*Mostly written 2010-07-13; posted from hotel WiFi 2010-07-16*
On our way from Hacienda Abraspungo in Riobamba to Cuenca, we stopped in the town of Guamote. Apparently, each town is known for a particular type of market on a particular day of the week. Every Thursday, the people of Guamote and its neighboring regions come to Guamote for its animal and vegetable markets.
The animal market was a chaotic affair. In a large open area, people bought and sold pigs, sheep, chickens, chicks, cows, ducks, guinea pigs (a traditional food in this area), kittens (as pets, I hope), donkeys, turkeys, and geese. There was also one vendor selling household goods like pots and pans, televisions, stereos, etc., another vendor selling herbal medicine, and a vendor selling drinks. We even saw a llama, though I’m not sure if it was for sale. One girl, perhaps in her early twenties, was very interested in the pictures Pamela and I were taking. Pamela obliged her curiosity by taking her picture and showing her some of the other photos she’d taken.
I found the market sheep particularly interesting because of the seemingly harsh way some of the animals were treated. While the pigs were decently led around on leashes, it looked like the standard way to transport a sheep was to tie its legs together, pick it up upside-down by the rope, and carry it to its destination. Sheep that were not in transport were often left lying on the ground, legs still tied together.
The vegetable market was similar, though a bit more orderly. Some stalls sold fruits and vegetables. Other sold grains and flour. Still others sold household goods, toys, electronics, yarn, clothing, pirated DVDs — basically almost anything the people here wanted. We bought a bag of delicious baby bananas for 50 cents for munching on along the road.
Between Guamote and Cuenca, we stopped at a site of Inca ruins called Incapirca. Apparently, the Incas had built a temple and ceremony site here, which was still visible with much of the original stonework intact. The Inca work was obvious from its quality — while nearby indigenous structures used crudely formed stones held together with a local cement mixture, the Incan structures just used stones worked to exactly the right shape and size and stacked on top of each other. No glue necessary.
That evening, we stayed in the old-city district of Cuenca, which was built on top of earlier Inca and pre-Inca settlements. Cuenca is the largest city in the southern highlands of Ecuador, and since we were staying there for two nights, we had a chance see the city more than most of the others we’d passed through. Whereas in Guamote most of the people wore traditional clothing, in Cuenca, the people looked dressed like they were in LA or NYC. For example, during the evening most teenage and twenty-something girls were wearing tight jeans, heels, and a lot of makeup. Yet the infrastructure hadn’t caught up with fashion — the sidewalks were unevenly paved or non-existent, and heels looked like exactly the wrong kind of footwear for this city.
We also visited an indoor market in the northeastern part of the old city. The market consisted of one large building with three floors. The upper floor consisted of vendors selling prepared food and drink; the ground floor had vendors selling fruits and vegetables; the lower floor had fish, meat, and miscellaneous items. As in Guamote, each vendor sat or stood in the middle of his or her goods, and many of the vendors sold the same items. I’m not sure how they competed with each other, as they sold (at least to my eyes) undifferentiated products, had no advertising, and no price labels. In particular, it looked like 80% of the food vendors sold the same pork dish on the upper floor.
From the highlands of Cuenca we travelled down to Guayaquil, the most populous city in Ecuador and its economic capital. On the way, we stopped by Cajas National Park, a large park with a few hundred lagoons (we still don’t know the difference between a lagoon and a lake) straddling the Andean continental divide. According to our guide, much of Cuenca’s water supply comes from Cajas.
One of the features of Cajas I found most interesting were the “cushion plants”. Essentially, these are moss and grass-like plants that absorb a lot of water. When you step on them, it’s like stepping onto a squishy couch or a large sponge — they collapse inward, and as soon as you step back off, they spring up again. We did a lot of squishing. It was strangely satisfying.
Guayaquil is a much newer city, compared to Cuenca and Quito. It felt a bit like Washington D.C., with it’s river views, muggy air, large buildings, and scattered monuments. We only spent an evening there wandering the city, but it seemed like a place I’d like to spend more time exploring.