"Eight? You want eight for it?"
"Si, senor, 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."
And so another transaction is concluded at Otavalo's
market, the country's most renowned. Although some people dislike haggling, others enjoy the interaction and joviality of it. Personally, I love nothing more than a good-natured haggle over a sweater, pan pipe or fake pre-Columbian 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!
Visiting Ecuador's markets provides the opportunity to be a part of the chaos, noise and hubbub, and to wonder at all the strange fruits, vegetables and unidentified pieces of meat floating in bubbling stews. 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. It is also 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 Saquisili
? 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.
main tourist market muffles a whole square, aptly named the Plaza de los Ponchos
. On Saturdays, hundreds of stands plug the avenues leading to the square. Those running east slowly become less touristy, dominated by pots and pans and Tupperware. Past the arcades of the produce market, they are jammed with piles of every variety of fruit, vegetable, fish and meat. Other stalls overflow with musical instruments [those infernal whirly drum things and the inevitable panpipes
], intricately-painted ceramic bowls, miniature paintings from the Indians of Tigua
, wood carvings of jagged-jowled men, and jewelry of every size and description. The weavings range from rugs of symmetric red, brown and blue patterns to dark tightly-woven ponchos or bright woolly hats festooned with flowers, from the oranges, yellows and greens of hammocks through to quite Westernized sweaters and zip-up tops of just a few colors.
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. But in addition to visiting the markets, I would suggest you also tour the surrounding villages to meet the families of weavers and learn more about their craft. The most well known are Jose Cotacachi in Peguche
, Miguel Andrango in Agato
, and the Inti-Chumbi cooperative of Iluman
For 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 Saquisili
] and Pujili
]. 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. South of Riobamba
on Sundays, one of the most unique markets takes place at Cajabamba
. Here, the highland Colta Indians dispense with any roofs or structures, and simply hold their age-old market by the side of the Panamericana highway.
||Article contributed by Dominic Hamilton|||