I’ve always liked Los Llanos. It’s a Saturday street market just outside the town of Albox in Almeria, Spain. In the top section you can find fruit, veg, bed linen, second-hand clothes, old furniture, silver jewellery, plants, homemade jam and rescue puppies. Down the steps, there’s a sizeable rastro (flea market) with old tools, antiques, musical instruments and a Moroccan shop with a cornucopia of goods. In my early days living in Spain, I’d sometimes come with 20€ and mostly leave with a good, if unexpected haul – I once got a top-quality djembe drum for 5€.
One of the best things about the market is the diversity of the stallholders – a mixture of Spanish, Moroccan, Romanian, Ecuadorian, African, English, Gitano and more. Such variety is rare in this part of Spain, and it almost feels like my native southeast London. There’s even a bookstall playing loud roots reggae. I love reggae, but you hardly ever hear it in this area.
So when I found out that Lynda, an English woman from my village, had a bric a brac stall at Los Llanos, I decided to ask if I could share it with her for a few weeks in the run-up to Christmas. I wanted to shift some old clothes and other things that were cluttering up my house. I was delighted when she agreed.
I started on Saturday 4 December. Ahead of a move back to the UK, Lynda was selling her stuff for just 1 or 2 euros, so I did the same. On my first day I sold an electric brasero* for 3€ and a lamp for 2€. It didn’t seem much, but I decided to spend my takings. They went a long way – I got pair of crystal earrings, a vintage shift dress and a pansy for the garden. I was chuffed. It felt like an alternative reality where 5€ is a decent sum of money.
The second week I did better. Electrical goods seemed popular so I took some mini speakers, as well as the remains of a job lot of linen cushion covers a friend had given me. Both were snapped up immediately, swiftly followed by a vintage juicer and some clothes. I took 25€ and found a much-needed pair of tongs for my wood burning stove (1.50€) and a useful credit card holder (€2). I needed a second-hand axe and the Moroccan shop said they had one at home (unfortunately they never found it).
Often, when you’re shopping for something, you just can’t find it. But Los Llanos was proving this theory wrong because it kept offering up exactly what was needed. In Week 2, this was demonstrated in an extraordinary way.
A woman picked up one of Lynda’s craft books. She wandered off with it. When she came back to pay, she said she’d been looking for the book for years after giving it away in the 80s. She’d searched everywhere, even contacting the publisher, but it had gone out of print. Her husband turned the front cover. ‘Look,’ he exclaimed, ‘she wrote her name inside. It’s actually hers!’ It was the woman’s own copy – last seen somewhere in the north of England and surfacing some 40 years later in an Andalusian street market.
Weirdly, she didn’t seem too surprised. She paid up and wandered off, leaving us nonplussed. ‘Do you think she says that every time she buys something, in the hope she’ll get it for free?’ Lynda asked.
Rhythms of the market
Being there every week, I noticed how the stallholders changed. There were regulars like Lynda, and there were others who came and went. The stall next to ours had different people all the time. One week there was a Spanish lady selling exquisite handmade children’s clothes, the next week a young African man with a job lot of small leather jackets for 5€ each. My favourite temporary stall was in the rastro section: a selection of beautiful old instruments: violins, trumpets, cellos and flutes. I wondered what stories lay behind them.
After a few weeks on the market, Lynda and I were getting to know each other better. Although I knew she did markets, I hadn’t realised how serious she was about her stall, for which she made an interesting collection of dolls, cushions and other crafts, and sourced an eclectic selection of clothes, craft books, antiques and jewellery. She treated it like a job, tapping into what people want with skill and generosity. I found out how practical she is, too. Not only is she a keen crafter and a skilled cook, she’d singlehandedly re-roofed a portion of her Spanish house with a friend’s unwanted tiles. ‘I just looked at how the others were laid in an interlocking pattern and copied it,’ she said. It took four days and 148 tiles and the roof never leaked again.
It was only when I knew her better that I noticed how she quietly sipped tea at lunchtimes, not wine like the other retired expats. She was returning to the UK to find more mental stimulation – something I crave, too. People always said there were bound to be people like me in the area, but I’d never expected them to be hiding in plain sight right under my nose!
I rocked up late after a disturbed night and knew I wouldn’t sell anything. I decided to gather information instead. The first stop was Dean the bookseller, who I’d been plucking up the courage to approach. I bought a couple of books to smooth the way and said: ‘I like your music.’ He looked indifferent, but I persisted. ‘Do you know any local venues that play reggae?’ He still wasn’t forthcoming. It was only when I said I’d done some DJ-ing in London that his ears pricked up and he remembered that he and his partner had visited a new reggae café by the coast the previous weekend. A new reggae café by the coast?! The market had given me what I wanted again! We chatted a bit more and he started playing one of my YouTube roots reggae playlists*. As I walked away I wondered if the Lubrin Dub Club would become my legacy at the Los Llanos market.
Lynda’s return to the UK was delayed, so after Christmas she was back at Los Llanos again. It poured with rain the first weekend, so she didn’t go, but the market had become a habit for me and I went anyway. The place was half empty and the woman behind our favourite veg stall had time to chat. She told me that all her products were organic, grown on her farm. I bought a big bunch of spinach, eight oranges, two kilos of carrots, some bananas, two onions, three peppers, a garlic and four tomatoes for just 7.80€ and was surprised by an unusual desire to cook. Then I had a quick look round before leaving and there, in the middle of a stall of second-hand tools, sat the full-size axe I’d been seeking since Week 1. It was priced at 18€, but the stallholder said I could have it for 14€ – which was lucky as all I had left was 15€ in small change.
As for Lynda, she did one more market. I went along to see her and she gave me the last in a long line of freebies – a handmade elephant cushion to remember her by. I got her something, too, a pair of silver earrings from the jewellery stall. I presented them to her over lunch the next week. She was thrilled – and promptly reciprocated with offers of her butane gas heater, a shopping trolley and a pressure cooker! I had to smile. Los Llanos – the market that gives you everything you want, and a few things you didn’t know you wanted, too!
* Electric version of the large metal tray of burning coals traditionally placed under Spanish tables covered with a long tablecloth, to warm up the people sitting round the table.
* The Lubrin Dub Club is a series of World Reggae playlists that I’ve compiled on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLzfw2_S2TRll28rWuEhvoH8tZpBCh_XPR
Photo of Mercadillo Rastillo Internacional Los Llanos de Arboleas c/o Facebook.