Between Bolivia and Peru exists some very cool places, lively and crowded spaces where everyday one can see amazing scenes of life. Local markets.
Last year I spent some time travelling South America and in these travels I found the markets to be really fascinating places, almost like a mirror of the way of life for the locals.
There is two ways to visit a market, you can buy things and leave or you can stay, watch and experience the vibrancy of these amazing communities. I found myself spending days just experiencing these interesting places and watching the locals interact, after a while I started to understand the workings of these markets and came to really appreciate them.
In Bolivia and Peru these markets are life: A kind of other life in the regular life where people are living, sleeping, eating, selling, buying, speaking, laughing, negotiating and most of all, sharing. Knowing when they enter but not when they leave.
Outside, taxi and bus drivers turn into town criers shouting to announce future destinations and ready to pounce on passengers bags in way to leave as soon as possible.
Once inside, life is chaotic with people moving in all possible directions. The myriad of sounds that initially overwhelm quickly becomes background noise. Colours and smells are intense and draw one towards them.
In one section of there is craftsmen, shoemakers and tailors busily working in jobs forgotten to us in the west. Masters of restoration and tinkering, in their hands almost all objects can be recycled and have a second life.
The local craftsmen present their work proudly; from the most basic to intricate objects, there is something for everyone.
Store shelves are stacked high with all sorts of amazing items, seemingly in all of the colours in the rainbow; great for tourists who want to take back some local gifts or a material memory of their trip.
Bakers push wheelbarrows full of bread through the aisles – an extremely efficient service.
Deeper in the markets are the butchers sections, where exposed veal heads and carcasses of “cuy” (guinea pig) are hung. Butchers proudly display their best fresh cut meat. Usually surrounded by hundreds of envious dogs salivating at the thought of chomping down on the various pieces of flesh. These sections are quite overpowering and anyone with a delicate stomach is not advised to visit, or at least not breath whilst in the vicinity.
Then there is the fisheries; between fish’s heads, bones and scales, the most beautiful specimens from the coast and the Titicaca lake are waiting to be served, sometimes more than hundreds of kilometres away from their source.
In the most beautiful multi-coloured stalls of the market are the fruit and vegetable sections. There is always huge selections of fruits, from well known fruits such as bananas, grapefruits, mangos and papayas. To the more exotic fruits such as grenadines, acerola, lucuma, maracuja, corossol, and chirimoya. All of which can be mixed in an enjoyable full flavoured drink in the stalls just beside where the fruit is sold. A freshly mixed vitamin juice made exactly as you wish within moments of buying the fruit – pretty awesome.
In a really different aspect, located in a dark corner of the market one can find the witches’ section filled with products intended for animist’s and even darker stalls focused on sorcery – between the lama’s foetuses and other really weird objects are the witches grumbling strange whispers to each other when they see strangers coming.
When midday comes along, everyone is off to eat the “Comedor Popular”. Dozens of cooks surrounded by massive pots offer a large variety of food for the masses, usually with home-made lemonade for a really paltry sum.
The main and only technique of deciding which meal may or may not give oneself serious digestion isssues is choosing the most crowded place. After that, sitting down to eat with the locals is an amazing way of immersing oneself. Eating the same food at the same table, suddenly, the barrier between gringos and locals disappears and the conversations open up, with smiles and laughter around the table, a rare moment of shared experience when strangers become familiar. And if it was not already the case, around these special meals, the market’s atmosphere slowly impregnates the mind and body.
One thing is clear in my mind, market life will be reborn everyday, as it has for centuries, again and again, day after day, like a never-ending loop animating local life forever.
Florian Reding is a globetrotter, cyclist, backpacker, casual writer and photographer, that’s fascinated by unusual ways of travelling. You can check his blog here (it’s in French) floppyontheroad.wordpress.com