Why you should give the thieves market a miss

Imagine that you get robbed in Lima. Your beloved mobile phone / MP3 / laptop / whole backpack (delete as appropriate) has been stolen and you’re feeling bereft. What to do? Simple. Go down to the thieves market in Tacora, Lima and buy it back. One traveller had his camera nicked only to spot it there on a stall a few days later. He called over a police officer, demonstrating that it was indeed his camera, evident by the photos that were still on the memory card. The policeman shrugged. ‘If you want your camera back, you can buy it’, he said.

You shouldn’t go to Tacora’, said the guide at the Museo de la Inquisición when I asked for information on taxi prices. ‘Tacora es muy peligroso. You no go’. (Sound familiar?) Once we’d hailed a taxi, the driver raised an eyebrow. ‘Tacora? Si. S/.8. Tacora es muy peligroso’.

I felt a bit nervous. Why was I going? I was hoping to pick up a daypack on the cheap (having promised myself that if its rightful owner turned up at some point on the remainder of my travels, I would do the honourable thing and hand it back over), but my curiosity was also whetted and thus far, all warnings of danger had been pretty fruitless. I wasn’t looking to be mugged or to put myself in a dangerous situation, but so far my experience of Lima had been very Westernised and straight and… boring.

Lima’s scenery changed on the approach to Tacora. Well-pruned roadside plantings and clean streets made way for rubbish and beaten buildings. The place was heaving with buyers and sellers. There was not a gringo in sight. High, black metal gates surrounded the market area itself and once inside, stalls lined the street edges and spilled inside to a maze of traders.

Hunks of dead snake meat, snakeskins and ointments were for sale. A man paraded his dressed up monkey, entertaining the kids. A group gathered around a television screen showing chulas fighting. They cheered and laughed as the stocky women wrestled each other.

Throughout the market there was a mass of street food available (particularly choclo and churros) and bags of grain and vegetables were displayed out on the kerb. Household goods of all sorts – pots, pans and Tupperware – could be bought for a measly amount. There was clothing on sale, but none of the carefully crafted ware more commonly associated with the tourist markets.

Nearly everything appeared to be new, so where was the thieving evidence?

The most likely seemed to be the electronics, with many, many stalls selling slightly tired looking mobile phones and chargers.

So why give it a miss? Overall, it was nothing extraordinary. It was hectic, there were some dodgy characters lurking about, but for the most part, people were bargaining and buying for their day-to-day life. Tacora is known for being dangerous, for being rife with pickpockets. I was cautious and lucky. Sure, there was some police presence, but, if tales are to believe, the role and reliability of the police is at times questionable.

Essentially, it is a local market for local people, and being the only tourist there made me uncomfortable because it felt voyeuristic, which, to some extent, puts the whole travelling thing into question.

Yes, it was closer to the real Lima that I had expected to encounter. It was rough, busy and rundown. I’ve read about a few volunteer and church projects running in Tacora, indicating a need for support in the area. But me going there, what did it really do for people of the area? I probably just looked like a lost, loaded tourist and in a reverse situation, I might well think about robbing me.

I was glad to get a taxi out of there. I had bought nothing but a juice. Was it worth it? No. On so many levels.

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Filed under culture, museums, peru, south america

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