all around me all of a sudden appeared piles of plastic wrapped RAW MEAT! Yikes! Chicken, pork, beef, more beef. The meat guy with the mask then walked out, and I immediately fled, not to return. Not even lunch meat would be acceptable to buy at this point. Next up: cheese. I'll be honest. I had no idea what I was looking at. The only thing familiar was the Philadelphia cream cheese box (3 times more expensive than the other items). Otherwise, the random assortment of letters for the trademark with a "QUESO" under it left me baffled. Is it goat cheese? Cow cheese? Soft, hard, in between? Do I just eat it alone? Where are the slices? Do they eat those here?
Keep walking. Yogurt seems safe to me for some reason. I found some reasonably priced peach and strawberry yogurt with a Spanish label and put 2 in the cart. First items in, check. OH! And bottled water! Found it on the end of the aisle - that was easy! I put an 8 pack in the buggy and then I felt like a bonafide Bolivian grocery store shopper, stuff in my cart and all. All I need now is a bowler hat. (See coming blog post.)
I then proceeded to wander around every aisle, just to see what they had. I had found out that 1 dollar is equal to 7 Bolivianos, which makes everything in the store seem super expensive. First thought: "What? $35 for granola bars?!?!" Not the case, but I still couldn't bring myself to buy them. I later eyed the juice from afar, but didn't go for it. I found out this morning that juice comes either in large boxes or small packets, like Hot Pocket-sized things. The lady I live with gave me some of these little packs for breakfast. Thinking it was yogurt, I popped open the bag with my fork and pushed out the contents when all of this pineapple juice went rolling on my plate. Then I thought, well maybe there's chunks of pineapple in here?? I then pushed harder and only more juice came out! Looking around the kitchen, not knowing what to do next, I just picked up my plate and tried to drink the juice. Yeah. Mom would be proud of me for this one.
Conclusion: My tribute to coca tea. This pic is from my welcome pack from the team of people working here. Thanks to Diamox and coca tea, I'm still altitude sickness-free. Thank you coca!