“Don’t go to Gamarra.  It’s not safe.”

Ever since Noelle, my American friend from Spanish class, suggested we go there, I was told not to by just about everyone I encountered…Limenians included.  But the fact of the matter is, if I only did what people told me was safe, I would be staying within a 10-block radius of my house.  Boooorrrring.

Frog Juice Photo Credit: Jorge Gobbi

I get tired of people telling me to be careful as if I am naïve and don’t know what I’m getting myself into.  I have traveled plenty on my own, had good experiences, and bad “unsafe” ones.  Despite everything I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t want to miss out on life because I’m afraid.  You can be in Boulder, CO, one of the safest places in the world, and get chased by a mountain lion (stupid lion).  Careful is good, sitting alone on my balcony in San Isidro with the rest of the white people in Peru is boring.  Plus, Noelle had been to Gamarra already and said it was a really cool place to go shopping.

So, I donned my “going to an unsafe section of town” outfit (pants with snap pockets, dirty t-shirt, and dark colored bandanna which makes me look like a bad-ass pirate) and off we went.  As the bus worked its way through the surrounding neighborhoods of the market, I better understood the warnings of my friends (and husband).  If you remember how much I stand out in my safe little San Isidro and Miraflores, picture this about 10 times greater.  Gamara is not a place that tourists visit.  The surrounding neighborhoods are quite poor.  There are plenty of unemployed people living there who will do anything it takes to get by.

But the market was awesome!  Fenced in to prevent cars from entering were shops upon shops (really, they were practically on top of each other) of clothing…with the best prices I’ve seen in the world!  Some of the clothing is “name brand” but I’m pretty sure they’re knock-offs.  You can get jeans custom made for the equivalent of $13, just choose your style and which denim you want and return to pick them up in two days.

The most interesting part of the market is what I will call the “voodoo homeopathic market.”  It’s a large tented area with aisles of booths containing natural remedies for all sorts of ailments.  Several booths had fish tanks stuffed with live frogs or toads.  They were swimming and jumping all over each other.  What could these be for?  We asked a man who was making a soup with frogs, onions, and rice.  “Para los ojos y los musculos,” he told us with a grin while pointing to his eyes, then flexing his muscles.

I’ve learned through further internet research that some Andean cultures believe consuming frogs can cure asthma, bronchitis, sluggishness, and low sex drive.  Yes, this frog juice is sometimes known as “Peruvian Viagra,” (as if the men around here need any more boosting of their sex drives).  Anyway, one man with the frogs offered a free sample to Noelle and I, and I’m kicking myself for not trying it.  I hate passing up opportunities to try new things, but the smell of the dead snakes was just too overpowering!  I feared that if I drank frog juice while smelling snake guts, I would puke.

Yes, you it read correctly: dead snakes.   They were sliced down the middle, de-boned, with a layer of blubber still on them (I’m guessing that’s where the smell came from).  A topical cream is made from this blubber which is said to help with pain from arthritis, broken bones, sore muscles, and back pain.  Something like IcyHot.  A few other booths had baskets of large live snails.  We asked a woman who was hunched over a basin of water rinsing off her snails.  “Para una gripe,” she told us.  For a cold. Apparently the slime is used to soothe the throat. Although decongestants like DayQuil and NyQuil are hard to come by, this wouldnot be my first choice for a back-up.

There was somewhat of a celebrity who had a booth in this section of the market.  He displayed several newspaper articles praising him for his work as a healer.  Although there weren’t any snails, he had many different types of dried dead animals for purchase.  I considered buying Charlie a seagull head to bring him good luck, but decided to hold off and save it for my next trip home.  Maybe Grams would like one.  She loves birds.

-Posted by Danielle L. Krautmann, 23 March 2010