Tag Archives: markets

When in doubt, check Papeete out (again)

Papeete from a nicer angle (*not my pic*)

Papeete from a nicer angle (*not my pic*)

After weeks at sea living in a bubble of near isolation, away from crowds and concrete and all things developed, my first impressions of Papeete – the capital city of Tahiti – weren’t positive. In fact, I’d made some harsh judgements and whilst those observations were true, they were undoubtedly subjective and they definitely weren’t the whole truth.

Further exploration of Papeete helped me to warm to the small city. How can you look negatively on a place that seems to thrive on activity, from full boats of early evening rowers to friends speed walking the waterside pathways; a town where women really do wear colourful dresses and flowers in their hair, and where markets provide a visual feast of trinkets and food accompanied by the smell of fresh pineapples?


Market time

Favourite moments included my extended trip to the famous Mana’o Tattoo Studio where tattooist Matt talked me out of getting freshly inked (‘What you want is too small’, he said, ‘I think you can find someone who will tattoo you but it won’t look good that small’) and made me laugh with his finger moustache tat. His honesty and chat were a winner, and the various artists’ portfolios of beautiful tribal designs made me all the more keen to book an appointment. Maybe I could get a stingray, instead of what I’d initially planned? Or a turtle? Where on my body would I get the tattoo? How big?

Should I go for something similar?

Should I go for something similar? (photo from www.manaotattoo.com)

I didn’t, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the place. (Or to go back myself, should I ever happen to be sailing by Tahiti again!)

But the highlight of Papeete? Food related. Always a winner.

After the dinnertime rush at 'the trucks'

After the dinnertime rush at ‘the trucks’

Cooking up a street food feast

Cooking up a street food feast

Known as ‘the trucks’, this one-stop food haven is an easy walk from the centre. With all sorts of foods served out of the back of vans and a selection of traders that changes daily, this waterside place is the place to eat great street food at prices that are competitive and absolutely worth it.

Both the island road trip and further delving into the sights and sounds of Papeete itself absolutely helped me to understand its appeal. Maybe it took a bit longer to see the positives because I was having to readjust to civilisation again?

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Filed under cities, culture, food & drink, pacific, tahiti

Weird wonders at the Witches’ Market


Occupying a small section on the corner of Santa Cruz and Linares is El Mercado de las Brujas– The Witches’ Market – a market for all things herbal, natural and superstitious. Do you have your shopping list to hand? Might it include tea for a bad belly? They’ve got it here. Llama foetus for a ritual offering? Tick. San Pedro cactus or ready to take powder? Time to get seriously spaced out.

Intrigued but slightly unsettled, I had a peek around a few shops and stalls. On seeing the llama foetuses I asked the shop owner how they were used.


Llama foetuses


For offerings’, she said, ‘to Pacha Mama’. ‘How?’ I asked. ‘Do they burn them?’ ‘Yes, they burn them during ceremonies’, she told me. Later I heard that the llama foetuses are also buried in the foundations of a new house to protect the inhabitants from evil spirits. I’ve no idea which account is correct. Maybe both.


San Pedro

Strangeness aside, La Paz is said to be a great place to stock up on clothing and gifts before moving on or heading home. Bargaining isn’t always easy but when bulk buying in a shop, owners may swing you a deal.

Close to the Witches’ Market are a host of music retailers. In between places selling inferior quality instruments (such as travel guitars for 300Bs.) are some more legit dealers whose prices are pretty much double.

Still further along Linares is the more expected artisanal market where colour spurts out onto the street in the form of blankets and throws, cushion covers, woollen dresses, hats, scarves and obligatory gringo jumpers. Here I stocked up on presents and warm knits and then posted some of this Bolivian love on to my family. Around this area are also tailors who will stitch you together an outfit for a reasonable price (such as custom rain trousers for 80Bs.).


Linares markets, La Paz


Linares markets, La Paz

Close by and in the other direction – a little off Jimenez and on a constant incline – is the ‘American’ market, the place to buy your more everyday clothes and shoes.


The American Market


Shoes at the American Market

Trainers cost around the 220Bs. (£20.27 / US$31.60) mark, jeans 100Bs. (£9.21 / US$14.37 and rucksacks between 90Bs. (£8.98 / US$12.93) and 180Bs. (£16.59 / US$25.86) . I found bargaining here near on impossible but still managed to snap up a nice pair of Converse All Stars (having only just avoided the cheaper All Stan alternatives). I knew I would be heading back to Australia where shoes and clothing cost a small fortune so buying in some basics was a sensible move, even if it meant that my prided little backpack now started to spill over into another bag.


Filed under bolivia, culture, health, south america

Sucre markets make me happy


Fruit and veg at the Mercado Central, Sucre

Dinosaurs and karaoke aside, Sucre has a more worthy sight worth visiting: the central market. Over and over I lost myself in a wander through mazes of stalls, feasting my eyes on colourful stacks of fruit and vegetables, cakes and candies, spices and sauces.

