Thursday, January 6, 2011

Mercado Campesino

Sunday 2, 2011

Adequately caffeinated, I stepped to the curb and hailed a taxi. “Mercado Campesino, por favor”.

There are two markets in Sucre, the Mercado Central near the center of town, and the much larger Mercado Campesino on the other side of the tracks. The central market is rudimentary and authentic enough, but the market for the “country folk” is infinitely more interesting. It covers numerous more blocks and incorporates interior and exterior shop space.

Today’s safari was to buy some clothes for a family of four kids that have adopted me. They have been practically wearing the same clothes since I arrived.

The taxi fair had dropped from 6 Bolivianos back down to 4 Bs since the president rescinded a recent gas hike an hour before the ball fell for the New Year. I asked the driver to drop me off at the Ropa Americana area. There, vendors sell used clothing from the United States. The clothes that you thought were being donated to the poor is often times shipped in containers to Chile, sold to Bolivian brokers in bulk lots and trucked to Oruo where it broken down into smaller lots and sold to individual vendors. From there, the garage sale leftovers and Goodwill surplus ends up on the sidewalks of Sucre, and other towns. The same happens with toys. It has proven to be a good business opportunity for a lot of single mothers.

I walked a couple of blocks, sizing up the competition. Its not just about finding what you want it here and buying it, it is the tact in which you approach transaction - the art of the kill. I stopped at a bin of children’s t-shirts. I found a couple of shirts with beach themes, a mesh athletic jersey for Edmundo, and two fleece jackets for Maria and Anjelica, plus a couple of others plain shirt with Goodwill tags still attached. “Cuanto?” I asked, separating each one in high in the air so she could count. “110”, was her initial serve. Game on! I took off my sunglasses so she could fully appreciate my “are you crazy lady” expression. I volley back with “no, no, no…60!”. She fires back a quick “100”. I put down a shirt and ask for a recount. She counters and we continue to volley. Before breaking a sweat we settle on 70 Bs, or $10. We both smile as I give her the exact change, and bid her a good day. Walking away I see an old Czech made Jawa motorcycle on the corner and walk over to take a photo of it. I hear someone shouting behind me and turn around. It’s the “venadora” that I just haggled with. I had accidently had given her an extra 20 and she was returning it to me. I give her a peck on her right cheek. The tone was set for the rest of the day.

The Mercado stretches for many blocks in every direction. For the most part it is divided up into sections. I would not use the term “organized”, but the fruit people pretty much hang with other fruit people, the toy people stay with other toy people, and so on. The ceramic Jesus people would never be found close to the bootleg DVD people. There are blocks and blocks of fruit, pastas, rice, household goods, blocks of meat separated by whether it moo’d, oink’d, or bok bok bok’d. All the essentials are here – like an outdoor Wal-Mart, farmer’s market and giant flea market all rolled into one.

After an hour I was completely lost, partially by design. I came across some basic but interesting potato and sugar sacks that my dad could try selling on Ebay, then an intricate embroidered tapestry that might make a good Ebay item as well. My Mexican beach bag that I brought with me was filling up. I stopped at a stall of dried toucan heads and llama fetuses. I paused and tried thinking of a good Ebay description, “Rid your home of unwanted spirits. Completely natural, no chemicals necessary” or “Jerky for your cat.” I thought better of it and moved on.

After finding a “tres por cinco” bin and buying three more shirts for 5 Bs, it was lunchtime. A fried chorizo sandwich with a smear of extra grease across the bun would keep me going a couple more hours. Dessert was a fried Churro (fried donut-like dough) with a warm chocolate sauce injected in the middle upon ordering.

Though I made some worthy purchases, the day was really just about walking around soaking in the smells, sights and overall good vibe. Block after block countless vignettes played out before me; the bewildered kid staring at his dropped ice cream frozen in shock, the toothless old woman wrapped in a blanket laughing on a cell phone, the nursing mother jokingly trying to get me to pay 5 Bs for taking a photo of her chilies, the disembodied pig’s head wearing an eternal smile, a woman selling press-on gold caps for your front teeth.

It was a day of cheap entertainment from the other the side of the tracks, often times the more interesting side.