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Saquisili Market

Friday, September 30th, 2005

29 September 2005 (Thursday) – Quito to Latacunga to Saquisili to Latacunga, Ecuador

Last night, as I was packing, I happened to leaf through my guidebook and it dawned on me that the next day – today – is a Thursday and a small town called Saquisili has a famous market every Thursday, and it is just 30 minutes from Latacunga. Just perfect! I just need to leave Quito as early as possible to make it to the Saquisili market.

I stole out of the apartment of Joshua and gang before 6am, hopefully, as quiet as a mouse, and caught the Trole (trolley) to Cumanda to get to the bus terminal. I was on the bus by 6:30am. The ride from Quito to Latacunga, according to the guidebook, is supposed to be amazing on a clear day, where one is able to see up to 10 peaks of Ecuador. Today is such a day and I managed to see Pichincha, Rucu Pichincha and the other mountain to their left which was entirely snowed in due to yesterday’s freezing weather. I also saw the brilliant-looking Cotopaxi and several other peaks that I had no idea what their names were. But I soon fell right asleep on the bus.

When we reached Latacunga, the kindly bus-driver drove me to within a few blocks of my intended hotel. That was very nice of him. Latacunga is not a very interesting place, but it is great to use it as a base to do excursions around this region. It is in the path of Volcano Cotopaxi, however, and for 3 times in the 1700s and 1800s, it had been thoroughly destroyed by the eruptions of Volcano Cotopaxi. The authorities nevertheless rebuilt the city 3 times, always in the same spot. Not very bright of them. So, the place no longer has any colonial flavour. Anyway, great to see Cotopaxi again.

By 9am or so, I had caught a bus to Saquisili. There were many villagers climbing onto the bus. Many of them were carrying empty baskets. When we arrived, I thought I could follow some of these villagers to the market area but they all dispersed themselves in various directions. I followed a couple of tourists for a while until we came upon the plaza. They carried on in one direction, but when I asked a local nearby where the market was, he pointed out another direction to me.

Indeed, several Indian women were lugging heavy sacks of whatever on their backs towards that direction so I followed suit. Wow, when I came upon the market, I was absolutely delighted! Gosh, the amazing colours everywhere!! The Indians from this region wore clothes which were much more colourful than the Otavaleños whom I had seen previously.

Saquisili market

 ... selling produces and items for locals

The most distinct thing worn by both men and women must be their clever little pinched hat, with the short-brim and occasionally, with a feather attached to it. The men keep their hair short, and they are mostly in regular modern clothes, but quite a number of them wear striped ponchos that were like rainbows. The women are mostly in traditional attire. The tops can be anything, usually regular blouses with regular sweaters. But the skirts, wow… OK, some wear dull-coloured old-fashioned skirts that came up to the knees. But, many others wear pleated skirts, some velvet, many with amazing embroideries or glittering effect. They usually wear white or dull-coloured socks that came up to the knees. Then, they wrap themselves up in the brightest and most colourful knitted shawls – lime green, bright orange, fuchsia, purple, yellow, hot pink, etc… It was such a delight to see the amazing clash of contrasting colours, worn so casually by the locals. They are mostly from the Andean region to the west of Lataguna, from villages like Zumbahua, Quilotoa, Chugchilan, etc… But today, they were all converged here for the Saquisili market.

Local women dressed in very, very bright and colourful costumes

Local men are dressed in colourfully-striped rainbow ponchos

I spent a good hour wandering around the market, where hens, maizes, fruits, vegetables, household goods were sold. I was constantly looking at the people and their interesting outfits, observing their buying and bargaining skills. I was thorougly enchanted, I possibly had a small smile on my face the whole time.

Chickens - unable to run

I came across some hornado de cerdo. This was a whole pig being cooked over fire, thoroughly crisping the skin. They usually display the dish with the whole head of the pig staring at you. Very ‘Lord of The Flies’. I had seen this dish since Pasto in Colombia. I had to try it, Ismael kept telling me how delicious it is. But I guess, he had a special place in mind. Not in a market in Saquisili! But I ordered a plate anyway. Wow, it was very delicious, I think, rather fatty, considering I also ate the skin of the pig, but who cares… it was amazing. Now, I wait for possible diarrhoea.

Care for a whole barbecued pig?

