One fascinating day every week, people gather in an interesting flea market in the town of Alcala, in the north of Luzon, Cagayan. The market bears its archaic Ilocano name, “Dapun”, the meaning of which alludes to its origin as an ancient meeting place for people from the sitios and pueblos of yesteryear. It sits in the heart of Cagayan, at a three-lane road intersection that leads separately to coastal towns, hinterland and valleys.
All kinds of farm products are brought from mountain farms to Dapun. Land yields from various neighboring towns and provinces are transported in copious amounts to this trading outpost. Apart from the usual assortment of fruits and vegetables, there are sometimes old and rare varieties of agricultural crops. There are pigs, goats, ducks and chickens for sale. Saltwater and freshwater fish and shellfish, frogs and edible insects are also sold. There are also herbal potions, dried tobacco leaves, and agricultural tools.
Every Wednesday, the Dapun transforms a hectare of wasteland into a bubbling place of traders and buyers from communities near and far. Retailers are moving to this market to replenish their stocks due to low farm gate prices. The bustle of market activity begins at 5 a.m. and the place is desolate again by noon.
Before COVID-19 disrupted our lives, my weekly routine consisted of spending days at work in Makati City and weekends in Alcala where my family resides. The confinement left me no chance to visit the Dapun, and I had to content myself with listening to my wife’s fascinating stories about it. Strict lockdown rules prevented me from visiting the market even though I was stranded in Alcala during the extreme quarantine period.
Two days after the quarantine rules were relaxed in Cagayan, we had a harvest of mangoes far beyond our capacity to consume at home. I enthusiastically planned my first trip to Dapun, not as a buyer but as a seller of our excess mango.
At dawn last Wednesday, I drove to Dapun with 40 kilos of native green mangoes that were just starting to turn yellow. I spread my mangoes out on a small table and decided to comply with the prices of other mango merchants: 40 P / kilo for the small sizes and 50 P / kilo for the bigger ones. On wedged boxes, I announced that my mangoes were naturally sweet because they will ripen completely without kalburo.
For 30 minutes of agony, I had no buyers. People walked past my booth. I imagined being a subsistence farmer and coming home without selling anything to support my family. I looked at the other mango vendors, and thought it was a mistake not to have used kalburo to have mangoes that had ripened to yellow perfection, pleasing to the eyes.
My dark thoughts were interrupted when an old woman stopped to inspect my mangoes, then she haggled to buy a kilo at a P10 discount. I gladly accepted the discount, remembering a previous tip that I would be lucky if I made a buena mano sale even at a discounted price.
For the next 30 minutes, sporadic groups of customers came to buy one, two, three, five and 10 kilos, until I sold all my mangoes. My buyers expressed a preference for green mangoes, while others professed a bias for naturally ripened mangoes.
I happily packed my bags and went to buy food supplies for my family. With prices per kilo of P15 for tomatoes, P50 for native onions, P20 for green peppers, P15 for ampalaya and P40 for rare green eggplants, the sales revenue of P2,000 in my pocket was a princely sum. . Rural people survive in abundance even when they have incomes considered meager by city standards.
During the almost three months I spent in quarantine, I lived in the junk shop that is the online web, where I endure the daily bombardment of
belligerent political views and frightening pandemic statistics, like everyone else. What a welcome respite to be in a real flea market where we celebrate and enjoy the riches of the earth.
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