San Pedro Market

21 Jun

9am San Pedro Market, Cusco. Sounds and colours everywhere, Life! Rows of women in white overalls cooking up soups, wisps of steam rising from their pots. Flasks filled with boiling water pouring mate de coca. Sweet and warm it really wakes you up, especially at this altitude. Three old men are playing traditional Peruvian songs while walking through the market, 1 on accordion and 2 on guitar. They strum thick, deep chords. The accordion squeezing high breathy notes atop tumbling guitar rhythms. The market is huge and covered in a corrugated metal roof. People sit eating soup some with long sad faces, whole chicken legs sticking out of their bowls. Cooking smells fill the air, wholesome broths, rice and cooked chicken. I am sitting drinking mate, while the musicians play beside me. The accordion wheezes a confused melody; the mans’ fingers slipping across the notes in no particular order. Briefly, Structure returns and tightens the tune.   There are rows of fabric stalls leading up the side of the market, selling stacks of folded Alpaca wool in various colours; Sky blue piled on mauve, bright greens, tope, orange, brown, purple; a tower of colour. Luminous fabrics hang from the walls studded with ancient Inca symbols; llamas, gods and dragons. Daylight spills under the eaves on to flower stalls. Sweet fresh smells pervade the air bright with green, yellow and violet explosions. They have separate stalls for fruit and others for vegetables. The fruit stalls have heaps of red apples, creamy yellow bananas and green oranges that are cut open to show their centres like tiny suns. The Veg stalls are Piled high with Potatoes, carrots, red and green chilli peppers, as well as gnarled yucca and bundles of green herbs, coriander and parsley, emitting clean, healthy smells.

Huge disc shaped loaves form shoulder high towers in the bakery section . The air is heady with the delicious aromas of fresh baked dough. Bits of bread lie torn open showing their white fluffy insides. I draw a deep in-breath through my nose; the smell of fresh bread always feels like home.

Turning a corner another world awaits; Meat. The air is cool and yet stale and thick. Slabs of red and white; flesh, gristle and bone. A whole cows ribcage lies supine. Wrenched open, it looks like the hull of an ancient ship. The dark red cut with white tallow and greying bones suggest violence. Men saw through sinews, pulling at carmine limbs. White filmy fat pulled into lucid membranes which snap back into tight elastic ringlets as they are torn.

 It is amazing how my  perceptions change within a few strides. It is dizzying, an assault on the senses: The speakers churn out a spiraling accordion melody. Pressure cookers hiss, there are shouts and whistles, a dog yelps. Everyone here has their speciality. There are the chocolate stalls selling neatly placed bricks of dark drinking chocolate. The waft of cocoa is enticing and mesmeric. The dried fruit stalls sell boxes of apricots, prunes, dates and fat brazil nuts. I want to reach in a grab a mouthful. Crumpled old women sit beside stalls wearing knee high socks and lilac knitted cardigans. Donning white stiff-rimmed hats they wear their black hair tied into long plaits.

They are mostly toothless, forlorn and their skin is as cracked as autumn leaves. As I pass they hold their hands out to me, supplicating. “Coca! San Pedro!” a man shouts from a nearby stall. I stop and take a look. “proba” he says, opening up a bag of bile green dust. I stick my finger in and taste the acrid powder. “Es Mescalina Pura” he says. He has cardboard boxes filled with hand rolled cigarettes, bottles of a thick brown liquid called “Ayahuasca” and stacks of dried coca leaves.. I sense that I will see him again.

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