Rarely when I travel, do I ever allow myself the opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone and experience what it would be like to walk in someone else’s shoes. But what I’ve realized over the past few years, is how critical it is to experience and witness the local sights and sounds of a city to get a better understanding of the places I go. Visiting a new country and experiencing the stops only frequented by tourists leaves me with a thirst unquenched. It feels as if I’ve been robbed the intimacy to explore, and it’s often that feeling that fuels my desire to travel.
Several months back on a trip to Nicaragua, I found myself wandering the stalls of the Masaya Crafts Market. It was a wonderful by all means, clean and colorful, filled with rows of leather goods, tapestries, and t-shirts to take home. Inexplicably, I found myself pacing the stalls–I began frantically searching for something I couldn’t quite articulate. Should I purchase a row of braided bracelets, I had once sought after on a trip to Tulum? What about some stiffly-starched t-shirts of Granada, adapted into famous American logos? In the final moments before boarding back onto the bus, I settled for a bright red dress that reminded me of an emoji. Comedic relief aside, I still felt a lingering emptiness.
It wasn’t until Kata and Marianna suggested we take a quick stop to the local market place that I realized what had been missing.
We stepped into Mercado Municipal, the market place for local Nicaraguans to purchase everything from black beans to rice cookers. Immediately I felt energized by the current of movement taking place. Between the vendors and buyers, swift and skilled hands cutting produce or cooking meat, and eager dogs hoping to catch fallen scraps, was a tidal of expression that had been missing in the souvenir crafts market we visited. Where there was a shortage of postcards, was an abundance of local flavor.
It didn’t dawn on me until much later, that these 20 minutes was one of the most vivid moments of the trip. Revisiting the images now, I can still recall my feelings of excitement, the scenes I found most visually arresting, and heck, even the smells that were alarmingly pungent. And the thing about these moments, were that they don’t come prepackaged in the form of a postcard or key chain.