(Caution: Vegetarians may want to skip this post!) Where can you buy tomatoes, papayas, onions, a new pair of sneakers, a can of spray foam for Carnaval, and a live chicken all in one go? That would be Cuenca’s largest local marketplace, Feria Libre!
On my first Saturday in Ecuador, I visited Otavalo’s famous market. In terms of edible items for sale, density of people, and sheer craziness (or ‘locura’ as they would say here), Feria Libre is hands down the winner. This is the place where locals come from all the surrounding villages every weekend to stock up on meat and produce. You won’t find too many Gringos casually strolling through the isles – and no one really ‘strolls.’ Rather, you bustle your way through crowds of people – not unlike leaving a stadium or concert arena back home.
On Saturday morning, my host, Charito, invited me to accompany her to a local organic farmers market, and then to Feria Libre, to do her weekly shopping. Coming from a Northern Hemisphere winter, I was impressed and drooling at the sight of so many fresh fruits and veggies at the farmer’s market. After Charito had filled her bag, we headed down the road to the Feria Libre.
Feria Libre on a Saturday is a place I would feel really uncomfortable going alone. But I had Charito, my protectress, who grabbed my arm and hung on to me as we weaved in and out of the stalls, people, and animals. She cautioned me to watch out for ladrones (thieves) in the crowds, and with all the distractions, and the fact that there is no way I could blend into the crowd, I was glad not to have anything more with me than that and $5 in my pocket.
The market goes on and on, and you could easily get lost and disoriented if you don’t know where you’re going. Apparently, it’s smaller on weekdays (not so much produce or livestock). As Charito guided me around while doing some shopping, I took as many discreet pictures as I could, at Charito’s urging. She was looking for a chicken to take to her parent’s house on Sunday.
When she mentioned going to the chicken area of the market, this wasn’t quite what I expected.
Aisles and aisles of women, dressed in traditional clothing (colorful velvet skirts), presenting passers-by with bags – or sometimes baskets – full of live chickens. But if you weren’t in the mood for a chicken, there were plenty of guinea pigs too.
Guinea pigs (or cuy) are part of the comida tipica (traditional food) of Ecuador and Peru, and they are typically roasted on a spit alongside pigs and chickens.
After dropping our load of goodies off at the house (including the chicken), Charito’s friend, Ivan, took us on a long drive in his Jeep up into the mountains, for some fresh air and silence, to recover from the morning’s crazy shopping trip.
For lunch, we stopped at an open-air restaurant for comida tipica (below). And, if you’re wondering, I had the chicken soup.