5 Reasons To Love The Feira

In Indonesia, the pasar; in Brazil, the feira. One thing I enjoy about life outside the States is the possibility of shopping at the weekly market. There is just some element of anticipation not present when you're simply on your way to the grocery store. Here are five reasons I enjoy visiting the feiras here in Brazil, when possible. (You can see my experiences at Indonesian pasars here and here).

1) You get to know the vendors.
There are two feiras in proximity of my home: one on Thursdays and one on Saturdays. I don't go every week but when I do, it's much more enjoyable buying produce from this sassy vendor than digging through the rotting fruit at the grocery store on my own.

2) The fruit is fresh.
A common problem I encounter at the grocery stores here in Sao Paulo is that a majority of the produce is soggy, bruised, or eaten by bugs. This is not the case with the Feira fruit. That sassy vendor above works to produce his best product when you approach his stall. He is also competing with the other five guys lined up to sell the same fruit and he wants your business.

3) You can taste as much as you want.
Since fruit of the same variety often looks different here in Brazil (green oranges and monster-sized avocados come to mind) and other fruit has yet to be experienced, it's really helpful to taste different options before making a purchase. I also love the variety of ways the fruit is sliced and displayed to attract the buyers attention.

4) There are more types of fruit than apples and bananas.
It blew my mind when I first went to a pasar. I of course saw things that I was familiar with but there was a whole realm of fruit that I never even knew existed! I even felt a little bit cheated to have never tried some of these things in my childhood (exception: durian). Now that I'm here in South America, there is yet another new world of produce to explore, which I will post about in detail soon.

5) The feira is a full sensory experience.
Going to the feira is a pleasant assault on your senses. As you walk around observing the bright colors and the bustle of the regulars, a pleasing aroma will most likely waft your way and you'll trail around the aisles until you find it's source, though, not before getting sidetracked by your curious taste buds along the way.

Weekly Market | Tana Toraja | Indonesia

During our initial consultation with our tour guide upon arriving in Toraja, we were informed that we were lucky because we arrived the day before the weekly market. Having been to my fair share of markets during my three years in Asia, I was picturing a variety of colorful fresh produce proudly displayed in woven baskets lining the side of a road. Those things existed but merely served as the passage to the real attraction of the market: animal acquisition.


Our first steps inside yielded an encounter with these fish flopping around, helplessly gasping for air. Apparently, they can survive for up to three hours out of water. This was just a small taste of what was to come.


We walked further down the road to the water buffalo exchange and were greeted with quite a sight: as far as we could see in any direction, there were sellers displaying their fare. As you can imagine, it was quite pungent and crowded.


Water buffalo play an integral part in the funeral celebrations of Toraja. Like any other species, water buffalo come in a variety of colors and sizes. The most prized (expensive) are those that are albino or partially albino. Horn shape and alignment are also indicators of the value of the creature. Long necks are also a valued trait and to acquire longer necks, the water buffalo are strung through their nose and suspended high in the air for several hours a day to achieve the desired effect.


Though these animals did not appear to be comfortable, it was nothing compared to what we witnessed at the pig sties. From quite a distance, you could hear the agonizing squeals of discomfort. Before continuing, let me just say that in general, I'm not a huge fan of meat, mostly because I simply don't care too much for it. This experience, and the one that followed the next day however, were almost successful in turning me into a permanent vegetarian for humanitarian reasons. The displays of animal cruelty that we witnessed in this market were shocking and overwhelming. We witnessed live pigs being carried upside down on spits (when their legs could very visibly not handle the strain), tied up in bags, hit, kicked by children, spat on, tossed around in wheelbarrows, picked up by their hind legs and bound to the point of suffocation onto the backs of motorbikes. I didn't last long down there.


As a city dweller, I know that there are things neatly tucked away outside the city limits that take place to put food on our tables. However, I have trouble believing that the degree to which things were taken at this market are widely acceptable practices in the industry. As a teacher, it was also disturbing to see children taking part in these activities, being brought up with such an irreverence for life. I recognize that I was merely an outsider looking in but I know that I will never forget the chorus of squeals that rose up over the market that day. 

Jaipur | India

Originally, we had planned to stay in Agra for two days but seeing as how we saw the Taj Mahal in one morning, we decided to change our plans and take a detour to Jaipur. We saw some pretty interesting things, but I think my favorite part of the trip was simply riding in the car and seeing the countryside. As with anywhere, the smaller towns were dramatically different from the large cities. The drive to Jaipur was several hours and about halfway there, Dave asked if we would like to see a temple. In the spirit of being adventurous, we agreed. He pulled off the highway onto a small, two-lane road where we promptly came upon a herd of sheep.


