I woke up this morning in Chiclayo, a fairly large city on the Pan American highway. I know that cities are part of South America, but I feel more at home in the rural, indiginous or out of the way places.
It was the first morning in more than a month that I didn´t wake up with the ocean out my window. My habitual morning run instantly became more complicated. I love running along the beach, the sand feels great, the air is cool, and first thing in the morning, there are no people. And I don´t have to wear shoes.
The city changes all that. First, I have to wear shoes. And socks. And its no longer hot, so a long sleeved shirt. The city also adds another dimension. Running along the streets leaves the possibility that I might get lost. So, I draw a basic map and bring some change for a cab if I have to. It jingles in my running shirt´s back pocket as it hits my keys.
I emerge into the bright sunshine and am shocked to see the number of people on the street. Like I said, for the past month I have been on the coast, and in small towns. Towns so small that everyone walks and there are no cars or cabs. I walk a bit from the hostal, trying to escape the clutches of the sidewalk crowds. No luck, I´ll just have to manouever around them.
I run for a bit, on the sidewalk, on the road, dodging obstacles when it hits me. This is really easy. I had forgotten that running on sand is much more difficult, and as a result my legs are stronger than I thought they were. I finally reached a long park, and circled the perimeter before starting back. I love running.
After my (hot! yay...) shower it was time for breakfast and to find a laundrymat. Maybe it´s because Í´ve been in so many super relaxed towns, or what, but all the catcalling hit me hard. It seemed like every car was honking at me. Men walking solo, with friends, with their wives, driving cars or working in shops, hooted, hollered, hissed or whistled at me. They called me lindo, guapa, or other terms meaning beautiful. I can´t remember how many times my butt got grabbed. One guy told me he wanted to make me his wife. God what an honour that would be, right? One little girl, not more than two and half feet tall and probably 4 years old, tapped my arm and tried to sell me some gum. Four hours later, walking along the another street, she appeared again. Her big dark eyes were pleading, and she chattered non stop trying to sell her gum. I wondered where her mother was. She followed me for a full block, I am not kidding you, after I said "No, gracias" a dozen times. I wish I could have helped her, but buying something would only encourage her mother to keep her on the street. What a life.
I decided to head up the street to check out the large market. Apparently it has a huge section catering to witches and shamans, and sells every type of herb and animal part you can imagine. After walking past a million shoes and clothes, I got to the food section. Dozens of grains, fruits, vegetables and meats. By meat I mean hacked apart animals. I saw chunks of a pig´s head, the hairs bristling in the sunshine, sitting on one woman´s table. Here, in restaurants, when you order something like chicken, it doesn´t come in neatly recognizable peice like at home. There´s no drumstick, wing, breast, thigh, etc. Most often you get a chunk of a part of a chicken, like they just chopped a hunk of the bird with an ax. Which is probably not far from the truth. Most of the time I can´t recognize where it actually came from.
I am always wary in markets, as it is crowded, and easy for criminals to get away. I had my camera with me but in my bag, which was securely across my chest and in front of me. But the plethora of fruits and vegetables where glistening in the sunshine. Anyone who´s been with me to an outdoor fruit and vegetable with me knows... I love photographs of the produce. There´s a ton of them in Florida, too. It must be the artist in me.
I glance around, and bring out my camera. I ask the vendors if it alright to take a photograph. I usually ask, to be polite, and have not once yet been refused. A few photographs and a friendly looking middle aged woman comes up to me. She looks concearned. At first I thought I wasn´t supposed to be taking photos. But she goes on and on, and I glean from my meager spanish that it is dangerous here. I thank her and slip it back in my bag. I spy a store selling yarn, and duck inside. I need a crochet hook; I am making some necklaces.
Suddenly two obviously American men, one old and one younger, appear. "Do you speak English?" they ask me. I was standing behind the counter at the time, so I replied "yes, but I don´t work here."
They proceeded to explain to me that the woman across the street had asked them to come and talk to me, since the older gentleman spoke fluent spanish. Apparently there were some men outside who were waiting to rob me of my camera. Great. They told me to be careful, and left. I quickly bought my hook and dashed after them. "Do you mind if I walk with you for a bit?" I´m pretty independant and feel I can fend for myself, but being told there were actually guys outside with the intention of robbing me was a bit unsettling. Better safe than sorry. The older gentleman was an anthropologist working in Bolivia. Dave Holden. I shall read his stuff. Shortly afterwards they had to leave and meet a friend, but okay. I was at the witches market.
It was just like I imagined it. Bunches of herbs hung from every available rafter and lay in piles on the floor and tables. Hunks of animals, skins, and even testicles dangled from the the corrogated steel roofs. Shells, crystals, antiques, cards, candles, feathers, vials of oils, incense, and innumerable odds and ends completed the picture. And I just had to have one. A picture that is. The people here seemed friendly and the "aisles" were smaller. I felt I could safely bring out my camera for a couple shots. I just HAD to!
I wandered up and down the row, looking at everthing. It was pretty facinating, and the vendors were more than willing to show me various things, with very little of the usual pressure to buy. They were just interested in showing stuff to someone so obviously facinated. I was looking at this one vendor, at some of the antique stuff. This younger (28? 30?) man was showing me a few peices. Suddenly he beckoned. To the back room. I knew instantly what was going on. I had showed interest in the archaeological stuff, and he had some in the back. It´s illegal to sell or buy pre-colombian artifacts in South America, but that doesn´t stop the grave robbers. There´s always a buyer.
I thought for a second, and looked him in the eyes. He looked at me right back. I am a pretty good judge of character and I read honesty there. He was not going to rob me. I stepped behind the display and he motioned for me to sit on a stool facing him. And then he drew the curtain leaving us in semi-darkness. He brought out artifacts one by one or in small boxes. They lay jumbled, with no thought of damaging them or preserving their integrity. There was jewelery, whistles, trinkets of every kind. I recognized some things from the Moche and Sikan cultures. Both civilizations were pre-Incan.
We must have spent close to an hour back there, looking at various things. He introduced himself as Alex, and put on an "English" cd, the soundtrack to That 70s Show. It was surreal to be holding a 1000+ year old shawl pin and listening to Gloria Gaynor´s "I will survive". I knew I probably shouldn´t, but even as Wade Davis once wrote, if I didn´t buy it someone else probably would. I settled on three large beads, two with identical etchings. They were made of some sort of very heavy grey stone and had designs carved into them. I recognized the pattern. And surely, it is possible, as my Mom later said, that they were fakes. But the work required to carve such dense stone into that shape and then do the etchings... its not likely. Its much easier for them to rob graves, and thats what they do. There were three bronze pins, for lack of a better term, that I really wanted. They were flat as a peice of paper and each had the figure of a Moche person on them. They were about the size of the palm of your hand and blue-green with age. Alex said they were worn one on the front of each shoulder, and one in the middle of the chest. He didn´t look like the reading type, I was sure they were taken off of a dead body. Turning them over, bits of cream-coloured, loosely woven cloth still clung to them.
I eventually left with my beads and escaped the clutches of the market. I needed to go back to the hostal and pack, then find lunch.
Sorry, JUNIO, to do this again... but TO BE CONTINUED. I have a lot to write but it takes a long time!
to be continued