Cuenca Market

Breathe. Ack. What is that? Sniff attempt. Fail. Super stuffed up. Possible allergies. Vincent Vega? No. Hmmmm. A potent incense had burned all night from the front desk. Our dorm room was right beside it. Yeah. Kinda hard to breathe right now. Probably covers up the smell of stinky travelers pretty good though. Guess I’ll get up then.
Drisdelle is mobilizing. The girls from France are in the bunks next to mine. The shorter, curly haired one is also snuffalupagus right now. Blondie is half awake. And whoever came to the top of my bunk in the middle of the night is already up.

Give MacKay a toe wiggle, “Breaky?”, “Nah man, I’m super sick. In the bathroom all night. Didn’t sleep.” Whoa shit. He rolls over. I bring the news to Drisdelle who’s already gotten some fresh brewed coffee. What a treat after days of instasludge. Yeah, we may not be leaving today. Check out is a couple hours away and Malady is hurting bigtime (writing via phone swipe on another bus. MacKay always autocorrects to malady and i recorrect every time. Leaving it this time though, may have missed it in older posts)

Grab some toast and homemade jam and have a seat in the common area. A young dude from England with a sunburn half a shade less than our own introduces himself as Steve. He’s going the opposite direction as us, going to Baños, Quito, and Medellin. We full him up with stories and he’s pumped. The French girls join us and are interested in Baños too, their next stop. The guy from my top bunk is there too, having coffee and gesturing his way around a tablet. He’s from Minneapolis, names Alex.

Drisdelle and i decide to take a walk into old town and check the place out. Alex joins us. The hostel is beside this giant old building that’s a heritage site. Not sure what it used to be but it’s a high school now. Pretty impressive structure.

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We walk another block and are already at the river which separates the old and the modem sections of the city. The river is beautiful, as are the buildings and bridges along it.

Up a hill we aim towards a massive church where we presume the central square is. It is. A great big plaza with trees and a gazebo. Gigantic church on one side. Some shops and various government buildings encircling. All colonial architecture, but not nearly as impressive or as colorful as Quito.

I slip into the tourism building and nab a map and some info from the girl there. Back out we follow the map through a series of churches and another plaza, then back down towards the river and back to the hostel. Very pretty city. Good mix of modern and old. Very orderly. Seems even more upper-classy than Quito. Like there’s generally more money here. This is what we saw on our walkabout:

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Back to the hostel and people are gearing up fir the market walk. Sure we’re in. Check on MacKay. Nope. Still feels like shit. Damn, that sucks.

Outside waiting for people, we’re playing with Vincent when an adorable little brown puppy wobbles his way over to see what’s up. His name’s Toby and he’s in confused discovery mode, bouncing and flopping over, rolling, sniffing and licking. Unbearably cute.

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Everyone’s ready and we leave through the hostel gate with super excited Vincent leading the way, bounding out onto the sidewalk. “He acts like it’s his first time out every time” Andreas tells me. Vincent is so full of energy he doesn’t know what to do. Pee on a tree, that’s what you do, and the telephone pole, and the next one too.

Our posse includes Drisdelle and I, Alex, a tall Dutchman named Martin (meeting lots of Dutch lately), Andreas, Vincent the super dog, and a lively and talkative girl named Iliana, who also works at the hostel, presumably Andreas’ gf.

It’s about a 40 minute walk to the market and we see a fair chunk of the new town now. Fairly westernized. All the usual chain restaurants. But also new parks, stadiums, business buildings and lots and lots of murals interspersed.

We pass by a Pizza Hut and kinda make a joke. Iliana tells us is actually a nice place for dinner here. The servers all wear tuxedos.

Reach the market. It’s a large complex we can see across a traffic roundabout. Vincent has peed on every pole from the hostel to here. He’s only a year and eight months. He was a stray that Iliana had found. Very chill dog. Really fun to have around.

