The Many Faces of the Loja Produce Market
It’s hard to explain the impression I got from this mercado in Loja, Ecuador. It’s novelty triggered a laugh out loud. I failed to get a good photo that captures the scene of a hundred cookie-cutter produce stalls each adorned with its own uniformed lady’s head and torso. Take this photo above and multiply it times 50, then stand back and watch the women move: selling, arranging, bagging in a mountain of fruits and vegetables.
The large industrial space which explodes with nature’s harvest sits across from another space of meat and stink. I tend to avoid large rooms of animal carcasses and meat hooks in use and am drawn to lovingly arranged produce (as you might know if you follow this blog). We hung a left in order to avoid the smell of death, and strolled into this unusually operated market with mouth wide open, salivating, exclaiming, “wow!”.
This method of commerce is unlike anything I have ever seen, but then again this is my first time in South America, so what do I know? The main feature that differentiated each stall was the animated head popping out of every few feet of cabbage. There were all these women each standing deep in a pile of veggies, and I couldn’t help but wonder how they even manage to get in place. Do they get in the space first and then build their veggie fortress around themselves? Is there a secret passage in the floor? I never learned their secret. I figure this mystery might make it more interesting.
The Juicemaster in Loja
On passing the section of produce mania we encountered a row of little shops concocting fresh juices and smoothies. For $1.00 you can get any combination of fruit and/or vegetable juiced to order. Small bar stools were in front of the juicemaster’s counter for a healthy pitstop during some hardcore shopping in Loja.
John enjoyed a glass of fresh carrot, alfalfa, beet, and mystery fruit that looked like melted carmel. I didn’t catch its name or photo. It just added to the mystique…
Frightening Nativity Scene Figures
This fruit and vegetable experience was positive especially since we were able to avoid the meat room. Snark alert! One thing we could not escape was far too many tacky Christmas decorations for sale in the mercado. I never would have guessed that I would have such an opinion regarding Christmas decor. The mercado was dripping with metallic garland and fake looking plastic holly. Booth after booth was piled high with sub-dollar store garbage. I wish I had a close up to illustrate the following peeve of mine, but I highly disagree with displaying angels or nativity scene figurines with distorted, monstrous faces due to poor and rushed craftmanship! If it’s your bag to display an angel then it should look, well, angelic. I don’t think some people would appreciate little baby Jesus looking like a spooky goblin in a manger. Just sayin’…
Some Loja Logistics
Now that I got that off my chest…
I will tell you that Loja is the gateway and largest town near Vilcabamba where we were living for a few months. Vilcabamba is a pretty small village, so when you need specialty items or appliances or such, you take the ~45 minute ride to the city of Loja. The big grocery store in Loja is called “Supermaxi” and you will not find anything similar in the village. You can take the bus which costs $1.00, but it stops frequently, picking up and dropping off people. During busy times of the day it can take almost 2 hours! The small yellow cabs that say “Reina de Cisne” are only $1.50 and give you a hair-raising speedy trip between Loja and Vilcabamba. I grew to prefer this quicker half-hour method.
On this day in early December 2010, the whole family took the day to explore Loja and its mercado. Our typical routine is to go to the downtown commerce area first (Diez y Ocho de Noviembre Street), eat at Franco’s Olive Garden (who serves fabulously prepared lunches for under $3.00), and finally end up at the Supermaxi to buy some groceries for the next week or two. From the Supermaxi we take a cab back to the bus or cab station in order to return to Vilcabamba.
Hollywood in Loja
Before we left Loja on this day we decided that we needed some more smoothie love (and bathrooms). We stopped at this little juice bar which is on Diez de Agosto, a street loaded with juice and smoothie shops including the big health food store in Loja called Alivinatu. There is also a specialty tobacco shop selling pricey but exotic cigars and cigarettes from all over the world. Yes, the tobacco shop is across from the health food shop! Does organic tobacco count?
Here we had a fabulous fresh fruit smoothie for $1.50 which was really only a delicious excuse to use their bathrooms. I was amused when I walked down a hall to see their men’s and women’s bathroom signs. As a woman traveling the world with her children it felt appropriate walking into the Angelina Jolie potty stall. :) Where on earth did they find such large photos of Brangelina?
Speaking of Hollywood, there is no shortage of video stores in Ecuador. What exists is a shortage of legit video stores. I never saw legal copies of DVDs or CDs for sale–ever. Video rentals were non-existent. All video shops that I experienced were 100% bootleg outlets. Movies are on blank DVDs, with photocopy cover art, sometimes in Russian, sometimes filmed with a video camera in a theater, and always under $1.50. This day we picked up Camp Rock 2 and Toy Story 3 for Rain, Charlie St. Cloud, The Young Victoria, and Eat, Pray, Love (with its Spanish name, “Comer, Rezar, Amar”). It is important to have the store attendant demonstrate the particular DVD you’re buying to make sure it works properly and is in the appropriate language (in our case English). Somehow we missed checking Toy Story 3 which was entirely in Spanish. The other movies worked like a charm.
Sweaters and Ecuadorian Karma
Before ending our day trip to Loja, Ecuador, John bought me a fine looking wool Incan sweater from one of the street vendors. It was such a great sweater that we didn’t even haggle the $18 price tag. Since Rain liked my new duds she volunteered to model it for the duration of the trip. We proceeded to buy our Christmas presents for folks back home.
We loaded up on wool or alpaca hats, socks, leggings, scarves, blankets, sweaters and gloves. As we walked through the airport the following week, I wondered if anyone might be amused by these “tourists” who obviously, fresh from Ecuador, looked like four animated heads and torsos poking out of a mountain of sweater. Hmmm. Perhaps I had it coming…
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Check out this map of Loja, Ecuador