Open Your Markets and I'll Run Through Your Hills


Lima is beginning to fall within grasp of understanding. Most of the week, I have a practical and stable  life that revolves around the university and nearby San Miguel district where I live, but I've been branching out more, even beyond nocturnal pursuits. On Thursday, I bussed out to meet the canned tuna brand rep from Mistura at their warehouse in the industrial and worker neighbourhoods of the city centre. Sadly, once there, he feigned not remembering that he had offered me a trip to Ecuador to check out their packing operations, so no more upcoming developments there!

My friend Boris however did not disappoint. He is in the same Environmental Development program as me and in parallel follows a part-time teaching course. He manoeuvres with ease around socioeconomic, cultural, political and biological conversation matters and rapidly encounters the philosophical side of any topic. He also thoroughly enjoys discovering his city on foot. Boris reminds me of why I study geography. A few weeks back, he told me about an emerging hillside area in the northeast of Lima where the city's fog accumulates densest and where he thought it could be interesting to install condensation tarps to foster urban gardening projects. I asked him to take me along on his next visit and thus got to explore Lima's outer neighbourhoods and markets with him this past Saturday. Great!


Early in the morning, I took a 40min bus from mine to meet him in Lima's central square, Plaza Mayor (a.k.a Plaza de las Armas), grabbing a cup of emoliente and a cup of brewed maca with milk on the way. The first with an avocado sandwich, the second with a sandwich of spinach omelette. From there, we walked a few blocks to the Metropolitano, Lima's public transit bus line, catching it north across the Rímac River to Caquetá Market. I am sorry to admit that after a month and a half here, this was only my first visit to a wholesale market in Peru.

We wandered through stall after stall of produce and meat vendors. Some offered wide product selection, others focused on a small selection of niche items to sell in large volumes such as pineapples, avocados and bananas, whilst a few sold necessary accompaniments such as peeled potatoes, fresh sauces and kitchen and restaurant implements. I love bustling, crowded, earth-smelling Latin American markets and the mix of human elements they attract. The persistent patrolling four layers of private, district, city and national security forces here and the petty crime risk they suggest only made it more interesting to analyse. To our mutual benefit, Boris coached out my photography reflexes early on, patiently willing to discuss the best approaches to taking peoples' pictures amongst the crowds. Sometimes it takes me a while to get going.


From Caquetá, we hopped back on the Metropolitano and took it to the northern end of the line. There we caught a microbus (a large van with row benches) up through the fog to Collique, one of Lima's many growing outer neighbourhoods being built right up into the hills by the continuous influx of new urban immigrants. As you go up through the neighbourhood's sequential stages (etapas), you also follow a somewhat correlated inverse economic development curve, where the higher you are, the more recent the inhabitants and thus least costly or permanent housing arrangements are. Walls everywhere still bare the painted names and slogans of the July race for presidency between Keiko Fujimori and Ollanta Humala (Ollanta won). The first bus left us at the 6th stage where we took a second bus to the 7th and finally a mototaxi (basically a rickshaw) to the final limits and newest parts of Collique in the deep 8th.

Boris had told me earlier that he speculated that a connection could easily be made from Collique to San Juan de Lurigancho, Lima's largest district which normally stands disconnected from Collique by at least a solid hour of transit in the best of traffic conditions, both lying on opposite sides of a long ridge that runs from the mountains in the northern limits practically down to the city centre. With an interest to see where the road led and admire the verdant carpets of fog vegetation from higher up (it all turns into a barren lunar landscape in summer when the fog lifts), we continued straight.


And so we made it to San Juan de Lurigancho after only an hour and a half of walking! It was our luck that the sun also came out just as we reached pavement again in Mariategui neighbourhood. Emerging further down the valley on the San Juan side, the houses appeared much more permanent with a palpably established and Sunday-relaxed community life. Nevertheless, the majority of these fringe residential "developments" happen with practically no formality and many lack access to a shared water tank (much less municipal water pipes) or sewer or waste removal services, though electricity and even telephone lines quickly spread with each new household.

Boris and I then took another bus to the Cantogrande neighbourhood of the district to see another giant market. The market matched its lower-income surroundings with smaller stalls and more basic infrastructure. Fruit vendors and fishmongers rubbed shoulders with DVD and clothing sellers over lines of foldable tables connecting islands of entrepreneurial activity of varied permanence across the giant site. We finished our stop in Cantogrande with lunch: a first dish of ocopa, potato with a thick herbaceous cream sauce, and a second dish of stewed chicken with yuca (a starchy, chewy, fibrous large tuber) and rice, accompanied by a juice made with maracuya, a relative of the passion fruit.

With the day's walk starting to feel long, we made our way back to the centre with another microbus ride, stopped for a sweet along the Rímac in Chabuca Granda Park, strolled back through the Plaza Mayor and then each caught our respective busses from Tacna Avenue. Boris needed to be back home on time to catch Alianza Lima play at six. What a day!


I leave you with an experiment. I made a flyby of the day's route in Google Earth and then captured it in Quicktime (let me know if you have any ideas of how to eliminate the rendering choppiness caused by the CPU strain of the capture). I recommend that you follow it with the piece of Chicha music below (a classic from Chacalón I found out!). In simplified words, chicha describes the multi-faceted urban culture blasting out from Lima's newly inhabited neighbourhoods and their predominantly Andean roots. I am only just starting to identify what it is but I've appreciated chicha's distinct colourful signs since I arrived (see my first post from Lima). Long-time limeños seem to shun it as something from that part of town. You're now briefed to recognize it in photographs to come. On another note, spring is practically here bringing more frequent sun and warm weather. Hues will change. ¡Saludos!