Next are the outskirts of the market. Can’t really get a concept of how big it is yet. Iliana describes that on Wednesdays they open up the outside part and it’s much much bigger than other days. You can grab a spot for 50 cents (may need to install a Snoodle booth here! ).

We walk up to a booth with these weird doll shaped breads and a steaming cauldron of deep purple goo. Iliana gets a cup of the stuff and a bread person to share for a buck. The bread is sweet and the cup is a warm cider kind of concoction made from a type of blueberry that grows in the Andes. Some pineapple chunks are in there and some cinnamon too. If you mix the bread with the drink, you can basically build a pie right in your mouth.

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A girl walks by with bags of some odd, oval, reddish-orange fruit. Andreas calls them obo and buys a giant bag of them for a buck (everything is a buck, it’s amazing). You roll the fruit in your hand to squish the insides, then make a home and suck the juices out. The taste was apple sweet and also slightly tart. Really good. I had a handful of them.

Next booth Drisdelle points at a crate filled with bulbs and leaves of a purplish-black flower. “That’s Hibiscus” says Iliana. “We use that to make a local tea called Canelazo. We’ll make some tonight and maybe find some alcohol to put in it”. Huge bag – $1.

We walk past a section that’s basically a pet store. Kittens, puppies, birds, guinea pigs (sorry bout the other day, pal), etc.. i pull out my phone to take a pic and hear a voice behind me, “You speak English”. There’s a haggard middle aged, bra-less lady behind me. “Yeah”, “Be careful with your phone. Many many phones get taken here all the time”. Ok thanks. Kind of creepy, but good advice.

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Another girl walks by with bags of strawberries. Andreas grabs for big bags of them. $4. Whoa you love strawberries. Yes, I love strawberries. we use then at the hostel to make jam. Oh yeah, had some this morning. Super good.

We come around the outside of the complex and finally are into the heart of the market. It’s a massive, branching, labyrinthian area of huge open spaces and jutting out long, narrow corridors. it’s jam packed with vendors and patrons, carts trying to squeeze through with wares, meticulously stacked fruits exploding with color, meticulously stacked or hanging fish exploding with eat-me-and-die smell. And Vincent lumbering through it all like a bear cub, exploring everything, running far away and galloping back.

There were general stores as well, and booths filled with electronics, and barber shops, strangely, and every once in a while we’re white Shrines that locals would pause by to quickly pray and drop a donation in the fenced in religious icon.

As we passed various booths Iliana would describe what things were. She had all sorts of knowledge about what spices, veggies, and meats were used in ask mins of Ecuadorian dishes:
– This cheese is pressed in woven baskets. Tastes like feta.
– Here is cow lung, mostly used for a dog food
– These spices are used with this meat to make a hangover soup.
– Etc….

We stopped and got a small pink foam cup with sprinkles on it. I think she called it Spoonette. It tasted like a strawberry marshmallow, slightly melted, with sprinkles. Martin enjoyed it

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After perusing the market and snapping some pics we got to a central eating area. We all sat and had a 2 dollar lunch of soup with rice and chicken parts. Mine had a chicken foot, maybe a liver. And then our choice of plate. I got pollo with rice, lentils, and salad. Drisdelle went big and got a whole fish. Alex pays for lunch. 9 bucks for the four of us.

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We leave the market after lunch. Andreas takes a cab back with all of his spoils and we take a different route through the city along the river. A way nicer walk with trees and flowers along the bank, the river really adds a peaceful beauty to the place. Much swankier places over there as well.

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Vincent just keeps going like the energizer doggy. He’s rushing down to drink out of the river, then climbing straight back up the hill. Comes up and shakes all over us. Kind of refreshing actually. Then he’s off way down the street. Then back. Back to the river, back up. This dog has been running around non stop for hours. He has an incredible amount of energy. And he maintained his ‘No Pole Left Unpeed’ mantra all the way back to the hostel.
The walk and the market were a really nice way to spend the morning. Got to see a lot of the city, learn a lot about the area and people, and it felt like we were a little family for a day.

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