Friday, September 08, 2006

Bustling market and the splendour of Mother Nature.

Today we started our first real adventure. We signed up for a daytrip – a combination of a visit to a market in Sasquili and a trekking trip up and down the crater of the volcano Quilotoa.

The trip started at the markets in Sasquili. Where the market in Otavalo is loved for the immense beauty of colors and artwork, the Sasquili markets are loved for being SO authentic. These are not markets created for the tourists. The Sasquili markets have existed for several centuries and are the main trade center for many of the different Indians living in the region. Actually some of the vendors travel for 10-15 hours just to do business at this market on Thursday mornings.
And what do they sell or buy? There are 7 different markets. We didn’t see them all – but those we passed were the animal market where people change their pigs for a lama, or their lamas for a cow. The fish market, selling fish transported all the way from the coast, the vegetable and fruit market where the most impressive thing for us was the red bananas and of course – as always - all the different scents from the fresh herbs. In the end we visited the handicraft market which was the only sector designed for tourists. One of the markets we didn’t visit was a potato market…A whole market just for potatoes!!! Well potatoes do come in every color, shape and size here, and are an important ingredient in almost every dish - so in some way this sector did make sense.

The markets are very authentic in every sense. We especially liked the animal market. Full of sheep, goats, lamas, pigs, chickens and cows… And why make things more complicated than they have to be? Why sell your bananas, so that you can by a cow – if you can buy a cow with your bananas? Trading goods is very common here in Ecuador.
The vendors and the buyers (often the same person) was a throng of Indians in their typical clothes - most commonly, a hat, poncho and long skirts. Depending on the form of the hat, the color of the poncho or the woven technique used for making the clothes, it is possible to see from which community they are from. The only ones we could recognize were the Otavaleñoes.
One thing the Indian communities have in common: Are they wearing clothes in bright colors it shows that they are available on the market – unmarried.

Our guide allowed us to buy a lama… due the high risk of being spit at – we chose not to. Instead we bought freshly made corn tortillas, corn bread and a sample of some of the dried corn. The most common corn here are not the yellow one we are used to in DK, but a gigantic tasteful white one.

After a couple of hours at the market we continued the drive through the mountains for two hours. On the way we got a good view of the Andean life – as it is now – and as it have been for centuries almost without any changes. Some Indians live in small huts placed in the rough landscapes – pretty much in the middle of nowhere. The Indians are spotted near the rivers - washing clothes, walking by the road transporting tradable goods or on the field sheparding their herd of sheep or lamas. Apparently there live around 4 millions Indians in Ecuador (one third of the whole Ecuador’s population). Most of them have access to school, but only few of them finish their education. At school they learn both Spanish and Quechua – but because only few finish their obligatory education, there are many Indians that only speak Quechua.
Quechua is an old Indian language. It is written from right to left, only has 3 vowels and is impossible to understand.
Surprisingly, the Indians should be very organized. They have a represent in the government, and their network goes beyond the borders of Ecuador.

The landscapes are very dramatic – the region looks from many sites deserted. Most of the plantations are made of Pine trees, Cypress and Eucalyptus trees – all brought from Australia. When we finally reached the summit of the Quilotoa – crater, what a view that met us! An emerald green lake with a diameter of two kilometer. It truly took our breath away, - partly because of the strong Andean wind which met our faces.

We then began the journey down into the crater. A good half hour steep walk, where we every five minutes had to stop to enjoy the beautiful view. We made a pact with the Belgian couple: To save the photo-breaks for later. A quick glimpse down the steep sandy trail told us that we definitely would need the beaks more on the way up.

When we arrived at the lake – we were greeted by an Indian family. They actually had small canoes for rent. We skipped that adventure, took a sit with a perfect look over the lake and rested before ascending to the summit.
The break did not seem to have been enough... From only 30 minutes used to reach the lake – we used 90 hard minutes to ascend...with a lot of photo breaks… and what ever other excuse Barbara could come up with.. I need water bla bla bla.
The evening was spent with the Belgium couple and a French guy at a very local restaurant. We all had almuerzos. Almuerzos means the lunch of the day and often consists of a soup and a main dish. Today we learned that you can eat lunches at night. A treat for only 1,30 dollar.


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