Micah: Unmitigated

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Posts Tagged ‘market food’

One In A Million

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

This is an interesting time in the life of my trip. It is sort of a convergence of a couple things, and I am not sure yet how I feel about them individually or as a group. Allow me to explain:

It says ¨Welcome to Ecuador¨

It says ¨Welcome to Ecuador¨

First off: I am now in Ecuador and beginning a new country had me a little nervous at first. A new book had to be read and a new plan had to be put into place. Since I am exiting to Peru, I have to make my way south without missing anything to the east or west. Backtracking will be unavoidable but not very expensive. The tentative idea is to hit the sights south along the Andean Mountains, especially the numerous volcanoes, before doing a loop to take in the pacific coast. Down here they use a currency known as the US Dollar, with their own version of our coins. Though for the time being, I still convert most prices to Colombian Pesos to compare.

My first and current city is Otavalo, known for having one the largest indigenous markets in Latin America. I woke up early on Saturday morning, hoping to catch the animal market in all of it’s glory, but I was locked in my hostel until 8 am. Catching the end of the wheelings and dealings, I saw mostly chickens, guinea pigs, and hens exchanging hands. By 9 am, most vendors are setup in the streets closed to cars and the main square, ready to sell. An amazing sight, the Otavaleños always dress in traditional garb and are renowned for their weaving and craftsmanship.

shopping

shopping

Around the center and main streets, you get the tourist items like ponchos, sweaters, and handbags. On the outskitrts, I found locals buying their everyday items like shoes, clothes, and rope. Some walk around with the animals they bought earlier in the day, often placed into sacks, and the sacks are often squealing or trying to roll away.

The food section has everything you can imagine, with fruit, veggies, and kitchen counters. Open partially everyday, I have eaten most of my meals there, finding some good and bad stuff. My first meal here was the only one this trip I didn’t finish. The skillet filled with rice, noodles, eggs, and some types of meat, looked harmless enough, but it smelled like I was walking through a barn at the state fair. I believe the meat was chewy intestines and possibly blood sausage, both tasted very real. For my next meal, I opted for one of the numerous giant pigs and discovered I don’t have a problem looking my lunch in the face, or eating it’s crispy skin.

I think he was looking at me

I think he was looking at me

Overall, the food has been decent but not great. I think the places I have been eating in this town are a little too local. I worry about a noticeable lack of empanadas and really any breaded fried street food, for that matter. And I may have gotten a little overconfident in eating all of my meals at tents, resulting in my first sickness of the trip so far. Luckily, if I had to choose a day and place to be cooped up in my room, this is it. A nice cheap room with private bath and a TV, complimented by World Cup soccer, a replay of last years Wimbledon final, and the Estados Unidos Open as a night cap.

The next factor at play here is time. Today marks the 2 month point of my journey, and now everyday is the longest trip I have been on. I am curious to see how I hold up mentally and physically. Already very thin, I wonder how low I can go and if I will weaken at some point. Given a 90 day stamp, I can take all the time I need exploring an area roughly the size of Nevada, so I should be able to stay fresh. I have also decided to let the hair on the top of my head grow for the duration, despite my cousin’s disapproval. This should be fun, any tips from people who have attempted this courageous feat?

The last factor is the season known as Summer. I never like to travel during the busy time, wanting beaches to myself and my choice of accommodations. On top of the number of people, it is the type that bother me the most. Walking the market, I saw a group of 14 year old Americans, haggling for an Andean panflute. Now I don’t have a problem with parents taking their kids on an international vacation or the 2 week trippers off from university, I have been both. I just don’t want to be lumped into that group while I am on this self titled “crazy adventure”, even if it is just for one market day. In that one day, I saw/heard more Americans than in all of Colombia. I found myself wishing I had a sign around my neck that said “7 months”, so that all vendors and tourist would know what I am about. It’s like embarking on a 2 month journey through the jungle looking for a lost city, and when you get there all battered and bitten, a family wearing newly bought ponchos has just arrived by helicopter and their son is sitting on one of the statues playing his gameboy.

I don’t know if that makes any sense, but it is how I felt. Parts of it are comfortable and feel like home, but that is not really what I want. As they venture off on their $1,000 a head trips to the Galapagos, I will seek refuge in the mountains after a short stop in the country’s capital. Hopefully I find a dorm room filled with like minded folk, and get back in backpacker flow. While at the moment, I am finding joy in the little Ecuadorian kid next to me, bobbing his head and singing to a Shakira video on YouTube. La aventura que tenemos por delante me excita, yo sólo espero que no se puede acceder en helicóptero.

E = 52

2 + 2 = 5

Friday, May 21st, 2010

I have been worrying about money a lot lately. Forking over $11 for a dinner in Cabo and dropping $50 on a 13 hr bus ride to Medellin, I realize that I underestimated the costs of Colombia. I may have also overestimated my ability to haggle and patience to shop around.

I still have a lot to learn when it comes to finding the cheapest accommodations and food. Walking around with my pack after a hefty bus ride, I tend to pick a spot out of “Lonely Planet” and go with whatever price they offer me. I believe many of these hostels jack up their prices, once they see the constant flow of gringos one paragraph in a travel book provides. With my limited Spanish, I feel I lack the ability to properly scout the random non-published places. The Internet is a good alternative, and provided me with my current lodgings (free WiFi). Though, the owner said my room was double booked by different sites, thus I got a free “upgrade” to a room that was almost twice as much. When he showed me a room that barely fit the twin bed lying on the floor, I almost jokingly asked if my original room was smaller than this. The only difference I can see is that my new room comes with a 13 in., 2 channel TV.

I can’t help but feel skeptical about every price quoted to me and every friendly local. One instance in particular, a teen running a store counter in Cabo overcharged me a dollar despite my inquisitions about the price of each item. Not sure whether he added wrong or figured he could get whatever he wanted from me. Also; my hostel which had higher prices for us than what was in the menu, lemonade guy that has 2 sizes of plastic cups, and bus drivers that see how much you will pay. Those are the ones I have learned so far, but I am by no means done getting fleeced.

Today was a great exception to the life that has cost me $27 a day. Metro train to Medellin’s city center to see some sights, also led me to a massive, 2,500 stall, covered market. Many intimidating food options, packed with locals scarfing down large plates of sustenance. With no menus in sight, I almost wimped out and chose empanadas. I made eye contact with one cook and pointed to the soup in front of a man next to me. She said some things but I only heard the magic word “chorizo” and repeated it to her. The result: a huge set meal and pineapple juice for less than $2. I think the lesson here is to get away from the tourist areas, look for where the locals are gathered, and point.

Feeling good about myself and a little lucky, that night I went searching for a blackjack table. I found a $1 minimum game and settled in with my fellow degenerates. After a free cerveza, some live music, and a few fist bumps from table mates I couldn’t understand, I had won about $34 dollars. A very nice haul, amplified greatly by my current situation.

I capped the day with another reasonably priced meal, ($4.50 for pork, salad w/fruit, fries, arepa, and an Aguilla cerveza) at a non-menu establishment. Feeling pretty good right now, ready to tackle the next/last 30 days here in Colombia. Tomorrow, leaving the big city for the natural beauty around Salento. Se montó la gorda