R has got this thing for markets. Don’t get me wrong; I like to shop as much as any other girl, but R has got some kind of radar for this stuff. Our apartment in NYC was full of beautiful tapestries, pottery, and art from markets all over the world, shopped for and schlepped home by R (sometimes I helped). So, naturally, we found ourselves at the enormous Tlacolula market, about an hour outside of Oaxaca City. There are so many markets around Oaxaca that the Lonely Planet has a weekly schedule of market days for miles around. Tlacolula, while big, is not the biggest market- that honor goes to the chaotic and labyrinth-like Abastos market in downtown Oaxaca city- but it is incredibly clean and calm for a market of its size.
There are stalls with row upon row of chickens positioned just like this- better for the inspecting, I guess
Markets like these often draw tourists, but the wares on sale are firmly for practical use. You’ll find row upon row of vendors selling plastic bags, kitchen appliances, second-hand American t-shirts, and all kinds of hardware. In the food section, you can find anything from locally made chocolate to fresh, brightly colored fruit to live chickens. There is usually a small artisan section that features crafts from the surrounding area. Here, you’ll find hand-woven fabrics, leather goods that still smell like the cows they came from, and pottery in the color and design of the local preference. Tourists often bring home things like chirmoleras (a mortar and pestle) or some handmade leather sandals, but these kinds of local crafts are also widely used by the locals- they just buy them at a more reasonable price.
Woman selling vegetables. Don’t let the smiles fool you-these women are sharks when it comes to bargaining
Vendor at the Tlacolula Market
The best thing about markets, though, is the people watching and the ‘slice of life’ element. Seeing an old woman in traditional dress argue over a half a peso off the price of tomatoes or little kids playing under the table while their parents do business above it is pretty priceless. You have more of an opportunity to see how people interact, what they eat, how they dress, and what local prices actually are than you ever would just sticking to the tourist areas.
People of all ages come to the market in traditional dress
It is not uncommon to see multi-tasking Mayan women selling their goods and handling their children at the same time
But be advised to wear close-toed shoes and guard your pockets. For all the charm and realism of a market, stepping in chicken guts and fending off overbearing salespeople goes with the territory. Tourists are commonly warned against going to particular markets and, if they decide to go, are told that they should expect to be robbed and that there is really nothing to see there. Like any event that draws a lot of people (concerts, fairs, sports matches, etc), the unsavory come out along with the rest of us. But normally, common sense is all you need to avoid a bad situation and a little enthusiasm pretty much guarantees you’ll have a good time. And so we did. I picked up a handbag, we ate some decent barbacoa tacos, and R got some pretty stellar photos.
A woman in traditional dress
Tarps create a patchwork sky above the market. Afternoon rains here are ferocious and consistent
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