A couple of hours from Latacunga, in the central highlands, the Quilotoa Loop invites hikes to discover a more rural, remote and traditional part of Ecuador. On the second day of our trek, we ended up heading off to Guantualo, to experience the animal market. This is the story of how I almost bought a pig on the Quilotoa Loop.
Guantualo, a remote village of the Quilotoa Loop
We have been walking a bit since Insinlivi. First, one kilometer down, to reach the river. Then, 4 kilometers up on the mountain on the other side. We get a bit lost and keep asking our way to locals, including a man and his son, pulling 3 goats, obviously also heading to the animal market. They will follow us for the remaining 2 kilometers until the village, 100m behind, progressing at a slow, but constant pace.
A traditionnal animal market every Monday
The animal market is a surprising spectacle. I am not sure what I was expecting. Probably cattle organized in pens and defined vendors spots, something like Paris International Agriculture Show (Salon de l´agriculture), but smaller. Instead, the small square of village is colorful chaos of humans and animals. The firsts are holding the seconds by leash. In the background, someone is skining a lamb, cutting it wide open and separting the pieces of meat. While, two steps away, a little sheep gambols.
One bargains, checking the animal´s health, the quality of the wool, the teeth and many other things I have no clue of. People lift animals legs, point an injury, like a scar on a second hand piece of furniture. Locals don´t really pay attention to us, even if we are the only gringos here. You don´t joke with animal trade. All, men and women alike keep their most serious face. Dollars change hands, then ropes. The deal is concluded. The animal leaves for its new home. Like this family, climbing up the small hill with a little piggy, which refuses to move any further if you don´t whip its hindquarters. Others, maybe luckier, end up at the back of a pick-up truck, where they will spend the journey in company with one kid, that cannot be fitted at the front, with the rest of the family.
I am like hypnothized by the market. I feel like an irresistible desir to be part of the scene. I want to buy a little sheep, goat, or pig. Of course, I have no idea of the quality of what I would buy, what to do with it nor how to bring it back to the hostel, but all these questions seem secondary. I inquire the price of a really cute sheep. Fortunately, the woman announces $50, a price way too high on our backpacker budget for just the thrill of the experience. At $30, I would have started negotiating. I get to know that a big pig would be mine for $85 and a veal for $17 (really?). Suddenly realizing the size of the animal, and the problems ahead if I would ever buy it, I give up. Too bad, this would have been so much fun!
Your visit to the Guantualo market
Guantualo is located in the central highlands of Ecuador, at the north of the Quilotoa Loop, a fantastic self-guided trek (read more about hiking the Quilotoa Loop here). The animal market is held every Monday and ends around 9.30am, so make sure you get there early. It´s recommanded to leave Insinlivi around 7am.
It´s a 2 hours walk (or half an hour bus ride) from the small village of Insinlivi, where you can find a couple of hostels to spend the night. I can highly recommand the hostel Llullu Llama has a cosy atmosphere, fantastic views and excellent food! ($25 per person, dinner and breakfast included).
Insinlivi is accessible from Latacunga by bus, or by foot from Sigchos (4hours).