Yesterday I finally headed to the town of Gualaceo, (pronounced gWahl-ah-say-oh) about 50 minutes southeast of Cuenca. The small town is at lower elevation and in a valley, so it can get hotter than Cuenca. We were lucky on this day, as we got a sunny day to spend the Sunday afternoon. The bus to Gualaceo only cost 60 cents (70 on the way back) and we were soon on our way to town.
The town is known for the market on Sunday, where you can buy every type of fruit and vegetable you’ve ever heard of, and then some. I went with my student Gaby, who was amazed that I didn’t know so many of the fruits she was asking me about. She was also surprised that I was surprised that there are red bananas. In Ecuador there are 8 different kinds of bananas, but back in the United States we can only get the same old type.
Getting off the bus around 11 am, we walked down to the Rio Gualaceo, where families have barbecues on Sunday afternoons. It was a peaceful and relaxing walk, with the river providing a cool relief from the already strong sun. I’d brought sunblock and a hat, but not wanting to deal with them, I ignored the warnings and by the time I got home I was red and burned.
We crossed the shaky bridge to the other side of the river where thatch huts were set up for larger parties, and then we walked around a playground for a few minutes. Gaby is a tourism student, so she was pointing out the different flowers and birds that we saw or heard. We crossed the larger bridge on the other side of the fields and headed back towards the fruit and vegetable market in town.
There we walked around and shopped around for a good price on a fruit called Reina Claudia, which is like a small plum, but yet is somehow different. Buying 10 for $1, we also picked up another green fruit shaped like a pear, but also not exactly a pear. Checking out the center of town and the cathedral, it was now close to 12:30 pm, and we decided to get some lunch. Gualaceo is also known for it’s chancho, or pig meat. We went to a different market where it seemed like the entire town was eating lunch at the same time.
There were different sections for chicken, cuy, beef, pig, vegetables, juices, and a number of other different meat groups. We walked around to the hornado chancho section where a number of different women were begging us to take samples of their meat. We finally settled on a woman who was near an empty table, sampled the meat and agreed. For $2 she piled on meat, mote (corn), 2 potato cakes, onions and tomatoes. We also got freshly squeezed coconut juice.
The meat was delicious and juicy, though I did have in the back of my head the question of whether or not I’d get sick, and as of yet I am feeling fine. After the meal we were pretty tired, so we headed back to the river and found a spot in the shade under a tree. There we crashed in a chancho coma, napping and waking up every few minutes when a dog ran by. Gaby wanted to try the fruit but we needed water to wash it off. No one was walking by selling water, strangely enough, so we eventually had to head back into town to buy some water. Along the way we could smell the different barbecues from all of the families on the river banks.
Once water was bought, the fruit was washed off and sampled. The Reina Claudia was good and dripped red juice all over my fingers, down onto the pavement. Next we went further into town to a bakery to buy some traditional Gualaceo ice cream. The ice cream is in a cone shape on a wooden stick, and is actually just frozen milk from the town. You can get ice cream like this all over Ecuador, but this type was special to the town, and can’t be purchased anywhere else. It was sweet and good, but to me tasted like the other types.
We headed back to the bus station and got the last two tickets for seats on the bus just as it was taking off for Cuenca. Looking at it from a different perspective, we didn’t do a whole lot, but I had a great day nonetheless. And tomorrow, I’ll be leaving for Santiago, Chile via Lima, Peru via Guayaquil, Ecuador. I’ll try to do some blogging from Chile, so keep checking in.
Above: Red bananas, chancho (pig meat), a boy eating a banana while his puppy sniffs the fruit, more fruit at the market