Monday, February 26, 2007

7. cafe con leche

The market that we found my last morning in Cusco was so many things.

It was like the markets I was taken to as a child, clutching my mothers hand and wandering through stalls of fish, vegetables and bright fruits some of which, to my enjoyment, I didn't recognize. One looked like a white tomato with purple streaks lightening bolting through it. When I picked one up, it felt like an apple. Green gourd like round things are next to the grapefruits and strange brown woody roots are in buckets on the ground. Around one corner a man was selling bicycle parts and next to him another stall filled with bright South American candy. The awnings over the stalls were so low but not too low for me or Jessie.

Small women sit on the ground and in wavering thin, tired voices ask us if we would like corn:

"Choclo? Choclo?"

We were trying to find an open travel agent at 7:30 am. In a panic, my brother had stumbled into our bedroom, his pants half on, urging me to go and take care of the business of my lost ticket. He was mostly asleep and so were we, so asleep that neither Jessie nor I had bothered to think about whether or not anything would be open this early.
Once awake and walking down the congested, polluted street of El Sol, in Cusco, we both realized that finding anything open, even somewhere to buy a cheap cup of Peruvian instant coffee that comes as a syrup you pour into your cup of hot water, was futile.

We thought we were finding the bus station where we had been the day before, but really when we turned into the doorway made by two sheets of corrugated steel, we discovered the market full of all these magical things. Partially covered by plastic and tarpaulin, partially out in the open, and partially tucked neatly into the side of a building, it was bustling at 7:30.

At one point, we turned a corner and crossed out of the tarpaulin covered part, across a sort of division and inside a giant white room, full of animal carcasses and women making fruit smoothies. On the way in, we passed a Quechua woman handing out bowls of sopa, clearly made by boiling the head of some kind of animal.
The white room had a pungent, salty smell that a little more than I could handle, but as we crossed through the room and to the next part of the market, the first stall outside was big beautiful flowers bursting out of their respective jars.

We started thinking about coffee and breakfast. After Jessie spoke to the bicycle man about buying some mud flaps for her bike, ones with something on them that I can't quite remember at the moment, and explaining to the man that she couldn't bring her bike to him, because it was in La Paz, we made an effort to find a place. Lots of little holes in the walls and funny little stands under the stall appeared to be serving something. A lot of them were empty though and we wanted a place with people.

The people were mostly Quechua, the women were wearing their wide, knee length skirts, brightly colored sweaters and fedora hats on top of jet black hair worn in two very tight braids down their backs. Quechua is the language that was spoken by the Inca, and is still spoken by at least 3,200,000 people in Peru, according to the 1993 census. The Inca were the high class warriors, diplomats and politicians. People today who still speak this language call themselves Quechua. It is apparently a much happier language than Spanish.

The market was lined at one end with a building that had an open side to it. This mouth opened up into the market and was divided in the back into little kitchens. Some were empty and some had busy women, cooking and serving.

We chose one and ordered two huevos con pan y cafe con leche for 1.50 soles each which is about 50 US cents. The bread (pan) everywhere, including at this market, came fresh and about the size of a cd. She fried up the egg and cut the bread in half, slipping the egg in between the two slices, handing it to you along with a small salt shaker. The cafe con leche, was made by pouring a little bit of coffee syrup in with a few spoonfuls of powdered milk and sugar and then adding hot water. While we ate, we watched her prepare the other customers meals. There was a strange lumpy soupy thick drink called ponche that was burnt cream colored and spent most of it's time before being served sitting in a boiling vat. A tiny girl with purple, sunburned cheeks sat next to me and had this drink, dipping her pan into it and chewing it slowly. A group of men sat and ordered it over and over again, also dipping their pan into it.

After this we got up and wandered through the market some more, before discovering the exit and feeling the need to get some real coffee.

1 comment:

jessiebikes said...

alice, you are such a good writer. i really like this entry about the market. you describe everything perfectly. i hope you feel better soon!