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Market Day in the Andes

Sunday is market day in villages near Cuenca. Buses leave regularly from Cuenca's Terminal Terrestre, and getting there is half the fun. Drivers pick up anyone who waves them down. Young men lugging pots and pans jump on, leaving their wares piled in the aisle. Women carrying their babies wrapped in shawls drag burlap sacks filled with dried corn to their seats. Farmers taking livestock to the market hold roosters under their arms or strap piglets to the roof. (Larger pigs are more of a problem, and it's not unheard of to see the owner of a squealing sow trying to stuff it into the luggage compartment). By the time you arrive at your destination, the bus itself will seem like a market on wheels.

The largest village is Gualaceo, 38 km (24 mi) east of Cuenca. Well-dressed CaƱari women in colorful polleras and jaunty straw or felt hats gather in the main square. Locals buy and sell clothing and kitchen items, but the majority of booths feature piles of fresh produce, sacks overflowing with grains, and barrels filled with spices.

The quietest of the Andean villages, the mining town of Chordeleg, is along a winding road about 5 km (3 mi) south of Gualaceo. The highlight of the market is handmade jewelry. Some complain that the quality of the gold and silver filigree has diminished, but good bargains can still be had. A ring with a startling amount of detail costs less than $5. Handicrafts, embroidered clothing, pottery, and mounds of jewelry are sold in shops surrounding the tree-shaded square. About 24 km (15 mi) beyond Chordeleg is Sigsig, best known for its Panama hats.

-Wayne Hoffman

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