PALOQUEMAO MARKET: A SURPRISE IN THE MIDDLE OF BOGOTA
Everybody sitted at the table turned around and stared at me with their eyes open as dishes! I haven´t been the center of the conversation at a special dinner with my husbands´ working colleagues until that moment. Most of them were locals from Colombia and had I just met them. When they asked me which places I was planning to visit in Bogota and I answered “Paloquemao Market”, I must confess I caused a bit of an unattractive surprise, which of course, wasn´t my intention at all. I have to thank them their concern and all the tips they gave me. The first one was: “There is another market, a lot better, very neat and safe”.
Need I say I wasn´t looking for a “neat” or “well organized” market? Of course I understood they felt worried about me, because Paloquemao Market is located on a pretty dangerours part of Bogota. But I wanted to visit “the” Market where middle and popular classes go to buy their everyday food. Where I felt real Colombian life takes place. I wanted to connect with the local culture, understood the way they live, their uses and habits, just talk to them. And take pictures. I love to photograph people at work, their hands, the clothes they wear, the tools they use.
So, lets go back to the beginning. I explained them I was going to go and return on a cab. Do it that way, because outside the Market is seriously insecure. (And by the way, the “taxi” is a very affordable mean of transportation in Bogota). I was certain that inside Paloquemao things were pretty smooth (and also I was totally aware of how alert I had to be, because I had previously suffered an unsuccesful robbery attempt at La Candelaria neighborhood). Still, the acquaintances were not comfortable, but I was sure of my choice. And guess what? I wasn´t wrong at all and had the best time in Bogota. For me is the hottest spot to visit without any doubt. Let me tell you about it.
The first thing one must need to know is that the Market opens very early. How early? Extremely early! From Mondays to Saturdays Paloquemao opens at 4.30 am. Of course, I wasn´t thinking of getting “that” early, but it´s important to know that florists receive the most gorgeous roses in the first hours of the day, so they keep fresh. Colombia is the second rose exporting country in the world. So, if you want to see the flower
business going on, don´t be there later tan 9.30 or 10 am, as florists are obliged to leave the market at 11 am.
The florists are located on the main entrance, so you won´t miss them. As soon as I entered there I felt surrounded by colors, shapes, fragances and lots of people moving flower packs to sell on other shops of Bogota. Once you have enjoyed the vibrant flower scenery, go indoors to appreciate other market stuff.
I particularly fell out with the vegetable and fruit section. As I talked to the vendors I realized how much I was learning. Most of them were willing to speak and teach me about their products. Colombia is rich in fruit and vegetable variety. I was so amazed with the way they present their merchandise, the care they provide and the love to their work. It´s an area full of vibrant energy and a lively color show.
Everything was going as planned and I was having a wonderful time. Suddenly, a private security guard addresed me and asked me to show my authorization to take pictures inside the Market. I felt shocked. For the first time in my life someone was telling me I needed a permission, which I didn´t know it was mandatory. I kind of panicked because I couldn´t understand what I had done wrong. It´s hard for foreigners to realize what security means in Colombia, a country that -along many decades- has been through many crimes, drug dealing, bombs and corruption. So, security is a very serious issue for Colombians (eg: my backpack was smelled by special anti-drug trained dogs as I wanted to go into a shopping mall. Shocking, hmm?). The guard at the Market told me that if I wanted to keep taking pictures I should accompany him to the security office and require the authorization. Although I didn´t feel relaxed at all, I decided that it was better to process the permission and keep taking pictures. He knocked at his superior´s door. The principal happened to be a serious woman who gave me a grave look. I swallowed, introduced myself and immediately apologized for having done things wrong due to my honest ignorance. Right away she exclaimed “you are a tourist”! “Please, tourists are welcome in Paloquemao! You don´t need any permission at all. Your work promotes what people do in Paloquemao. Keep up with your pictures and thanks a lot for visiting us”! In less tan a second things had turned round unexpectedly. I was being welcome. It happens to be true that an authorization is needed because workers inside the market are afraid that an image of them can be used for damaging purposes (to themselves, their families or work). Something -perhaps- unthinkable to tourists. I showed my gratitude as fully as I could and return to the main premises (very relieved!)
There´s also the zone of fishermen and butchers, which is completely different. You may not like to watch them cut the meat into pieces. However, I still found it very curious. No worries, I won´t show any bloody pictures, but it might be worthy taking a look at their work. It´s up to your interests.
I spent there about 3 hours mainly chatting with people and taking photographs. I could have stay a lot more, but the workers are very focused on what they do and I respect that, so I felt that leaving was a polite choice. I cherished those hours there and fell in love with Paloquemao and its people forever.
See you on my next post!