Going to market: the sights, sounds, and smells of an Andean marketplace

I don’t usually post creative writing pieces on this blog but I thought I’d put one up and see how I feel about mixing different types of travel-related content. The following piece is a fictional passage that evokes the experience of passing through a South American market:

The smell repulsed her. The acrid odour of freshly butchered meat filled the air, lingering heavily in the humid marketplace. Around her, people shoved past one another making their way through the seemingly impenetrable hoard of vendors, buyers, tourists, and women bearing impossibly heavy loads in the brightly coloured aguayos tied to their backs.

The butchers’ stalls fascinated her. She tried to see everything around her; she tried to examine each strange cut or delicacy that adorned the bloodstained tiles. It was too much. Her eyes could not keep up with all that there was to see. The dark reds, the unusual textures, the chatter that drowned out each slam of the cleaver. It was all too much. The river of people flowing through the aisle caught her in its current. It was too strong for her to resist. She clutched at her bag in a moment of paranoia and then, with some relief, allowed herself to be swept away.

As she turned the corner, with each step carrying her further and further from the counters of meat, the smell that had repulsed her only moments ago began to fade; the air was sweeter, the pungent smell of meat mingled with the warm scent given off by the piles of fruit that towered over the aisle she had been swept into. The cold light of the butchers’ quarters had disappeared, replaced by a warm glow that seemed to come from the fruits themselves. A mountain of immense watermelons stood precariously to her left. Pineapples, oranges, guanábana, chirimoya, guava; fruits she recognised were quickly overlooked in the rush of curiosity that pushed her towards all that was new and still to be discovered.

A disinterested woman sat on a low stool with a young child perched on her lap, wriggling and squirming in an attempt to free itself from the woman’s arms. Without raising her eyes the woman let out a perfunctory order that she knew would not be acknowledged by a single passer-by: “Pregunte nomás”. 

She stopped. The voice had penetrated her thoughts, and her gaze moved suddenly from the bright, warm fruits to the woman on the stool. Before she could turn around, the woman had leapt from her stool in pursuit of the young child whose attempt at escape had been successful. Once more, the crowd pulled her along, away from the fruits, away from the woman, and in search of another unknown sight, sound, smell, that might await at the next bend.

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