I chatted to a couple of Dutch travellers who said that back home they rarely go to the market but here in South America they can’t stay away, and I thought, yep, it’s the same for me. So what’s that all about?

The alternative to the markets are the supermarkets, of which there are two close to the centre of town. Compared to European standards, these supermarkets are teeny and they are fairly well hidden and under populated. The one time that I visited the ‘big’ one I was surprised to find a somewhat under stocked ghost shop. A total contrast to the usual supermarket experience.

The rich people shop in the supermarket’, my Spanish teacher told me, ‘they don’t tend to buy at the actual market.’ ‘But the food is so good there’, I argued. I didn’t get it.

Realistically, though, I did get it: it is about convenience and excuses.

Back in my old existence, life was full. Independent sellers had closed by the time I wound up working for the day. Fruit and veg, meat and fish, all the things that are better fresh from a proper, local source, I bought these in the supermarket on my way home. Weekends would have been the time to go to the markets and to visit these specialist shops but those two precious days off? – I couldn’t bear to give them – or a single moment of them – over to shopping. So it was a choice. Possibly, a pretty bad choice.

Because since travelling in South America, I have discovered the joys of the markets: the bustle, the colour, the fusion of smells, the scurry of crowds, the sale songs. Hacked up animal parts and snouts might not do much for me, but the fresh fruit juices and simple, cheap meals quickly became favourites of mine.


One of many entrances to Mercado Central



Behind the scenes


Best place to stock up on veggies


Chamomile and aloe vera amongt other things at Mercado Central, Sucre


Cow snout and tongue, anyone?

It became a habit, then, that each time I arrived into a new town I had to go check out the main market. And quickly.

After my friend Max introduced me to buñelos, trojori and api, I made it a habit to breakfast upstairs in the market during my three week stay in Sucre, building rapport with the vendor and introducing other backpackers to the magic and busyness of the local way to start the day.

I quickly discovered that I preferred to drink trojori (or api blanco) over api morado, it’s thick, sweet, yellow warmth with chunks of softened corn giving me energy for the day. I heard that trojori is loaded full of nutrients and is often given to breastfeeding infants when their mothers can’t produce enough milk. Having been through the mill with continuous illness where my diet consisted predominantly of antibiotics, it felt good to give my body something wholesome and rich and warming.

And buñelos! Ah! What can I say? An indulgent doughnut style pastry over which you could choose to either sprinkle icing sugar powder or drizzle syrup. Granted, a little greasy and not particularly healthy but everyone, from businessmen having a quick bite before work to street children looking for a hand out, joined in the enjoyment of these treats.

Overall, a cheap, rich breakfast that is probably far too high in sugar and fat, but it definitely helps start the day nicely in such a chilly climate. Expect to pay 1Bs. (£0.09/US$0.14) for two buñelos, or together with a trojori or mixto drink Bs.3.50 (£0.32/US$0.50).

So… if you’re ever over South America way, don’t get scared off by the worry of chaos and hygiene in the marketplace. Instead, wind your way through the colourful stalls, sit yourself down in amongst locals and order up a home-cooked dish. You may well not know what you’re actually eating but that’s all part of the fun, right?!


Filed under bolivia, culture, food & drink, south america

How much is that doggy in the cramped pen?

It’s Saturday and I’m standing with my backpack perched on a wall assessing the end of a busy market day in Riobamba. The bus from Baños has dropped me off and I’m trying to figure out which way to go from here. I’m also quite content watching, taking in the scene. The ground is strewn with food remnants and waste and plastic spoons from on-the-go dining. Strong, young and upright men help their elders load up trucks with unsold goods – tools, packaged food, sandals, and crafts. A man wanders by trying to sell the last of his toilet roll bulks for $1. Most people are packing up but the animal traders are holding out for that last minute, tired and emotionally driven purchase.

It’s a controversial issue but coming from a country where pets are treated as part of the family and where pet insurance is becoming standard and where animal rights are so much more respected, it can feel uncomfortable to see cramped metal enclosures holding in hoards of animals and birds.


A young teenager in a bright red shirt that reads ‘Hombre’ is trying to persuade his mum to buy a puppy. The trader reaches in and grabs out a white, fluffy ball. The boy hugs it in close, holds it out at arm’s length, turns it around to inspect it and then drops it back in with its siblings. The trader refuses to lose the sale and lifts out another, this time a short haired brown pup with big chocolate eyes. The boy goes through the same process, conferring with his mum, but it’s the same outcome: back into the pen. But… he can’t forget the white fluff ball and back out she comes and it could be love, this teen on the brink of machismo and this innocent little animal. They leave together.

And stupid me. I forget to ask how much a doggy in a cramped pen goes for, so the purpose of this post can’t be fulfilled. Oops.

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Filed under culture, ecuador, south america