After a morning looking at murals, my guide and I take the Metro to Mexico City’s Mercado Jamaica. My guide has promised a special ‘secret market’ as part of this tour and on the way he explains along with seeing flowers, fruit & vegetable, we will enter into the mysterious and dark world of the the witches market. All conveniently located under the same roof – pretty much so anyway, I think there were several roofs, and perhaps the markets were even a bit separated, I can’t always rely on my memory as I had prolonged exposure to a dangerous level of witchcraft-like, sorcery-type forgetfulness herb in my early twenties that some warlocks gave me. It was bad and I’ve only just regained control of my hyperactive appetite – except for this day, I let him out of his little bag again as we were to sample many of Mexico’s exotico culinary creations.
We started out in the flowers. It was not just the usual standard bunches of flowers, like sunflowers and roses for the very reasonable price of 30 and 20 pesos a bunch respectively. There are also ones made up like teddy bears, Elmos, the Cookie Monster, birthday cakes, lions and the Te amo ‘I love you’ displays. You can find a flower arrangement for every situation life confronts you with.
Including flower displays for dead people. Although at first I thought there were just stalls specialising in white flowers in the shape of crosses and wreaths with a kind of crucifixion theme.
It was mid-morning, the flowers were getting me hungry. Although the tour came with free samples of food, I didn’t expect at this stage that I would spend most of the rest of the day literally munching away like a ravenous grasshopper high on the marihuana.
We started with the fruit. I tried a little of the Mexican mangoes, some bananas, half a cup of pomegranate seeds, a feijoa, some brown skinned jungle looking fruit,and a bit of papaya cut in the shape of a flower.
Still not totally satisfied, I spotted some white corn cooked on smokey coals, which the man added some spicy seasoning to. And a chicken feet broth, which tastes like chicken and chilli.
After the fruit my guide asks me, “do you want to stop for some lunch?”, feeling like I’d just started this munch adventure, I reply, “Well I don’t mind if I do”. We head to some little cantinas, past a green Volkswagen beetle, one of many that proliferate in this country, which had the personality to star in Herbie Goes Bananas .
“Do you want to try some cactus?” my guide asks, he didn’t say cactus, he said some special Mexican name for it, all I remember is that it was sliced up cactus on a tortilla with a bit of cheese on top. You know you are in Mexico when you’re eating this. It tastes even better than it looks when you’re able to get some mariachis to sing along with it.
Cactus consumed, we went the way the witches were at.
“You can not take photographs in this area”, my guide warns me, “they are superstitious and secretive people, wary of outsiders”.
“Oh”, I say.
“We have to be careful where we go”, he adds, “even I won’t go to all the areas, there are some dark areas to the place with some dangerous people”.
We headed in through the narrow aisles. At first it is not spooky at all, as you pass the stalls selling cheap and crappy trinkets, football shirts, toys and the like. Then without warning you hit the witch zone.
Not much light gets in these parts. The stall holders don’t look you in the eye. Day of the Dead paraphernalia abounds, along with tarot, and books on the occult, spells and the such. There’s animals in cages, lizards, some chickens, I think there may have been a little puppy dog, I’m not sure, I may have seen a little puppy dog in a cage on a show on TV and now that I’m trying to recall this scene I may be just adding that in. There was definitely a cage of lizards though.
“Some of these animals”, my guide whispers to me, “they will sacrifice for you for good luck or to help with some kind of ailment”.
“Oh”, I say.
There are also dried animal bits as well, frogs legs, snake, bats wings, possibly armadillos and monkey vomit, and many dry herbs to make potions with. For those who don’t have time to prepare their own potions, there’s the pre-made ones, a bit like the jars of curry sauce you get in the supermarket, not like making a tikka masala or rogan josh from scratch, but at a pinch it might do. There’s potions galore. Potions for love, for wealth, to have babies, to help get your son into university, to pass your driving test, to get promoted, to curse you mother-in-law, to heal that lumpy thing that’s growing on your toe.
It all smells a bit, not helped by the proximity of the butchers section of the market.
I respect the witches code, and after a half hour exploring their domain we emerge once more into the daylight, photo-less, but at least not turned into a monkey-brain eating zombie, though I was now getting a bit peckish again as I hadn’t finished off my cactus.
“Does anybody sell those grasshoppers around here?” I ask.
“Si“, he says.
So before we leave I grab a bag of crunchy seasoned chapulines to munch on in preparation for my journey to the pyramids of teotiuchan.