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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

You Better Shop Around

I love going to the open-air mercados here in Cuenca.  Sometimes they're referred to as the Indigenous Markets primarily because most of the vendors are Indigenous (natives).  Each major area of the city has a mercado that serves those that live nearby.  But, the granddaddy of them all is the Feria Libre.

I've written about going to the market before, so what's new about this entry?  You'll see at the end.

Wednesdays are what I call 'zoo day' at the Feria Libre.  That's because vendors take over the entire parking lot for ONE day, every week, setting up tents selling clothing, shoes, curtains, bedding, underwear, etc etc.  This is in ADDITION to the permanent Feria Libre installations!!  And, that's the day most people come on busses from the rural areas and nearby towns to buy their supplies for the week.  It's also when a slew of women bring live chickens in gunny-sacks and stand in a long row (in their indigenous wardrobe of pleated skirts, embroidered blouses, hair braided in ponytails, and a hat) holding their gunny-sacks open for browsers to see what they have to offer and barter over a price.  Wednesdays are crowded from very early morning until about 1pm.   If you don't like hordes of people, don't go on Wednesdays!!!

Saturdays are almost as busy, but at least the parking lot is available for PARKING!!!

To say it's amazing is an understatement.  The entire market takes up several square blocks.  Some of it is enclosed in buildings, some of it has overhead roofs but no walls, some of it is under makeshift tarp canopies, and some of it is simply laid out on the asphalt.  There are THOUSANDS of pounds of fruits and vegetables everywhere.  You have to wonder how they ever sell it all and what about all that product at the BOTTOM of the barrel or pickup-sized heap???   You almost never see anything rotting.

Some vendors sell multiple things such as strawberries, mangos, bananas, apples, avocado, cucumbers, etc.  While others seem to sell only one thing.   There's one section of the market where there's nothing but TONS of potatoes.   How a person decides to buy from one vendor over another when they're all selling POTATOES is beyond me.   Ditto with onions, scallions, garlic, avocados, and limes.  I mean....just how many limes does a person need every week????

There's the seafood section with corvina (sea bass) piled high, lots of tuna, catfish (ick), and other types of fish I've never heard of.  Shrimp from small to huge, clams, Ecuadorian crab (worthless), calamari, trout, all brought up from the beach communities and, generally, pretty fresh (and cheap).

There's the live animal section with ducks, chickens, roosters, chicks, turkeys, geese, kittens, puppies, guinea pigs, bunny rabbits, and, and, and.  

There are dead animal sections (meats) with every part of cow, pig, and chicken you may (or may not) want.  Tongue?  Sure!  Hooves?  Sure!   Chicken feet?  Of course!!!

There are dump-truck-sized piles of pineapples, watermelons, bananas, oranges, and there's mangoes up the wazzoo.

Huge strawberries (double the size of a walnut) are common-place. 

You can buy eggs for .10 cents a piece.  You can get huge eggs from an ostrich, or tiny ones from Cornish.  You can get brown eggs, blue eggs, polk-a-dotted eggs, or green eggs (without the ham...Sam).

You can buy plastics, small appliances, get a haircut, buy videos, woven baskets, toilet paper, grains, and all kinds of spices (if you know what they are and what they're called).

Oh, and you can buy live plants as well as cut flowers for HALF the cost of what they sell them for at the flower market next to the Cathedral in El Centro.   You can even buy a bushel of flower petals!!!   Yep, they save them from the flowers they don't sell and people buy them to toss on the ground in parades and funerals.

OK....now for the clincher.  Some people don't like going to the mercados either because of the crowds and/or the aesthetics, and/or they fear things are not healthy (you should wash everything).  The alternative is the big-box grocery stores.  We have TWO chains, with THREE locations each.  That means SIX big-box grocery stores that serves a city of 1/2 million.   SuperMaxi is much like Safeway, Ralphs, or Winn-Dixie...3 locations.  Coral (3 locations as well) is a pseudo-WalMart on a much smaller scale where you can get all your groceries, tires, a wrench, and a bra in one place....though, quite frankly, their bra's are just tooooo tight on me!!!!

Yes, there are small tiendas in every neighborhood...every block, actually...that sell the basics like chips, soda, milk, eggs.

Practically everyone who comes here to visit or live is surprised at the prices at, let's say, SuperMaxi.  In many cases, their prices aren't that much less than the States when it comes to toothpaste, deodorant, chicken, bread, or a can of beans.   However, if you can fathom to pry your fingers off the labels you've been used to, it's easy to find local brands that are just as good and cheaper.  If you want Tide laundry detergent, you better redeem one of your bricks of gold.  Ditto with Tropicana OJ from Florida.  Why they bother to stock that stuff is beyond me.

Oh...yeah...the clincher.   Almost forgot.   I decided to perform a super-scientific experiment (SSE) to see how much money one might save by buying the same thing at one place over another.  In this SSE, I made a list of items to buy at SuperMaxi as well as the Feria Libre.  Below, behold my analysis.   Be prepared to be AMAZED.

