On our way back to where the car was parked we stopped in the nearby crafts cooperative where local people have stalls to sell their handiwork. This is a new initiative and it felt like it too – very pristine and soulless – a bit like a church hall! But I’m sure it will mellow and bring real benefits to the community.
What to buy: When we visited only some of the small stalls were open and the place was pretty quiet. Some women were knitting and chatting, and we had a quick look round at the various crafts being sold – mostly textiles and paintings. We wanted to support the intiative so we bought a small Tigua painting from one of the youngest sellers for $5 (we didn’t haggle as the price was so reasonable and the girl so young).
Tigua is a collection of small Andean communities in this area, whose artists have become renowned for their paintings of colourful rural scenes. Traditionally they painted on drums and masks, but in the 1970s a Quito art dealer persuaded one of the artists to paint on a flat surface, a sheep hide stretched over a wooden frame. This changed the art-form completely, and today most Tigua artists produce only flat paintings, still on the stretched sheepskin. Paintings are usually quite small, limited by the size of the hide (ours though is very small!) The subject matter is always a rural scene, and favourite motifs include Cotopaxi and other Andean scenery, village life, working in the fields, condors, llamas and more. Our little picture features several of these elements, which is why we chose it. I was really pleased to have this small example of this traditional folk art, which now hangs in our kitchen and brightens our breakfasts on these dull winter mornings.
Next tip: the surrounding countryside.
Shopping in Ecuador is a joy especially when you are away from touristy areas. Indigenous vendors enjoy their work and interaction with their customers. It's playful and never taken too seriously. Stands can be incredibly simple, sometimes nothing more than a blanket on the ground. It's a sensory experience too. Colorful to the eye, ear, and nose, sometimes in an unpleasant way.
What to buy: Fruits are favorites with locals and gringos alike. We were there during the cooler months so it wasn't the best time for exotic tropical fruits but it was the season for tree tomatoes which make great juice material. Oranges and bananas are plentiful too. One of my favorite was yucca bread, somewhat like corn bread with a slightly sweet flavor.
What to pay: I paid 50 cents for a whole bag of tree tomatoes, I think there were eight of them. A bag of ten yucca breads was similarly priced. Didn't have to barter with prices like that!