In Santiago, there’s a unique type of jungle that opens up every Saturday and Sunday, just on the outskirts of the city center. The wild environment takes the form of a giant flea market with a maze of antiques, strange objects new and old topped off with empanadas that sizzle before your eyes in bowls of oil on the street corner.
Photo by Jason C. Hickerson
Located between Franklin and Placer streets, El Persa Bio Bio is situated on the southern edge of Santiago Centro and although it is simple to reach by public transit, it is worlds away from central areas such as the Plaza de Armas, which gives the market a distinct non-touristy feel.
To get there, start at the Franklin metro station on line 2 (yellow line) and walk east towards the mountains. Within the first block, one will encounter an array of vendors selling items such as large plastic flowers, toilets, furniture, mirrors, haircuts for CP$1,000 (USD $1.75), large bean bags made of fake leather, appliances and pretty much anything else that might belong in a house.
Continue past the "New Market", which resembles an old marketplace selling new goods that could have come from Wal-Mart, walk all the way to San Isidro street, hang a left and continue north for a block or two. Here people sell all sorts of odds and ends in an impressive array of blankets and tables. To find that long lost toy fridge from the 70s or even a little brown puppy, this is the place. In addition you'll find pirated DVDs (some said to contain half of a porno movie instead of that lighthearted, romantic comedy), pieces of rabbit fur, vintage jewelry, old bonnet hair dryers, ancient printers from the eighties and books.
The large buildings which line the streets resemble rundown factories or warehouses but inside there are paths constructed solely from furniture and stands with people of all ages
streaming through, bargaining, buying or stopping in the middle of the current to buy a mote con huesillo. Many of the articles are similar to those found on the sidewalk street blankets, however in greater quantities. There are also some vendors that sell specialty products such as military apparel for those looking for gas masks or nunchucks.
In addition, other treasures can be found for the eclectically minded folk such as minuscule, naked human figurines (about half an inch in height), silver platters, crystal glasses, corroded but gorgeous old mopeds, second hand kitchen appliances, mysterious film footage and fur jackets.
Also, don't eat anything before going because it is impossible to resist the food being sold on every corner. There are various places selling incredible as sandwiches (grilled pork, loads of fresh tomatoes and avocados in a bun accompanied by an array of condiments ranging from mustard, ketchup, ají, fresh garlic mixed with cilantro and mayonnaise). On most street corners there are people frying empanadas, which literally contain a pool of melted cheese in the center which may not sound appetizing to those on a diet but they are certainly worth breaking a regime for. For a healthier option, freshly blended banana, strawberry, melon and pineapple juices are available for just CP$600 (around US$1.00).
Also worth noting, El Persa Bio Bio is a bit shady as it is a known market for stolen and pirated goods. However, despite the reputation, it is relatively safe to explore with purses kept tucked close to the body and wallets in front pockets. There are people everywhere-- young, old, Chilean, foreign so one need not feel too threatened... but still, watch your back.
The best time to go is early in the day because it is best strolled through at a leisurely pace before everything gets packed in the afternoon. Besides, you don’t want to miss your chance at the super eight film reels or a brand new set of nunchucks.
Bio Bio street/ San Isidro
Every Saturday and Sunday 10am to 3pm