La Parada and La Molina Market (Mercado) experiences – a story of stark contrasts

Thanks to where we live, we are able to visit many markets or mercados, both small and large.  These are not organic farmers markets nor do they only have food items for sale. They sell everything from kitchen utensils to hardware to fresh food (meats of all kinds and of all body parts, fruits, vegetables, legumes, cheeses, etc…) to children’s clothing and everything in between. And each market does seem to have a different ambiance.  Some seem more chaotic, some more low key.  As you can imagine I prefer the latter and am glad that one of the closest ones to us is this way, el Mercado La Libertad, in the district of San Luis surrounded by mixed residential housing – houses and apartments, with mainly pedestrian walkways so minimal car traffic, and lots of families, and of course some stray dogs & cats – at least I think they are stray, although many have dogs for pets.  There are also places to grab a bite to eat everything from the ceviche to other typical Peruvian lunch food – i.e. lots of variations of chicken.

A tangent – I have yet to see a neutered dog – all of them still have their balls despite efforts of the municipality of Lima to offer super cheap spay/neutering clinics in various locations in the city on the weekend. The machismo culture obviously crosses into the pet/animal population.  Shame.

I would have to say that the items for sale are essentially the same at each market.  They are in effect retailers who go to the large mercados, what we would call the wholesaler, and here they call la mayorista.  The difference here is that anyone can go to the wholesale markets, or at least at almost all of the wholesale markets except one, a new one as of 2014.  From one of my colleagues, he says that 80% of the food is coming from Peru, the other 20% from other Latin American countries.

A few weeks ago I came home to an excited Ross who had been on his latest excursion into the city, every day usually venturing further afield to new places.  About a 15-20 minute walk from us he stumbled upon the biggest market he had ever seen…. it just went on and on to where one could get lost in the maze of laneways and corridors of stalls, both outdoors and indoors.  Here he discovered folks selling charcoal and various homemade equipment to burn the coal; people peeling kilos and kilos of garlic so much so that his eyes began to sting when he started to smell it; umpteen varieties of potatoes; cages filled with live animals.  At one point, he sensed a change in ambience and felt he was entering unfriendly territory so he about faced and came home.  He has since returned several times to this place, exploring it further.

A few weekends ago was my first venture to the market called La Parada. The experience was overwhelming to put it bluntly.  La Parada is located in the district of La Victoria – one of the poorest districts, many living up the sides of the low hills/mountains in precarious buildings with dirt roads, no household water supply (I could be wrong about this), but they do have electricity, not sure about the sewage system.

For those of you who can speak Spanish, I wrote the following for my spanish homework – for those who can’t skip to the next English section.

Conto mi visita a dos mercados en mi fin de semana pasado

Yo visite por la primera vez el mercado La Parada el fin de semana anterior.  Que experiencia.  Ross visito muchas veces esta mercado en las semanas pasadas.

Caminamos de nuestra departamento, a lo largo de Av. De Aviacion, un recorrido de quince minutos aproximo. Primero, entramos la calle Gamarra donde se puede encontrar muchas tiendas de ropas y de textiles.  Ross compro una camiseta manga larga, y busco unos pantalones cortos. Yo busque textiles para utilizar como cortina para nuestro dormitorio, pero no encontré nada porque las tiendas estaban cerradas.

Despues, continuamos a caminar al mercado Parada.  Yo estuve abrumada con los sonidos, los olores que en mi opinión eran mui desagradables.  A causa de esto, sali del mercado por diez minutos.  Despues regrese en la calle, con Ross, y estuve paseando por los puestos del mercado. La variedad de papas fui increíble.  Tome fotos de los tipos de papas. Ayer a mi trabajo, yo mire y mostre los fotos a mi colega. Abel me dijo que hay solamente una variedad de papas nativas en el foto y me explico que significa nativas. Vi también un gran cuantidad de ajo y jengibre.  Compre algunas diferentes tipos de aji pero no sabia que variedades.

Finalemente fui testigo de las situaciones muchos perros y gatos ferrales. No me gusto esto en absoluto.

En mis estudios al internet sobre la historia del mercado Parada, ese mercado se traslado a otro lugar, y se llamado el mercado Santa Anita.  Fueron conflictos y violencia entre los vendedores y el gobierno de la municipalidad de Lima y la policía.  No entiende por que esto mercado todavía existe. 


