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Saquisilí Market



I suppose it’s a little like an Ecuadorian Wal-Mart. I mean, you can get everything you need there. Food. Clothes. Household stuff. There’s a food court. You can buy music and the latest DVDs—if you don’t mind that they’ve all been pirated and don’t really work very well. You can even get your hair cut and your knives sharpened.


The similarities stop there, though. There’s no photo lab, not much of a lingerie section, and you won’t find any greeting cards. There are no shopping carts, but if you have a llama, feel free to load him up. (Shopping carts don’t wander off to nibble grass while you’re looking for shampoo, but then again you can’t pat a shopping cart on the head). The stuff in the food court definitely isn’t what you’re used to, unless of course your Wal-Mart stocks pig heads, miniature fish fried in grease, or guinea pig on a stick.


Oh, and you can’t use your credit card.


The Saquisilí market is one of the largest remaining indigenous markets in Ecuador. The famous Otavalo market sold out years ago: it’s all tourist stuff now. But Saquisilí has stuck to its roots: every Thursday, hundreds if not thousands of indigenous people in the mountains south of Quito pack up their burros (donkeys) and llamas early in the morning and make the long trek to Saquisilí. They bring their excess produce: a few onions, some carrots, potatoes, perhaps even some chickens or a pig. They arrive when it is still dark out and set up shop, hoping to make a little extra money or at least get a fair trade for what they’ve brought.


As the people pour into town, the square comes to life. In the butcher shop, they slaughter sheep, pigs, goats, cattle and llamas and sell them off bit-by-bit. Even the heads are sold: they make good soup. The food-sellers drizzle in one-by-one and fire up their stoves: they’ll begin to fry fish, boil chicken and make rice. Some specialize in juice: pineapple, orange, blackberry and more, including some that you’ve probably never seen before.


The Saquisilí market is more than a trip to the grocery store for the locals. As it has been for centuries, market day is an important social event. The men and women who come to market wear their Sunday best and spend as much time socializing as they do buying and selling.


Although the market is gradually becoming more touristy, it still maintains that authentic edge that provides visitors with a unique view of native life. More and more visitors, perhaps a little turned off by the commercial Otavalo market, come to Saquisilí for a less touristy taste of traditional highland life. The vendors have been quick to spot this, and you’ll find stalls devoted to selling Otavalo textiles, Tigua paintings and Pujili ceramics. Unlike Otavalo, however, these stands have not yet become the focus of the market: they’re secondary and the exception to the rule.


Set foot in this spectacular market and you’ll be stepping back in time. Bring your camera, bring your llama, and above all bring an open mind: this is one of the last places in the world that won’t ask “paper or plastic?”

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