For several weeks, Ingo has been suggesting that we visit an animal market one of these Saturdays. Finally, last week, we decided to load up the car with some of the chickens and see what price we could get for them. The hens had long since stopped laying eggs, so bright and early Saturday morning we caught about thirty of them and put them in two cages on the top of the car. While we were at it, we captured six of the geese, who had also stopped laying, taking a moment to flip them over to check what gender they were. (Girl… girl… girl… boy… boy… another girl. Ah, to heck with it, we’ll sell them as three breeding pairs, with luck nobody will notice.) We also brought two of the piglets, saving the two friendliest to raise to adulthood and reserving the perpetually nervous redheaded piglet for Sunday dinner. Ellen and I also caught the violent and aggressive ram, marched him backward toward the car, hogtied him, and threw him in the trunk. Revenge was ours! Finally, with two pigs and a ram in the back, three cages of poultry on the roof, and the car full of people, we headed out to the market in San Pedro Maldonado.

My first thought upon arriving at the market was that I should have brought my camera. In front of us was a row of trucks, checking in at the gate. On our right was a sea of cattle, horses, and mules. I was a little concerned not to see any chickens, geese, pigs, or sheep at the market, but the man handing out vendor tickets pointed us in the right direction for the small animal area. A mass of people blocked our way – women in traditional clothes with baskets of eggs and honey, families trailing calves on leashes behind them, and hundreds of salty old farmers inspecting livestock and chattering animatedly amongst themselves. Ellen hopped out of the car and cleared the way for Ingo, who isn’t the sort of person to let a crowd stop him from driving exactly where he wants to go. We found a space to park the jeep and hopped out to start selling. As the crowd swarmed around the car to see what we’d brought, I realized I was glad we hadn’t brought our cameras after all.

Farmers four deep pressed against us as we unloaded the chickens from the car. We didn’t even have the chance to get the cages off the roof before they were peppering us with questions – How old? Are they laying? Could he lift one to weigh it? What breed? What price? Would we accept four dollars each? It was impossible to answer everybody and still get the animals out of the car and on display in our market space. I decided to ignore the crowds and handle the feed bags with the two piglets inside. The pigs were on harnesses, but I wasn’t sure I could stop the mass of people from distracting me and making off with them, so I left them in the bags and let people poke and prod them from there. Within three minutes, I had buyers willing to pay Ingo’s prices, and we entered hot negotiations over whether the price included the harness. Less than ten minutes after entering the market gates, the pigs were sold – it occurred to me to hope that nobody was using the market to launder fake currency, because in this chaotic atmosphere we’d never have the chance to notice.

We sold the animals almost as fast as we could unload them from the car. The geese we sold in pairs, and Ingo held them out for the crowd to see as he sexed them. Ellen and I chuckled to ourselves – no matter what gender Ingo declared, the people nearest him confirmed and loudly proclaimed as truth to whoever wanted to buy the pair of geese. The three pairs were placed in feed bags and carried off by their new owners as fast as Ingo could count the money coming in. Next to go were the chickens – we dropped the price to $9 a pair, and the birds sold faster than we could count them. We had to turn away customers, and some people were begging to be allowed to drive to the farm to buy more. I imagined them descending on the farm like locusts, devouring everything they could find. Ingo did his best to dissuade them.

The last animal to be sold was the ram. We had dumped him unceremoniously onto the ground in front of the car, and nobody had paid attention to the bound sheep at their feet as they bought up the birds and pigs. Once the bustle had died down a bit, though, we untied him and let him stand, and the crowd came back to inspect him. Ingo’s asking price was too high, and the farmers counteroffered and mumbled amongst themselves about the ram’s true value. Ingo insisted we hold firm, and wandered off to look at bulls while Ellen and I watched the ram, and his stepdaughters fetched coffee and snacks. We got a dozen offers of a hundred dollars, but Ingo had already dropped the price from $180 to $140 and we weren’t to go any lower. The girls came back with coffee in elegant porcelain cups with saucers, and we sipped our coffee while the farmers bickered over the ram’s price. When Ingo came back, he joined in the haggling and soon sold the ram for $100. The last animal had been sold less than half an hour after we’d driven into the market.

Ingo was totally delighted with his first market experience as a vendor. Even after we’d sold everything, customers kept approaching to ask if they could place orders for the next time we came. Visions of dollar signs danced in his head as Ingo tried to figure out what he could sell next week. The buyers didn’t limit themselves to livestock, either – Ingo got an offer on his jeep, as well. A cattle farmer would gladly trade thirty young bulls for it. Lucky for us, Ingo didn’t have alternative transportation or space for thirty bulls, or we’d have been walking home. As it was, we drove off with money in our pockets, smiles on our faces, and the roof of the car stacked high with empty bird cages.

This rooster will be the next to go - he keeps eating my seedlings in the greenhouse!

This rooster will be the next to go – he keeps eating my seedlings in the greenhouse!

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