One thing we looked forward to in Colombia was the food.
We love Caribbean spice and tropical fruits and both are big influences in Colombian cuisine. Reading about Colombian food had us expecting a certain availability of fresh local produce and proteins. When we arrived in Colombia we did find small vendors set up here and there selling lovely local fruits and vegetables. There were others selling fried deliciousness like empanadas, arepas and patacones. If you know where to look you can find butchers and bakers that offer local products. All of the vendors and businesses sell their offerings for a fraction of what we pay in Canada. The challenge was finding all of these great local things in one place.
Before we arrived in Colombia I had envisioned a sprawling open air market, offering local fresh fish, meat and seemingly endless variety of fruit and vegetables. This market would be well known, frequented by locals for years making it very easy to find. To our dismay, when we first arrived, the market that was easy to find was a grocery store like back in Canada. But then we heard the local kind of market we wanted to shop did exist. So when we had the chance to go with a friend here in Barranquilla we jumped at the chance. When we arrived at the Barranquilla open air market, we found all of things we were expecting and a lot more we weren’t.
The Open Air market Barranquilla.
The market downtown is comprised of a myriad of shantytown looking vendor stalls thrown together and filled, some floor to rickety roof, with everything you’d expect to find and then some. We saw vendors selling fruit, vegetables, shoes, clothes, meat, fish, flowers, toiletries, cleaning supplies, baked goods, fried local specialties, spices, teas, hair cuts and foot ball paraphernalia. I am sure there are more goods available there we just didn’t get to see the entire market. The calamity of businesses stretch for miles, from the river to the Paseo Bolivar. The mayhem of the massive market ensues 7 days a week.
Our friend Will offered to go with us because he spoke Spanish and we don’t. He’s a fellow travel blogger from Canada and his blog, Barranquilla Living,is a resource for anyone thinking of visiting Barranquilla. Will had visited the market before so he knew his way around a bit. Nothing that we had read or heard about this market prepared us for the sheer magnitude of sights and smells that inhabited the huge array of goods. At one point as we wandered the labyrinth of pathways through the market,
Will turned to me and said ” It’s really raw isn’t it?”
He wasn’t referring to the array of butchered animal parts we had just weaved our way through. The carving of the animals happens right there. Butchers walked around in their blood streaked aprons laying out meat parts for sale. looking just beyond the edge of the market huge vultures can be seen waiting to scavenge whatever parts won’t be sold at the market.
The whole atmosphere at the Barranquilla open air market is raw, stripped down. There are no quality controls here, or air conditioning or any kind of refrigeration really. It is big business, deliveries moved in and out in large quantity, stock of fruit and meat go out and are replenished regularly.
We felt a little unnerved by the sights and smells the first time we visited the market. So much so I feel we relied too much on our guide Will, following him so closely that we didn’t really see or feel as much of the market as we had wanted to. We did manage to shop though. We spent $5.42 Canadian on a half pound of hibiscus tea, a human head sized pineapple, a guava, 2 softball sized avocados, 1 big piece of ginger and a small fruit that looked like a kiwi but tasted like cake. All of which would have cost around $30 at home in Calgary. When we arrived home after that visit I already knew we would go back to explore more and really experience all it had to offer.
A week later we did go back, this time without a guide, just us on our own and I am so glad we did. It was earlier in the morning so there were fewer shoppers and it wasn’t as hot. We went back with the intention to see lots and get lots of good photos. As we approached the largest cluster of business we were admonished to put away our camera by one of the vendors. We couldn’t fully understand her meaning but the expression on her face was pretty serious so we found a way to camouflage the camera to get a few shots.
Her warning gave us all a heightened sense of awareness which always helps us see so much more in a place. Being more conscious of our surroundings definitely helped me see more. What struck me most about this visit was not how the meat was cut and displayed, the unfamiliar smells and sights or how wild the layout was, it was the sense of community.
What came to the forefront this time was that a real community existed there.
The people in the market are what stood out the most. It had the same energy and life as any thriving city. There were barbers and throw together lunch cafes, florists, butchers, bakers, tailors all places where people gathered. It was how they came together to enjoy lunch or tell stories in front of their business that stood out, laughter and spirited chatter could be heard throughout the network.
The open air market Barranquilla isn’t what you would call a tourist draw. That is what I think that vendor at the beginning was trying to warn us about. It’s not a typical tourist trap but more a cultural experience. The market downtown Barranquilla is like a look into the heart of Barranquilla and maybe even Colombia. We love visiting special places like this when we travel.
What kind of places do you like to visit when traveling, tourist draws or cultural experiences? Do you have any tips or tricks for getting to know a destination?