       WHAT                                     QUANTITY      FERIA LIBRE      SUPERMAXI
  • Apples                                    5                         $1.00                       $1.74
  • Avocados                               2 lbs (4)              $1.00                       $1.70
  • Bananas                                 5                              .30                           .37
  • Chicken Breast (no bone)      1 lb                      $2.50                       $4.25
  • Corvina Lomo (Sea Bass)      1 lb                      $2.50                       $8.50
  • Eggs                                        12                        $1.20                       $2.13
  • Grapefruit                                5                         $1.00                       $2.08
  • Langostino (Lg Shrimp)        1 lb                      $7.00                        $14.00
  • Lomo Fino (Filet Mignon)     3 lbs                    $12.90                      $27.00
  • Onions (white)                        3                              .50                       $1.17
  • Oranges (for Juice)                 20                        $1.00                       $2.20
  • Peas (shelled)                          1 lb                      $1.00                       $1.55
  • Pineapple                                 1                          $1.00                      $1.96
  • Pork                                         1 lb                      $2.80                      $3.70
  • Potatoes                                   6 lbs                    $2.10                       $2.75
  • Pumpkin seeds                        5 oz                     $1.00                       $5.60
  • Strawberries (large)                1 lb                      $1.00                       $1.85
  • Tomatoes                                3                              .40                           .96
  • Trout                                       1 lb                      $2.50                       $3.20
DRUMROLL PLEASE!!!!                                 $40.20                 $86.71

Note:  The Feria Libre sells things by the pound, whereas SuperMaxi sells by the kilogram.  I've done the conversion so the prices above are apples-to-apples.

And, to top all that off, when purchasing at the Feria Libre you oftentimes get a 'Yappa' which is a bonus few strawberries, and extra orange or two, or an ounce or two more shrimp tossed in by the merchant for free as a thank you.

Feria Libre WINS!!!

I rest my case, no further questions Your Honor!!!

Now.....where's my Poolitzer Prize????

Enjoy the photos!!!



A lady showing off her rooster for sale.

Notice the rooster the guy is holding upside down.
He's inspecting other women's fowl for sale and comparing for the best buy.

I'm always amazed that these fish don't go sliding off onto the floor!

According to my friend RP, who I consider the 'Welcome Wagon Lady' of Cuenca, these spidery/starfish-shaped things are called Jamaica (ha-may-cah) used for steeping in boiling water for an hour or two on the back of the stove. It makes a red tea allegedly good for bladder infections, urinary tract ailments, and generally good for health.

Sorry Kevin/Bill (they're vegetarians)

Yep, you can buy your TP at the Feria Libre, too!
This lady is pushing a cart through the crowds barking out what she has to offer and the prices.

Mangos.  Notice the avocados in the background.  They stack them in a bunch and the price is for that bunch.   Same goes for a pail of potatoes, or a pail of strawberries.   But, you can also purchase by-the-piece, too.

5 gallon buckets of strawberries.

This is one zillionth of the potatoes you'll find at the Feria Libre.

.....and MORE mangos.

...and piles and piles of juice oranges.

Clearly, this little piggy didn't floss between meals!!!!


  1. GREAT SSE Dano, and wonderful pictures...always such a pleasure to come to your blog! :)

  2. Hi Dan. I stayed at your two bedroom apartment last October and visited the market at your suggestion. I remember being so overwhelmed by the volume of goods and the hawking, bartering, haggling and toting that I never mustered up the nerve to buy anything. Newbies might want to go with the idea of conducting a recon on the first visit and come back with a plan on the next.
    Bob Tremble, Toronto, Canada

  3. Dano,

    First and not last visit to your blog. I found this very interesting and informative and will definitely be checking back in.

  4. I sooo miss the outdoor markets that we went to! You dont have to buy the "alloted" amounts that are packaged in the grocery stores here in the US. I miss EC lots! (and my kids!). BTW...I thought I saw a doppelgänger of myself in one of those pics! Much love! :)

    1. Sooooo typical of the ex-wife to spot herself in photos. There could be a hatchet murderer in the background and you'd be.....'oh, look! It's ME!! Damn I look good!!!'. Sighhhhh.

  5. Ooooh, I miss Gracie!

    Do I see ribs in one of your pictures???


    Charlotte NC

  6. Good blog Dano (as usual).

  7. I was down to Guayaquil last year and visited all kinds of super markets. The Maxi Market was very expensive, but it had the specialty items I wanted from the states which I couldn't get elsewhere. I knew I was being hijacke din prices, but I wanted what I wanted.. The fresh foods in Ecuador are readily availble. On the street just negotiate. 5-18-16.


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About Me

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Palma, Mallorca, Spain
This is all about my transition from an American lifestyle and culture to my newest adventure, life in Spain, in the city of Palma on the island of Mallorca in the middle of the Mediterranean sea!! I moved from the USA to Cuenca, Ecuador, South America and lived there for 7 years before moving here to Spain in early 2018. To read about my adventures in Ecuador, check out my other blog "Ahhh Cuenca!!". I'll be recapping some of my day-to-day experiences (and mishaps) to highlight what it's like to live in Europe....across the pond.

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