A saint being carried around to bless the locals

After a while, I slowly returned to the plaza. There, I spotted other tourists. Funny, during the time at the market, I had not seen one single tourist. And I had expected to see other tourists in the market because Ecuador is a rather touristy country, and markets such as this were described in the guidebooks, which I am sure, meant other tourists would make the trip here. But these tourists seemed to be coming from another direction, all with little bags of touristy goods.

Oh. It then dawned on me that perhaps, there was ANOTHER market down the other road where the other two tourists had disappeared to this morning. I strolled there for a look. Well, there indeed was another market, but it was not as interesting and colourful as the one I saw and there was a section that sold touristy items. No wonder, the tourists were here, and not there. But hey, I had a more delightful time back at the produce market.

As I paused outside a shop to drink a bottle of Sprite (so that I could return the glass bottle), there was a commotion nearby. Apparently, a man had upset a table with a sort of cream snack being sold by a woman. She was hurling abuses at him now, demanding US$10 compensation. The curious crowd gathered to watch. The woman grabbed the guy and tried to march him to the police. The crowd followed. Later, they returned again, with the woman still yelling and screaming and the crowd dutifully returned to watch as well. Meanwhile, some ladies around me were muttering that US$10 was too much, it was worth perhaps, US$5. Yeah, US$10 was too much. I ended up having a short discussion on this with several of the Indian women. But the woman selling the snack was relentless. Sigh, there was no way the guy could pay up, I think. I wonder how this little village drama would end.

I returned to Latacunga, and as there were tours advertised by my hotel, I made enquiries for the price of a tour to Laguna Quilotoa, which was something I hope to do tomorrow. What??!!? 25 smackers!!! Forget it! I later made my way to the bus station to inquire the time of departure. I would do this trip by myself.

The Storm

Thursday, September 29th, 2005

28 September 2005 (Wednesday) – Quito, Ecuador

We woke up to an unbelievably beautiful blue and sunny day. What a difference from yesterday! I actually had to put on my sun-block. Some people were even wearing sleeveless blouses. I was thinking, oh… what a pity, we could have gone up the Pichincha today instead, it would have been awesome to view all the mountains around.

Anyway, I had been a little undecided when to leave Quito, so that was why I was still lingering here. I felt that I had not known the Old Colonial Centre well yet. So, today, I wanted to walk around there a bit. But I think I should really get going by tomorrow.

I really loved wandering around to get to know a city centre. I tried various alleys and streets. Quito’s Colonial Centre is undulating, so sometimes, it would be quite a hike to go up. Also, in some streets, the pavements are really tiny, allowing only 1 person to walk. So, pedestrians often spill onto the roads, which are incidentally full of cars all the time.

Plaza of San Francisco

I wandered into a small centro comercial and found a nice clean respectable place selling ‘seco de chivo’. Ismael had told me this is a very typical Ecuadorian dish and which I just had to try one day. Although ‘seco’ means ‘dry’, this dish actually came with a sauce. The owner was very friendly to me, claiming that they had been serving this dish for 40 years. OK, I would give it a shot. ‘Chivo’ is ‘mutton’. I had never gotten the chance to eat this meat here in South America as it seemed quite rare.

I visited the shop-cum-cafe-cum-museum called Tianguez under the Church of San Francisco. If you have dollars to burn, feel free to spend them merrily in this expensive shop. If you have nothing to burn, visit it as well. It is set in the underground cellars of the church. And the shop actually has several corridors, leading to other underground cellars. Many of the displays, including Ecuadorean crafts done in modern artistic styles, are very beautiful, so you can also treat it like a museum.

Underground cellars of Church of San Francisco

Back at the Centro Cultural Metropolitano, besides the World Press Photo 05 exhibition I visited last week, there was another photo exhibition. This was called AMRIK, which incidentally, was written in Arabic as well and I managed to read it based on my faint Arabic memories… yeh! It contained photos showing the Islamic cultures and influences in South America, with incredibly artistic and creative photographs taken from South American photographers. Spanish vocabulary also had a lot of influence from Arabic words, due to the proximity of the Iberian Peninsula to Northern Africa. Words like algodon (cotton), aduana (customs), zanahoria (carrot), alfombra (carpet), etc… And these words, due to the Spanish conquest, are used here in South America as well now. Interesting to see how the whole world is interconnected in this way.

