Cuzco’s public markets fascinate tourists, and none more so than the San Pedro market. Three blocks from the Plaza de Armas, the center of Cuzco’s life, and on the edge of a zone of buying and selling one finds in the market and surroundings supplies to meet most of the needs of Cuzco’s households.
It is next to the old Machu Picchu train station, from which trains used to zigzag their way out of Cuzco’s valley and across the street from an Orion supermarket. Though Cuzco will soon have a modern mall, bringing it firmly into the mainstream life of developed nations, its markets continue to fill with matrons and others seeking what they need, as well as tourists looking for things colorful and different from said modernity.
Many tourists who come to visit our beautiful city become enchanted not just by our many archeological sites, the heritage of our ancestors, but also by our markets. David has told us how in the united States people more and more look to farmer’s markets and craft fairs to buy their goods. Our markets continue strong.
One feels a magic in them, as part of Cuzco’s charm. They are filled with energy and life. Not only are they a sensation, however, in them are found natural products with no trademarks, everything very fresh, from all over Peru.
Walter and I recently made a round through the most popular markets of our city, Ttio, Wanchaq, Vino Canchón, and of course San Pedro. We saw that they seem always to have clients and vendors. In San Pedro you find a mixture of people from all over, not just Peru but much of the world. Sometimes they are selling crafts or other goods and other times just exploring among so many local people.
The San Pedro market is a filled treasure chest where you can find almost anything. Your first impression as you approach it, might be that of complete disorder and chaos. But then you go in and walk down the different rows. You see that only the stands where each vendor, casera, sits like a queen of her domain are well organized and separated by sections of different products. It is only in the outside where the itinerant street vendors rule that you find disorder.
The smells are so intense that even with your eyes closed you will know in which section you are.
When you enter one of its doors and walk down the aisles you might smell chocolates made from Cuzco’s own cacao, fresh wheat bread or corn bread, stems of fresh picked flowers, cheeses, beef, pork, lamb, or chicken. The frech and delicious fruit, such as passion fruit (maracuyá), papaya, bananas, grapes, pineapple, and oranges,among others, make your mouth water with desire from their sight and scent. They are very tempting when you walk through that section.
In a darker corridor hang innumerable skirts of bright colors for women. Working in their stalls, you can see seamstresses with their sewing machines, stitching and taking in various items of clothing.
In the next stands there is cloth, more dresses, men’s clothing, candles, hats, then weaving, shoes, sandals and woven beanie caps (chullos).
You can see, smell, and perceive all of this. But there is something else that throws down a challenge. In the market there are two sections that prepare and served cooked meals. There are all kinds of dishes, from soups to cebiches, rice and egg, meat, among many others. Then there is the section of juices. It is worth taking the challenge and giving in to the experience.
Mystical tourism, which draws people to this city filled with mysteries, attracts many visitors to the San Pedro market, since in it can be found al the products that a shaman needs. There is fresh incense also called palo santo (holy wood), cut into pieces. Some of it smokes in a corner to bring good vibrations and scare away bad spirits for the benefit of the business. The scent brings in tourists who many times come to make offerings to the Pachamama here in Cuzco.
Around the edges of the market you can see many itinerant vendors, what are called vendedores ambulantes, who sell a whole range of products. They always have a wary eye cast, looking out for the city cops, since they do not let them sell outside of the market even if it is a custom and they do.
San Pedro market’s colors shout out as if alive. Its sounds are sharp and precise. They are crystalline. There sound is granulated as women shout out to passers by to offer their fresh products. In the market everything is strong, strident, and pure. There is nothing soft or faded.