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The Markets of Mexico City



After a gasp-inducing ride through the back streets of Mexico City with a mad taxi driver named Gonzalo, who was trying to learn English and steer simultaneously, I needed to feel the ground beneath my feet.


Finally standing, I walked through the door and met all 20 million inhabitants of the city at once, most of them cursing the beggars or shouting greetings to their friends five kilometres away. This heaving mass of humanity that extended as far as I could see was my introduction to the street markets of Mexico City.


As a South African, I have seen street sellers. Hell, I considered myself a seasoned marketeer, having visited the Indian spice markets of Grey Street and braved the offal butchery in Warwick Triangle as part of a Saturday morning in Durban. I stalked off towards a small clearing in the crowd, and soon I had disappeared from sight.


The street markets of Mexico City are a whole separate world, full of joy and sadness and humour and pathos. After wandering past a desperate man selling inflatable Valentine’s Day roses (in April), I came upon a sideshow designed to entertain the children while parents sold or haggled. I was transfixed by the game they were playing, spinning each child round and whoever fell down last won. I see them in front of my eyes as I write this, small specks of humanity spinning crazily, giggling and screaming with their eyes squeezed shut and fingers grabbing at the air as they lost control.


As I inched my way past tiny ladies carrying large bags of sesame sticks and nameless fried items, I lurched into an old man offering to weigh me for one peso. I was trying to avoid the street sellers who kept pressing crystallised fruit on me, dripping in syrup as bees (an insect everyone was profoundly ignoring) buzzed crazily about their hands.


Covered by a gentle yet firm layer of grime, orange peels and spit become gummed onto your soles. Puddles of water and effluent rise up to suck you down if you are foolish enough to turn your eyes from the concrete upward, gazing at the girls for sale in doorways of gloomy and endless buildings. You can lift your feet up from the ground and be carried forward instead by sweaty forearms, necks and backs of the short, squat women who hustle past, charging through the thronging crowd fueled by the realities of small pockets and large families. Shouting, bargaining and complaining, they leave behind them a trail of grinning men and lost children. No matter, the children are picked up by the next mother in line and are returned somehow after being volubly cursed for their many sins.


The street markets of Mexico City are not for the faint of heart. They extend farther than you believe is possible, and I got lost in them for over three hours. They draw you in and you become part of the lives of those sellers who stare at you like you are not real. After a time in there, you will find your way back to your hostel and go straight to the bar for a drink. It is an experience I would not exchange for any other.

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