The hybrid metro-bus system of Quito

The sky had turned eerily grey by the time I stepped out of the Centro Cultural Metropolitano. There was a sense of urgency amongst the locals around the Plaza de la Independencia. I stumbled upon the same place that Ismael and Patricia took me to have a cup of hot chocolate last Friday, the place where we saw the traditional Ecuadorean dances. It was Palacio Arzobispal, an ex-monastery or something. I was walking towards it when I saw a gigantic flash of lightning streak across the sky. A deep groan of the thunder soon followed. Oops, how fast the weather changed within the last 3 or 4 hours!! I hurried into Palacio Arzobispal and soon, the storm broke. Well, at least I had a place to hide from the rain which seemed to be getting stronger and stronger.

Several people were doing the same. I sat in the patio, listening to the constant claps of deafening thunder and watching the storm unfold through the sky-light of the patio. The sky-light was actually exposed by the sides, so droplets of rain kept coming in. At first, it was tolerable, but soon, the rain got heavier and water seemed to be also seeping in through the parts between the glass. Finally, the place was totally rained in when splashes of water came in through the pipes by the sides of the walls. Everyone hurried away.

I must have stayed there for more than one and a half hour before daring to venture out again. Gosh, I want to see more of the centre but it was still raining. Nevertheless, with my umbrella out, I walked down several streets, getting splashed at by the passing cars all the way to La Basilica.

Outside La Basilica, it was crowded with people and umbrellas. I squeezed in and found the entire cathedral filled to the brim with faithful locals, most with lighted candles. I observed the mass for a while and the faces of the locals as they listened to the preacher and sang songs like ‘Hallelujah’ with conviction.

Gosh, the clouds now hung so low that we could not even see Pichincha at all! Now I am glad I went to Pichincha yesterday. Finally, when thoroughly soaked to the bones, especially the lower parts of my pants, I headed home. Yep, with the weather not so great in Quito, it is definitely time to leave the city. I truly had enjoyed my stay here, meeting Joshua and gang and getting to know their social projects, wow, I truly admire their selflessness, and being lucky enough to have Ismael and Patricia spend so much time with me!

So Our Day

Wednesday, September 28th, 2005
27 September 2005 (Tuesday) - Quito, Ecuador Ismael had suggested that today we would go to Pichincha early early early early in the morning, to avoid the clouds. So, we dragged ourselves up by 7am only to find the rain pattering ... [Continue reading this entry]

Not Our Day

Tuesday, September 27th, 2005
26 September 2005 (Monday) - Quito, Ecuador Ismael had suggested that we go up to Pichincha, the mountain overlooking Quito today. We met up after 11am, with Patricia. Hmm... Ismael observed the clouds closing in on the mountain. Not such a ... [Continue reading this entry]


Monday, September 26th, 2005
25 September 2005 (Sunday) - Quito to Parque Nacional Cotopaxi to Quito, Ecuador There is a tourist train leaving each Saturday and Sunday from Quito to Parque Nacional El Boliche. The national park is located at the base of one of ... [Continue reading this entry]


Monday, September 26th, 2005
24 September 2005 (Saturday) - Quito, Ecuador I walked down to the Casa de La Cultura which housed the Museo Nacional and had a thoroughly fascinating time there. I was terribly impressed with the quality of the displays in this museum. ... [Continue reading this entry]

All Things Typical of Ecuador

Saturday, September 24th, 2005
23 September 2005 (Friday) - Quito, Ecuador Ismael had asked me to call him at around 2:30pm to see if we could do something together. I happened to be in the Old Colonial City at that time, and so we arranged ... [Continue reading this entry]

A Walk Through the Countryside

Friday, September 23rd, 2005
22 September 2005 (Thursday) - Otavalo to Quito, Ecuador I wanted to do something more today besides the market. The owner of my hostel suggested Lago Cuicocha, but it seemed I had to pay for a rather expensive taxi ride to ... [Continue reading this entry]

Otavalo Market

Friday, September 23rd, 2005
21 September 2005 (Wednesday) - Otavalo, Ecuador Besides Saturday's market, what I read in the guidebook was that the market would also be busier on Wednesday. Indeed, there were many more stalls set up today. Gosh, the poor dears... To think ... [Continue reading this entry]

Dollars and No Sense

Wednesday, September 21st, 2005
20 September 2005 (Tuesday) - Otavalo, Ecuador Otavalo is famous for its markets, especially its Saturday markets. There are apparently a handful of markets going on at the same time then, the livestock market, the produce market, etc... but the ... [Continue reading this entry]