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El Centro

COLOMBIA | Friday, 6 January 2006 | Views [1090]

I've strayed down to the sprawling, heaving mass of El Centro a couple of times now. The guide books will steer you to Del Prado as the more likely tourist spot in Barranquilla but if you like it down and dirty and the gringos thin on the ground then, this is the place to do your shopping. The Colombians love it and in a strange sort of way so do I. The family are drawn to the street stalls and the clothing stalls around the Plaza Simon Bolivar. I like the Mercado on the other side, which is a little like a shanty town of old timbers and corrugated tin sheets, which constitutes a meat, veg, fish, fruit market. At the back my football-friend Carlos runs a small ironmongers shop and it's a welcome chance to sit in the shade and enjoy a cold beer while the frenetic pace of life continues unabated in the sticky heat of Central Barranquilla. I always get to an annoying stand off with the family here. They hate me taking photos, which I insist on doing. This place is, according to them, notoriously unsafe and something of a magnet for thieves and robbers. While I do not doubt this for a minute I have become quite quick on the draw with my little Canon camera and it sees the light of day only briefly. I would hate to have to sacrifice the kodak moments for the sake of losing a two hundred euro camera. I don't seem to get it across to to them that if someone pokes a pistol or a knife in my ribs that I will NOT struggle with every ounce of my being to protect my property, but give it away good naturedly. Let's face it, it is the nature of things to change hands occaisionally. I'm suprised that as Colombians they do not appreciate that but maybe they cannot grasp the idea of gambling with precious possessions, or the concept of insurance. All my explanations fall on stony ground, I continue to get a chilly time of it for an hour after my snaps are taken, this is the price of casting good advice to the wind. A couple of beers and a few nudges and smiles later and everything is just fine. I get a few pitying looks like "Aiiiee...he is but a sheep waiting to be shorn." So be it.
We were in El Centro before Christmas while they were holding the customary Christmas 'feria'. I can say without a shadow of a doubt I have never seen so much brightly coloured plastic rubbish for sale in my life. It made the cheapy aisle in Toys 'r Us look like the crown jewels in comparison. Even the Barbie copies looked like they were slumming it in this company. Everyone seems loaded up with as much of it as they could carry. The children were ecstatic. Strangely enough it all seems to have disappeared now. Probably stolen or broken. Plastic might be indestructible as a material but the wheels fall off in a week.
The area is also home to a lot of cheap clothing stalls, Genuine Mendellin copies of anything you could wish for, the same goes for watches, sunglasses. The indoor market has all of the sequined tops and jeans that seem to be the Colombian ladies' weapons and uniforms of choice. They certainly like it tight and shiny these lasses. It's like 80% of the female population here has been forced at gunpoint into clothing at least one size to small and they are all mincing around trying to stretch it a bit from the inside out. It's a fascinating place alright, and there, right in the middle of the seething, iniquitous heart of it, Barranquilla's oldest church, San Nicolas, rises sweet and clean as a Christmas cake out of a sea of rusting corrugated metal.

Tags: Shopping

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