The lines on his face and weariness in his soft, brown eyes did not diminish the determination in his voice as he moved up and down the block. He waved a yellow, blue, and red flag, condor flying proudly, in each hand and let the surplus stick out of every hole in his simple gray backpack. His thickly accented advertisement became the anthem I will forever associate with my trip and the Ecuadorian people.
This peddler was the first person I encountered stepping out of the car and onto the busy sidewalk that created the border of Mercado La Mariscal, located at Reina Victoria and Juan Leon Mera on Jorge Washington Road, Quito 170150 Ecuador. People were walking up and down the sidewalk selling their goods from packs on their backs and blankets spread out on the cement surrounding the market itself. Tarp created a makeshift ceiling for the stalls, each marked by a distinct number ranging from one to over 100. However, while the numbers attempted to create an order, there was still a natural chaos to the bustling center as local merchants called out to the crowds meandering up and down the aisles.
By accident, I started in the middle of the upper half of the market as I let my excitement and intrigue plunge me into the flow of pedestrian traffic. I followed the current from stall to stall, passing jewelry, hats, blankets made from alpaca, leather bags, t-shirts, shot glasses, chocolate, coffee, and native flutes. One man was even playing a native flute, advertising his CD while sitting next to the booth with information about tourism in Ecuador. I easily became overwhelmed with so much to take in.
I wandered up and down the aisles and eventually came to realize that there were stalls upon stalls of merchants; however, the merchandise began to repeat. Once I had a feel for most of the products being sold, I settled on a design, and went to work. The Ecuadorian market is an excellent opportunity to improve both your haggling and Spanish skills. In the end, I found myself having to decide how much a specific design of a product was worth to me since another vendor might have the product at a better price, but not necessarily the same design.
In the market especially, it is best to carry smaller bills as the vendors do not always have exact change. By using $10s, $5s, and $1s, I was able to take advantage of deals such as two items for $16. In all my interactions at the market, I think only one middle-age man made fun of me for my haggling skills (or lack thereof). Although, I was relying on rudimentary Spanish skills that mostly consisted of “Cuánto es?” with much head nodding or shaking.
Pro Tip: As with most compact, crowded areas, be sure to guard against pickpockets. I used a neck wallet throughout my trip to Ecuador and found it perfect for securing my lose bills, as well as insurance information and a copy of my passport. I used ZeroGrid, which can be purchased on Amazon here.