Ecuador, Day 8 - Cuenca, Day 3: Tranquility and Tear Gas · Jan 20, 05:46 PM

Today saw us off to the markets in Gualaceo (pop: 12,000) and Chordeleg (pop: 5,000), two small towns east of Cuenca. After driving through a canyon, we stopped to visit Crisitina, a mestiza who specializes in ikat weaving. The whole time we were with her, she never stopped weaving, even for me to take a picture of her.

In Gualaceo we saw ceramics, a fruit & veg market (where I saw fingerling pink and white potatoes! Can you imagine?), and a meat market, with roast chanchos (pigs) and cuyes (guinea pigs). Chordeleg is a center for jewelry making, particularly gold and silver filigree. Filigree doesn’t appeal to me personally, but the work is extremely impressive.

At the square in Chordeleg, the center of which was a beautiful ceramic fountain, schoolkids were getting their teeth cleaned at a mobile dental unit and other kids too poor to go to school were hanging out looking for people who needed their shoes polished. Luis, a young boy, polished my shoes. I asked him if he wanted to go to school. “Si, claro” (yes, of course) was his answer. “Why aren’t you at school?” I asked. He gave me a look that said, “Boy, what a stupid question” and answered, “Porque no tengo plata” (because I don’t have the money). He was going to charge me $0.25 for the polish and shine. I gave him a dollar and told him to keep the change.

By late afternoon we were back in Cuenca and Mom was hot to go to a Panama hat shop. I allowed myself to be dragged out…and actually it was interesting to see how they’re woven, softened and formed.

The other interesting part about the hat shop/museum visit was this: there have been student protests at the major state universities, earlier in Quito, and now in Cuenca, about, oh, getting a student ID card that would allow them discounts on transportation, the FTAA, international petroleum companies, the American base near Manta… The police have been blocking the demonstrations, arresting offenders, and – as is common in Latin America – using teargas bombs to disperse the demonstrators. While we were in the hat shop, two teargas bombs went off in quick succession, and some of that gas drifted across the river to where we were. We and everybody else on the street used our shirts or anything else at hand to cover our noses and mouths, and pretty much got out of the area ASAP. Who knew that my first teargas experience would be in quiet old Cuenca…!