Back to English

We first entered a street called Gamarra which as it turns out is the textile centre in Lima.  I had read about this place prior to coming here.  An English language Peruvian online newspaper explained that there was a bit of a renaissance or the beginnings of a textile design industry with new fashion designers making a name for themselves.  I gather that with the cheap Chinese clothes and similar coming into Peru, the native textile industry took a big hit.  Similar to Peru being the current culinary capital of Latin America, Lima is the centre of a fashion textile trade.  there is a burgeoning market for folks who are seeking baby llama wool dyed in every colour imaginable clothing.  Can you imagine the colourful clothing you see amongst the native peoples.  On that note, again the fountain of knowledge guy at work, Abel, recounted to me that the colourful clothing/costumes that we see the people of the Andes, some of the Indigenous Peoples in this case the Quechuan People, wear with the particular style of hat are not really historically indigenous, with the exception being some peoples from the Cusco region.  Rather this clothing was introduced or should I say imposed upon them by the Spanish colonizers.  How’s that for deception of the tourists, the wool being pulled over one’s eyes seems a propos here, in this case the llama’s wool. Alas it was a Sunday and so the textile shops were closed.  Have to come back another day to buy material for a curtain. Anyway I digress…

We continued onto la Parada, emphasis on the 1st syllable. On this very hot midday day (we usually try to head out in the morning for ventures out of the house, but even at 8 or 9 a.m. it can be almost unbearably hot), the crowds of people weren’t that bad yet.  However this place was probably the filthiest I have seen in the city, in a city where there are lots of I think municipal workers sweeping up the streets, more such workers in the wealthier neighbourhoods of course.  As a Canadian I can’t help but notice garbage.  So okay garbage is not really a big deal in some respects but the smell – oh god the smell was bad.  The stench was what got to me.  Due to most likely hormonal changes, my sense of smell has become quite acute at times over these past few years which has its pros and cons.  This day it was not my good friend.  I literally had to pinch my nose. And I had to get out of there.  I just couldn’t tolerate it. After only a few minutes, I almost ran out of the area, walking down some wide side streets trying to get away from the smell with limited success.  Of course much of the stench is as a result of the garbage being food waste combined with the heat.

Recycling is unheard of for the most part in this city only taking place again in some of the wealthier neighbourhoods. Of the recycling that is done, as in any good developing country, it is done usually by men (have yet to see a woman do this) with their carts & bicycles, scavenging around for salvageable materials – metal, cardboard, plastic bottles – to sell we do not know where.  Composting is also unheard of for the most part.  As in Canada where we have one and two generations of family who did not grow gardens and compost, the skillsets associated with gardening & composting have been lost.  One of the new networking organizations promoting urban agriculture in the city has actually offered composting workshops.

After I recuperated, Ross took me to another section of the market which was alongside the major road thus not indoors.  Here we found mounds and mounds of different potatoes, huge quantities of garlic, ginger, peppers, limes, etc… Clearly they were selling at wholesale prices to whomever wanted to buy.  We/I never felt afraid which was a relief, having been told we it was not safe to go there.  We did only take our camera out for a few photos, knowing we did need to be mindful of our surroundings.  But as Abel says with Ross’ height and stature, we are safe.  Folks are pleasant towards us.

After visiting this market, when I was back at work, I googled the place to find out what was its history.  The municipality of Lima had plans to move this market to a new location for decades but successive mayors failed to get this off the ground.  Eventually another location was found, the necessary infrastructure built, contracts were signed between thousands of the vendors and the city and a date was chosen for the move, all of this still taking years to coordinate.  Well as usual things didn’t go according to plan.  Many didn’t want to move.  For one thing the new market would only allow permitted buyers – those who would buy wholesale, so this cut out many smaller vendors.  In effect the move was going to shutdown a lot of smaller operators as they could not afford the fees to be in the new market, they could not supply the required volume, the new place was very inconvenient in terms of location and transportation needs.  As usual let’s screw the small guys.

From one blog:

“Around the big businesses with their wealthy merchants, an extensive network of exchanges involving many people and families is woven. These people live near La Parada and have formed their various ways of life around it. In that galaxy of constellations of economic interests, we have small merchants, street peddlers, receivers, stevedores, laborers, watchmen and…thieves, muggers, pimps, drug and cheap alcohol dealers, etc. The rich can accept moving to Santa Anita, but the poor and the marginalized cannot.” 

