from the Traveler's Ecuador Companion © The
Globe Pequot Press. Reproduced with permission.
by Dominic Hamilton.
You want eight for it?"
"Si, señor, precio muy bueno. Precio especial."
"Ten isn't 'especial'! How about two for ten, that's 'especial.'"
"Dos por diez? No, no, no, no..."
"Come on, ten for two. You're not going to sell anything at
eight for one."
"Ay, bueno... Hecho. Dos por diez."
Hecho. Done. And so another transaction is concluded at Otavalo's
some people dislike haggling, others enjoy the interaction
and joviality of it. Personally, I love nothing more than
haggling good-naturedly over a sweater, pan pipe or fake pre-Colombian
trinket. And such is the range and quality of the produce
on sale at Otavalo, after a few hours of buying, you'll be
forced to haggle: you'll have no money left!
the early morning, in a field on the outskirts of town, a
different type of haggling takes place. At the animal market,
you enter through a hole in the barbed wire fence where officials
tax the buyers 20 cents on every purchase. You're immediately
squelching in the mud of hundreds of trotters and barefooted
Indians, as swine ranging from the squealing weeks-old piglet
to the mammoth 160-kilo (354-pound) hog are inspected, haggled
over and eventually sold.
women tether cords which fan out to runts of piglets happily
rooting around in the mud for scraps, while mestizo families
throw pigs out of the back of their vans to buyers who prise
the poor animals' jaws open with crowbars below. After the
pigs come the sheep, huddled in bleating flocks around their
owners, and then the cows and the occasional bull of all sizes
and colors, insouciantly splurging cowpats and urinating while
their masters decided their fates. None of the locals pay
the odd tourist the slightest bit of attention.
went around talking to the peasants, asking them where they
were from, how much they expected their cow to fetch, and
what the weather was going to do. Most of them, weather-burnished
and ragged-toothed, still talked in sucres, Ecuador's old
currency, even though it was over a year since the economy
was 'dollarized'. In the melée, I spotted a woman who
had a sheep instead of a baby slung around her back, and another
clasping two large cockerels beneath her ample bosom, only
their heads and claws emerging from the folds of her embroidered,
I made my way to the main tourist market at the Plaza de los
Ponchos, muffled by stalls. On Saturdays, hundreds of stands
plug the avenues leading to the square, the ones running east
slowly becoming less touristy, dominated by pots and pans
and Tupperware, until you reach the arcades of the produce
market, jammed with piles of every variety of fruit, vegetable,
fish and meat.
weavings are beautiful, ranging from rugs of symmetric red,
brown and blue patterns, dark tightly-woven ponchos, bright
woolly hats festooned with flowers, the oranges, yellows and
greens of hammocks, through to quite Westernized sweaters
and zip-up tops of just a few colors. To add to the textiles,
stalls also overflow with musical instruments (those infernal
whirly drum things and the inevitable panpipes); intricately-painted
ceramic bowls; miniature paintings from the Indians of Tigua,
masters of representing their world of puffing volcanoes,
fluffy lamas and busying locals; wood carvings of jagged-jowled
men; and jewelry of every size and description. Although undeniably
a tourist trap, the quality of the crafts on sale at Otavalo
is so high most people don't mind feeling like another gringo.
hosts probably the most famous tourists' market in South America,
and most definitely Ecuador's most important. The Otavalan
Indians, the women instantly recognizable by the layers of
gold necklaces which throng their necks, are renowned for
their textiles and weaving, but also for their business acumen,
and ambition. They rank among the continent's most prosperous
indigenous people, proud of their heritage - they still wear
their colonial-traditional dress - and yet able to take advantage
of the First World's need for souvenirs, bright colors and
As well visiting the markets, I would suggest
you take a tour of the surrounding villages to meet the families
of weavers and learn more about their craft. The most well-known
are José Cotacachi in Peguchi, Miguel Andrango in Agato, and
the Inti-Chumbi cooperative of Ilumán.
tourist produce, Otavalo stands head and shoulders above any
other highland town. But what the others lack in souvenirs
they make up for in authenticity and local color.
To the south
of Quito, three markets take place on different days in the
towns of Saquisilí (Thursday), Zumbahua (Saturday)
and Pujilí (Sunday).
By staying in the Latacunga area
(perhaps at one of the haciendas), you can visit all three.
In the central and southern sierra, all the major towns spring
to bustling, colorful life for their market days.
of Riobamba on Sundays, one of the most unique markets takes
place at Cajabamba. The highland Colta Indians dispense
with any roofs or structures, and simply hold their age-old
market by the side of the Panamericana.
Beginning at dawn, Indians from surrounding villages make
their way to the towns' squares. Bent-double, they carry Sisyphean
sacks stuffed with potatoes or onions on their backs, herd
their sheep along the roadsides, drag their pigs down the
cobbles, transport their hens in wooden crates or sacks poked
with holes filled with pecking heads, and haul tables, benches,
pots and pans to their favored spot on the square, where they
set up their impromptu, open-air restaurants.
joy of visiting these markets is the opportunity to be a part
of the chaos, noise and hubbub, to wonder at all the strange
fruits, vegetables and unidentified pieces of meat floating
in bubbling stews. It's to observe the dress-code of the villagers:
does the black poncho on that man mean he's from Salasaca?
Does the wide white felt hat on that woman come from Saquisilí
The Indian names of these places are as elegant
as the costumes of those that live there. You can watch them
haggle over guinea pigs, laugh about misfortune, and gossip
about the latest scandal or the price of milk.
It's to step
into the lives of the highland Indians, and also back in time:
markets have been held in the highland towns and villages
since time immemorial.