Friday, May 30, 2014

The Distinctive Sounds of Chiclayo

Over the years I’ve become oblivious to them…those distinctive sounds of Chiclayo. It isn’t until a first-time visitor asks about the sounds that I hear them again. I’m not talking about the constant drone of vehicle noise, Latin music, poultry cackling or dogs barking. Those noises I’ve learned to shut out except in extreme conditions, for instance last night when the music from the celebration of a neighbor’s birthday party forced Maribel and I from the family room to a bedroom to watch television and read. The sounds I’m thinking of are sometimes softly melodic and, when I do open up to them they often bring a smile to my face when I think about the people, culture and customs that have been echoing these same sounds for generations.

What I’m referring to mostly is roving street vendors. Each ‘product group’ of vendors has their own distinct sound. If you hear the soft tones of a flute you know that a knife sharpener is plying his trade nearby. A bicycle horn on a hot afternoon will have the kids scurrying outdoors to meet the ice cream vendor (pictured) - provided mom has a few centimos to spare. A broadcasted recorded message extolling the virtues of soy milk indicates that a mototaxi with a stainless steel tank attached will soon be passing your door. Those are mechanical sounds. More distinctive and interesting is the vendors who use their voices to attract attention.

“Compra licuadoras… compra baterías” (I buy blenders and batteries) is a chant regularly heard in our neighborhood. I don’t know why they use those particular words because usually the carts of these men contain anything from old mattresses to bird cages… they’ll buy anything they think they can resell for a profit.

“Leche!” (milk) is a cry heard in the early morning hours from men on motorcycles with two stainless steel milk buckets attached. Normally these men have a regular route and customers, and shout “Leche” only to announce their arrival. The milk is direct to you from a cow or goat milked before dawn.

“Pan y dulces” (bread and sweets) is another chant most often heard in the wee hours of the morning. The vendor is usually a woman but men also sell these products. Usually they sell from a bicycle with a huge basket attached, but some simply balance the basket on their heads while walking their route.  Chances are that the bakery came from Monsefù where it was taken from the oven at 4:00am. A few vendors also sell bakery in the afternoon, usually produced by a Chiclayo bakery.

One of my favorite chants involves two favorite foods in Chiclayo – tamales and humitas. The roving women vendors who sell these items announce their products with something that resembles a song: “tamaaaaaaaaaleeees………..humiiiiiiitaaaaas.” It reminds me of a mother trying to sing her baby to sleep. It’s a very pleasant sound.

All of the above are common sounds heard many times daily, but the most common sound heard by far is, “Buena palta!…palta Mallares!” (good avocados…avocados from Mallares). I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that avocado carts rank second only to Tico taxis as the most numerous vehicles on the streets. I would be surprised to learn that all of these avocados actually came from the Mallares area located a considerable distance north of Chiclayo in the Piura Region, which is regarded as producing the most flavorful fruit. By the way, this avocado vendor’s cart, which also contains a few pineapples and papayas is typical of street vendor carts. They are almost always pushed rather than ridden usually because peddles are missing or a chain is broken or a gear is stripped.

Those are only a few of the distinctive sounds of Chiclayo. I could list others and there are probably some I’ve forgotten at the moment, but these are the most common. I sometimes wonder if the modernization taking place in Chiclayo is going to have some impact on these vendors. I would expect that as the commercial areas expand, street vendors will be banned from an ever-widening area of the city. But they’ll survive. They’re firmly entrenched in the culture and they sell cheaper than the big supermarkets. Most Chiclayanos also believe their produce is fresher than the supermarkets. Maybe so.

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