‘“Poor people, who can no longer access the market, because the minimum purchase amount is S/.2000 (USD$800) per product, where do they go?, to a middleman, and the prices increase.”  [Comment from La Republica’

“They will penalize the merchant that sells at retail price, by kilos, per unit, like products are currently sold to any person at La Parada. The New Market in Santa Anita is only for EMMSA accredited buyers, or rather, for “housewives” and their extra wide purses.”

Below I have included some urls to websites in English and Spanish, often news sites but also some blogs (Christian missionaries – that is a story for another blog) which recount some of the violence that occurred when the city tried to shut down the old La Parada market.  Note the bias from the news sources – clearly not in favour of the vendors.  Albeit it is true that there are criminal gangs in this mercado, what portion this is of the business is unknown and probably smaller than the media or politicians make it out to be.  There most likely is some protection money that is paid. However, most folks are just trying to make an honest living.  People were killed, many police officers injured, and one police horse that had to be put down.  Argh!!  It is not clear to me who were the protestors – vendors and/or gang members.

I was not able to find an explanation for is how is it that the market still exists and appears to be just as big as it was previously. There is news gap between 2014 to now. Yes the Santa Anita market is up and running and doing well supposedly – probably because of the supermercados of the past ten years.

Ross absolutely loved this place since he felt it was truly a market without government regulation and control.  I would agree but I also see some unpleasant sides to it.

Another very different market experience for us occurred this past weekend.  I finally went to visit one of the bioferias, the 2nd one that was set up by the key guy at the organization I work at, Fernando Alvarado.  It was located in a district called La Molina, where the agrarian university is located.  After a journey of one bus and lots of waking, asking people where was the market but few really knowing which market we were talking about, having to retrace the way of the bus since we ended up not getting off in time, realizing later we were to have taken 2 buses, we finally got there.  It was located in a very pleasant urban park with lots of shade from the trees. The market celebrated that day acquiring a roof; we of course missed the celebration since we were an hour late.  On the other side of the road there was what looked like a huge mountain pile of rock and sand/dirt but was actually simply what they call here a cero, a naturally occurring mountain of desert.  Insane as it may be, people not just people who are poor, build into these mountains hoping for the best.  They do build some stone retaining walls but if/when there is an earthquake nothing will stop the rock debris from tumbling down and destroying everything in its path.  And then they rebuild of course. They do attempt to plant trees & bushes but this can only go so far, and much vegetation dies because guess what we are in a desert.

While Ross recuperated from the heat of the walk, I went about doing the veggie grocery shopping.  As I had been told the prices were not exorbitant, rather they were completely reasonable.  I couldn’t believe it. I also was struck by the fact that in Canada I have yet to come across farmers markets which are strictly only organic, as was this La Molina.  It was great.  I finally purchased some of the very common quinoa learning about the various types of this ancient grain, the types being used for different cooking purposes.  There was also cheese to be had – delicious although I am still searching for a much stronger tasting local cheese.  And you could buy fresh cow or goat milk and fresh yogurt (all the milk here in the grocery stores is UHT milk which definitely tastes better than I had in my teens).  There was of course coffee (another colleague, Antoineta Manrique, a consultant at RAE, is a representative for a women’s only coffee cooperative called Cafe Feminino providing samples and then beans for purchase,, cocoa & chocolate (at very reasonable prices compared to the tourist trap of the Choco museum), other grains, organic popsicles made from organic fruit, savory and sweet baked goods, quinoa burgers, some artisanal vendors, honey, olives and olive oil, and a water filtration company.  It was a lovely place and experience.

I was of course looking at the market not just as a consumer but as a sociologist because this is one of the markets I will be studying or rather supporting in my work.  The neighbourhood of La Molina has new and old sections, but essentially is middle class, unlike La Parada. It probably helps that there is a large university in the area. It is far less congested, feeling more peaceful but there is still car and bus traffic just traveling at a faster speed.  The clientele was far more white, with many more people not having dark hair, but more men with baldness (there is very little baldness or greyness amongst the Peruvian men – they got that one on the white man). I was also interested in the way the vendors presented themselves but I will discuss this another time.

In conclusion, it is interesting to contemplate how markets have been key ways that humans have interacted.  I am glad that farmers markets have been resurrected in North America.  We need them.  As they say put your money where your mouth is. a missionary’s blog

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