Once Dave had honked the horn numerous times, we passed the herd on the side of the road....only to come upon another herd about half a mile up. Then another. Then another. Dave explained that these were real life nomads. Literally. Wandering the Indian countryside with little more than their herds. I don't know about you, but when I think of nomads, I think of people back in Biblical times, not 2012. It was interesting to see that this was still a way of life for so many people.


We arrived at the temple a few minutes later. This temple was rather different from any other that I've seen anywhere in the world, in that it was built down and into the rock, rather than up towards the sky. It went about two stories into the ground, down behind us, in order to collect rain water. 


We headed back to the highway and passed the herds of sheep, again. After another couple hours, we arrived in Jaipur. We checked into our home stay then headed into town. Dave dropped us off at the City Palace Museum, which turned out to be a tourist trap. The only upside to this stop was getting to see a...snake charmer! After taking pictures of him, I was persuaded to join him on his carpet for a photo. I don't know how he managed to do it because I was sitting quite far away and staring quite intently at his basket but somehow, he signaled to the snake to lunge at me. I absolutely cannot stand snakes and proceeded to scream bloody murder. The charmer insisted that his snake was "safe".


We spent the rest of the afternoon shopping. Nothing can compare to the determination of the shopkeepers in India. Long story short, I had had my eye on this patchwork quilt with elephants on it. I approached the first shop I came to that had one displayed. For those of you who have visited Canal Street in New York, you have probably been led down a dark alley to a secret room that's behind a wall. It was a similar case at this particular shop and we were led into a basement that was no larger than the size of a jail cell. After about 20 minutes of haggling, I could tell he wasn't going to go any lower. We high-tailed it out of there and stopped in the next shop with the quilts. While I was making my purchase, the first shopkeeper is furiously pounding down the street, seemingly in search of us. Glad we doged that bullet. 


More from New Delhi

We met up with our driver for the duration of the trip. We never actually figured out his real name but he told us to call him Dave. We started out the day by going to a monument, because Dave seemed rather perplexed that we had spent the majority of our first day shopping, not sightseeing. He dropped us at Humayun's Tomb. Again, I don't really know the exact history of the thing but it was elaborate and beautiful. The grounds were as magnificent and peaceful as the building itself.


From there, we went to see another monument, which we of course knew nothing about and turned out to be closed anyways. This is the Lotus Temple, aka the  Baha'i house of worship.


After appeasing his desire for us to see the monuments of India, Dave conceded and took us to what I refer to as Aladdin's Cave of Treasures. We were promptly picked up by a salesman when we walked in who led us to the scarves. Buying textiles in India is like having a personal shopper. You get seated on a couch while the salesperson stands on a platform and presents items to you of all different qualities (money). From the scarves, we were led to the punjabis (tunic shirts), purses, bedspreads, custom fabric and collectibles. It's a good thing we weren't on a schedule because a good hour had passed by the time we actually made our purchases!


After our shopping excursion, Dave took us to Connaught Place which I had read contained some pretty cool specialty stores that export to the US. He dropped us off at a restaurant on a corner and told me to call him when we were finished. Unfortunately, as we sat down to lunch, I realized that I had left my phone in the car. The restaurant was amazing. I had some dry potatoes (meaning not floating in curry) that packed a crazy punch!

We finished lunch and decided to walk around Connaught Place for awhile, which was quite the opposite of what I had read about before the trip. We almost felt as though we were being chased, like in a movie. Everyone stared at us while we were walking down the street and if we paused for a moment, we were assaulted with offers to lead us to the "nearest bazaar". Luckily, we were rescued by Dave, who happened to be circling around. He dropped us off at an English-language bookstore.

It was at this bookstore that I had a horrifying experience with a squatty. Being that most facilities in Indonesia are squatties, I didn't think it would be a problem in India. Boy was I wrong. I asked an employee if they had a restroom I could use. He said, "Yes miss, please follow me" and proceeded to lead me out the back of the store to a small shack in the alley. I was not prepared for what I saw when I opened the door.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with squatty potties, they are basically porcelain bowls set down into the ground, where you squat. Usually, they are equipped with a flusher or accompanied by a bucket that you fill up then dump into the squatty.

I opened the door to the shack and was greeted by the unpleasant odor that usually accompanies a squatty. This squatty, however, did not flush. In addition, there was tobacco spit or vomit (I honestly couldn't tell) running down the wall near the mirror. After seeing what I was up against, I suddenly did not have to use the restroom anymore and made a hasty exit through the alley.

Dave obliged and dropped us off at one last market before taking us back to the hotel. We went back to the Paharganj market we had visited the previous night. This time, it was bustling with backpackers who kept disappearing down small dark alleys to find their hostels (which made me all the more grateful that we had not chosen that route). 


We capped off the day with a visit to a rooftop cafe in the bazaar. We got up there just as the sun was setting and there were stunning views of the market below.