Blogger: David Dahlson
At the end of my assignment in Quito, I made a couple of trips to two sites outside Quito that illustrate compelling yet diametrically opposed aspects of Ecuador. The first is an ancient event that has been going on for at least several hundred years throughout Ecuadorian Andes, but which is now being practiced in less and less locations. This event is the country market, generally held once or twice a week, generally on Thursdays and Sundays. The most famous of these is at Otovallo, which used to be the sight of the largest country market in Ecuador, but which has devolved into a tourist market open seven days a week, featuring arts and crafts, at which the indigent Indians excel, but which nonetheless reek of pandering the gringos’ desires.
Some ten years ago, I had chanced upon one of the old Indian markets in the province of Cotopaxi while looking for a rose farm, and as I drove down the street I was suddenly surrounded by bleating sheep. They were being shepherded to market, and as I rounded a corner, I came upon a plaza that was brimming with people engaged in all kinds of commerce. It was a true farmers market, and an authentic Qechuan event where every conceivable aspect of farming was evident, and the fruits of all their labors available for sale. Sheep, pigs, cows, poultry – alive or dead – all for sale! It was striking and an image that was hard to erase.
Thus this past Thursday, prior to visiting farms, I took a trip to the Saquisili market with my good friend Renato Teran. The hubbub, jostling vendors, merchants and customers, were almost as I had remembered, but this time I was able to proceed by foot through the throng. First of all I discovered that this bi-weekly event was much larger than I remember; that it comprised not one market but four markets within the town’s center. There is the main square which features mostly produce, but also hard goods, and services such as tailor repairs. This plaza also has a few touristic stalls with arts and crafts very similar to those found in Otovallo. I imagine that the change from traditional market to that of tourist destination evolved in a similar fashion. For now, however, there are only a handful of these stands. There is also a marketplace for large live animals such as cows, pigs and sheep; a marketplace called the “Mercado de las Papas” where potatoes are predominant, but where all kinds of fresh produce are available, as well as medicinal herbs and foliages. Finally there is the “Mercado de los Cuyes”, or the Guinea-pig Market, which is primarily where live Guinea-pigs are bought and sold for human consumption, as well as ducks, geese, chickens and pigeons. Chickens and roses seems to be the theme of this year’s Valentines!!
All the markets have some overlap with each other, and all of them feature little stands serving plates of hot, steaming typical food, cooked over open grills. Pork, chicken, typical maize called Choclos, thick broths and empanadas are to be found everywhere. The streets between each of the markets are also jammed with stands selling more items and where hawkers shout at the top of their voices in a sing-song way advertising their wares. Any cars that find themselves on these streets are doomed to move through the throng at about 3mph, and no amount of horn-honking will move the crowd.
Most of the patrons of the market at Saquisili are Indian, and for now their customs continue to endure, but for how much longer seems hard to tell. While these descendants of the Inca continue to subscribe to their traditions, particularly speaking their own language of Qechua, their peculiarly unique clothes for both sexes and their cuisine; the revolution of so-called advanced societies seems to be slowly and ineffably challenging this way of life. Ironically, almost every Indian in Ecuador has a cell phone.
If you have a chance, I urge you to visit the old market at Saquisili before it is gone forever. In the next post I will look at Quito’s new international airport, which offers to bring even more change to Ecuador’s landscape.