Markets are always high on my list of places to visit. Being a lover of food, I find it so interesting to see the things that people are selling that are different from what I might see at home. Markets, at least here in Peru, are also a good place to get some relief from the touristy mayhem that surrounds us a lot of the time. It’s nice to go to a place where locals are actually going about their day to day lives and people are selling things to their neighbours rather than hawking them to foreigners. Even though we’re surrounded by them, I often find it difficult to actually get an idea of how Peruvians spend their days, especially in places like Cusco where you probably see two or three tourists for every Cusqueno in the downtown area. Going to the market is an easy way to get a small window into their world.
I love my hometown farmers markets, but these present a completely different shopping experience. There’s no mention of where the food comes from, how it was grown, or how far it had to travel to get to us. One woman did tell me that the strawberries she was selling were organic, but that was the only time I saw or heard that word, which is so commonly thrown around in North America. Everything’s just a little bit, or maybe even a lot, more chaotic. Stuff is piled everywhere, and sometimes it’s hard to even find the stall keeper hidden behind rows and rows of vegetables or fruit or mammoth bags of grains.
Pretty much everything you could ever need can be found at the market. Need a hat? You’ve got a choice between about a hundred different types. Pots and pans? They’re piled sky high in every shape and size. Want some snacks for the road? Huge bulk bins of chips, crackers, dried fruits, and other sweet and salty snacks are waiting to be emptied. The market in Puerto Maldonado even had a row of ladies repairing clothing at sewing machines. It really is a one stop shop.
The meat section is pretty astonishing. Whole chickens reach out at you with their sharp talons, looking ready to claw you if they were only still able to run around. A pig’s head sits smiling at you on one counter, and a pile of cows noses perches on another. Every part of the animal, from testicles to stomach to intestines, to regular old steaks, is represented. The army of flies and lack of refrigeration made me feel a bit reluctant to buy anything, but really, what do I know?
Though I didn’t get a photo, I don’t think I’ll forget the old, wrinkled woman sitting on the ground selling frogs legs at the Cusco market any time soon. You just never know what you’re going to find at a Peruvian market, and I think that’s why I find them so fascinating.