Matthew Paul ’13 - The first thing I notice as we enter el mercado, the market, is the incredible number of things crammed into such a small space. While we had walked by the opening to the mercado a couple of days before, it is impossible to tell the depth while simply observing from outside. What initially looks like a bunch of small openings similar to the entrances to tiendas all across the city turns out to be a corridor over 50 yards long but no more than three yards wide. Every ten yards or so one stall ends and a new one begins, each literally crammed from floor to ceiling with all kinds of merchandise.
Venders sit in literal caves made up of mounds upon mounds of products. Scarves, hats, t-shirts, flutes, wooden boxes, carved statues, bracelets and much, much more surround me as I move deeper into the mercado isle. All kinds of sounds surround me; the sound of venders trying to attract buyers attention, the tune of a violin playing from one of the stalls, the more coaxing melody of a venders voice trying to cajole an interested buyer into a purchase, the occasional “Perdón” as customers have no choice but to brush their neighbors in the crowded passageway.
At first it is a little overwhelming, but after a while the chaos seems to have an order. I walk up to a stall where a vendor is selling scarves. His merchandise literally stretches from floor to ceiling. I begin to look and find that the selection includes many soccer scarves representing teams from not only Quito, but from all across Ecuador and the world. The extended visit to his stall prompts the vendor to pay me special attention. The mercado may be the one place in Quito outside of my host family or classroom where my broken Spanish is not only accepted but also encouraged. As long as I am interested in buying he’ll listen to it all day. As we talk, he begins to not only facilitate but suggest possible items. While I continue to look at the visible items on top, he uses an almost magical knowledge of his pile of scarves to pull different possibilities from every which direction.
While encouraged by our resident expert on bartering, Dr. Hardy, to look disinterested in order to get the best deal, it is hard to keep an impressed expression off my face when this man shows me the knowledge of his trade. I pick out a white scarf of one of the local Club teams in Quito and he offers it for $7. Resisting an urge to take a deal that would be great in the states I act skeptical and suggest $5. He accepts immediately. We’re both happy with the deal.
I continue through the mercado and find another stall where I cannot pass up a gift for my mother and a soccer jersey for myself. Again I am able to talk the price down, a very lucky occurrence because the two items cost me literally every cent I have. I walk outside finally, on the far side of the isle of shops. I am extremely happy but also completely broke. Ready to go home, I look down la calle de Jorge Washington (yes, that’s the name of the street) and see what I hadn’t noticed before; that there is row after row of similar corridors to the one that I had only just made it out of. With no more money to spend and a dinner to get to I turn away and head home. As I begin the mile walk back to my house I consider the next days schedule and when I can make the necessary trip back to this wonderful place.