The busy market scene assaulted all my senses. Colourful awnings flapped in the warm, but welcome breeze. The intoxicating smell of local fruit and herbs filled my nose. Stall holders chatted to local customers and shouted their wares. I could almost taste the wonderful, pungent street food. I ran my fingers along the beautiful fabrics and wished again that I had space in my suitcase to take more stuff home with me.
With my digital camera safely attached to my wrist by its strap I took image after image of the lively, colourful scene, peppers piled high of every colour, huge melons bursting with juicy flesh, chunky local pottery, robust and utilitarian. I couldn’t use my iPhone to take photos as it was in Andy’s backpack for safekeeping. I had no bag with me nor pockets in my shorts.
Andy ……… it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn’t seen him for a while. I had left him in the shade looking at men’s straw hats. He bought one every year when we went on holiday. What happened to them in the intervening years was anyone’s guess.
I looked around. It was difficult to see through the throngs of locals and the few tourists visiting the market. It was easy to tell the difference between the two. Look at those pink shoulders!
The market seemed to be getting busier, the heat more oppressive. I was getting jostled by busy locals intent on getting their daily fresh supplies. The women carried huge, woven, straw baskets, which brushed against me. They certainly had ‘no time to stop and stare’, (in the words of the poet William Henry Davies). The tanned, muscly men, in their white vests exuded confidence, pushing me to one side as I stood hesitantly in their way.
I walked to the end of one of the rows of stalls to get out of the way and looked around. I couldn’t see Andy … or any of the other, admittedly few, tourists that were on our bus. I was beginning to get concerned. Had I wandered too far away from Andy while I was enjoying looking at the stalls?
I looked around for someone to ask for help. What could I say? Who might speak English? I approached a middle aged couple who looked like tourists and asked if they could direct me to the bus stop. The confused look on their faces showed me they were not English speaking tourists.
That was the trouble with visiting places off the normal tourist track. We liked holidays with a local flavour that taught us about how the locals lived, not hotels full of holidaymakers barely leaving the complex. But that meant that not so many people around us spoke English. I started to sweat and could feel my pulse begin to race. We were miles from our apartment, in the foothills of the mountains, in a small, remote village.
I thought back to when we arrived earlier that morning. We had got off the bus in the shade of a beautiful little chapel and then made our way up narrow, hilly streets to this village. I needed to make my way back there. We planned to move on before lunch and my stomach was telling me that was not far away. But how? Downhill, obviously. But in which direction? Many of the little streets looked like they went downwards. I looked at the photos on my camera, flicking back through all the images of the stalls and the produce. There it was! The little chapel with the bus next to it and Andy by the side of it! How I wished I had stayed with him and helped him choose a hat.
I approached an old lady selling lemons and showed her the photo. She took one look at my worried face and spoke quickly to the young girl helping her.
The girl took my hand and led me through the bustling market into the quiet, shady streets that wound their way down the hill, until I could see the chapel, the waiting bus …. and Andy, wearing his new hat!