by Elizabeth Kenneally
When my parents came to visit me during la Semana Santa, one of the only plans I made beforehand was to take them to a market. Markets in Cuenca aren’t just places to see pretty arrays of fruit and buy 5 avocados for a dollar; they are perhaps some of the best equalizers in the city. I see all types of people on buses, but those with more money don’t take them and prefer to drive. There are lots of different people at the mall, but those with less money don’t shop there. But everyone needs fruit, vegetables, and meat. You can see men in suits waiting with small, stooped ethnic Cuencan women alongside young children going shopping for their families. It’s the best place to go to really get a flavor for the culture and see people going about their daily lives.
Ranging from a few stalls to what seems like the size of my hometown, markets in Cuenca are scattered across the city. Some, like the Mercado 10 de Agosto and the Mercado 3 de Noviembre are open every day, always bustling with excited vendors and hurried shoppers. These markets have multiple stories: one is filled with different cuts of meat and entire animals, one with every kind of fruit and vegetable imaginable as well as a section with plants and herbs, one that sells food ready to eat, and often a section for clothing. Most markets also have “la limpia,” a ceremony involving patting you down with plants and rubbing you with an egg that is meant to cleanse you of bad energies. It’s a very popular tradition and is captured in this video.
The culture in Cuenca is very friendly and familiar, where people call each other veci (neighbor), mi corazón (my heart) and mijo / mija (my son / daughter). That’s probably why my host family and I continue to buy fruit from the same little old lady each week even though better prices for the same food are potentially available two feet to the left. Because of this, the only person who agreed to let me film her was the lady making hornado (a typical Ecuadorian dish with mote (hominy), roast pig, cascarita (crispy pig skin), potatoes, and salad) because she already knew me. Así es.