Sunday, December 16, 2012

Venturing Out: Gualaceo, Ecuador

Written by Karen.
We walked down the dusty cobblestoned streets to the Terminal Terrestre (the bus station) which is in the southern part of Cuenca.  We planned to take a bus and explore several towns: Gualaceo, Chordeleg, and Sigsig. We wound up exploring just one today: Gualaceo.  Cost of the bus ride: 60 cents USD one-way per person.  
The town of Gualaceo is approximately 36 km from Cuenca and the bus ride took about 1 hour.  Although it took some time to leave Cuenca due to the bus stopping along the road to pick up additional customers, the bus ride was leisurely with much to see along the way.

Cuenca is completely surrounded by the mountains of the Southern Andes, and as we drove south we could see the dramatic rocky hills on one side of the road go straight up for what seemed to be 1000 feet high from the road.  The verdant rolling hills on the other side of the road had tall, willowy trees that grew alongside the wide river down below.  There were squares of farmland with rows of corn and other vegetables neatly laid out.  We saw tethered cows, sheep and goats grazing peacefully under trees.  The natural beauty of the countryside kept us busy as we switched our gaze from one side of the jam-packed bus to the other.  

The town of Gualaceo is small and off-the-beaten track, but is a picturesque and vibrant town. I had read that there was a market that sold homemade local artisan objects on the weekends, but we never found that market on this Sunday.  However, we did find two fruit, vegetable and meat markets (mercados) that we wandered through.  

I never get tired of exploring these types of markets: full of ripe smelling fruits; vegetables that still have dirt on them from being recently harvested; and the wide variety of meats and associated bits and pieces all used in some form or another.  These are foods that have been recently harvested, butchered and/or picked with no processing, plastic wrap, or refrigeration.  Truly from the farm to the table.  

The freshly-picked and completely ripe fruits and vegetables are easy to appreciate.  It's fun to wander through the rows of the market and see and taste different and new fruits.  

When we purchase fruits and vegetables back "home" in Cuenca, we'll ask for 50 cents worth of tomatoes, and the vendor will pick out 6 beautiful, large and completely ripe tomatoes.  If we ask for 25 cents worth of peppers, we'll get three heavily scented green and red peppers in a bag. You receive an appropriate amount of fruits and vegetables depending on how much you want to spend.  

But, it's the meats section that is still mysterious to me.  The meat section smells like freshly-butchered, still warm and un-refrigerated meat.  The flies swarm to this part of the market, and I wonder - as I do every time I see warm, freshly-butchered, un-refrigerated meat sitting unprotected on a very hot day - how does this work?  How can this meat be safe to eat?  But, clearly it is. We have seen this set up on multiple occasions, with customers - and I'm sure repeat customers - enjoying the various meat parts and products.

People don't shy away from recently butchered meat.  The vendors - mostly women - easily slice away at various parts, separating them into smaller pieces and wiping away the moist blood from their hands.  In addition to taking home various types of meat, customers can also purchase a piece of meat, along with some vegetables and then take their purchases to the top floor of the indoor market where they have their food made into lunch for them to consume on the premises.  

Some meat vendors will also cook the meat at the local market and sell pieces for lunch, snacks, or wrapped up to take home.  We saw this with huge cooked pigs and smaller cuy (similar to guinea pig).

After wandering through the two markets - one indoor and one outdoor - we meandered through the rest of the town.  It was blazing hot.  I'm guessing it was around 90 degrees fahrenheit.  As the afternoon got hotter and hotter, most of the town residents that we saw sought shelter from the intense sun and were relaxing and chatting in the shade. After a few hours of bucking the trend, we finally found some shade ourselves and had lunch with a couple of cold ones.

Street Art/Graffiti seen on the way to the Mercado
One of the streets in Gualaceo
As we reached the outdoor market, we could see locals talking together, the shoe-shine guy waiting for a pair of dusty shoes on the far left, and a man standing with a basket of fruits/vegetables nearby.
The view from the beginning of one of the rows of fruits and vegetables.
As we walked down the rows, we saw freshly harvested vegetables and ripe fruits available for purchase.
Another row of possibilities
Local women in their traditional clothing walk through the market.
It's starting to get very hot.  This young boy has the right idea....ice cream! 
An example of one of the vendor's stalls that is full of ripe fruit available for sale.
If you are looking for some protein...freshly peeled hard boiled quail eggs might be another option...
The outdoor market is located in front of the local church. 
An artistic mural on one side of the local church. 
As the afternoon becomes hotter and hotter, this family stays cool by having a soda on the steps of a local convenience store.
An example of the balconies seen while walking around the town.
Another example of the balconies seen while walking around town.  This one has been decorated for the Christmas holiday season.
The edge of the main square on the other side of the local church.  This square had flowers, benches and shady areas to escape the heat.
A family relaxing in the shade of the main square. 
The two towers of the local church.  We noticed that there was a clock on each side of the tower.  The clocks were all painted onto the towers and did not give the accurate time.
The local church with people talking together in the main square. 
On the other side of the main square
The other end of the outdoor market.  This area sold corn, beans and potatoes.  There was also an area for live birds and pigs to be sold.
A vendor is preparing lunches for hungry customers at the outdoor market.  She is cooking a skillet full of sausages, and there is a line waiting.
A vendor pulling off the remaining edible bits of a cooked pig at the outdoor market.  She adds them to the bowl and adds assorted diced vegetables to the mix.  
An example of a cooked pig that was offered in the indoor market.  The female vendor would carve off pieces of the pig for either lunch or carryout.  She also offered the crispy skin as a snack.  
There's not much left....
We happened to walk past a rather spirited negotiation regarding the sale of this little pig.  Once the two women work out a price, the pig will go into the bag for transport.
On another side of the main square
A street in Gualaceo as we meander through the town.
We notice a pressed mud and straw house during our walk.  The bricks have begun to fall off the structure, leaving the mud and straw exposed to the elements.  
Two young boys play soccer (futbol) in a video store.  The boy on the right just scored a goal a few seconds ago, much to the chagrin of the other boy.
People beating the heat.  
Women in their traditional dress
A woman carrying a load wrapped in her shawl on her back.  
A one-way wooden bridge over the river that goes through the town.  
The park that is on both sides of the river.  There were many families and couples having picnics and/or swimming in the river enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon. 

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