Sell a cow, buy some sheep, but don’t get depressed

Ecuador travelogue: Chapter 31 | Read other chaptersSee photo gallery

Saturday mornings come alive in Otavalo’s animal trading market

Animals play a critical role in rural economies and nowhere is it more evident than at Otavalo’s weekly animal market. Buyers and sellers of animals congregate at the Mercado de Animales on the outskirts of Otavalo, a small town north of Quito. Against a scenic backdrop of Cotacachi and Imbabura volcanoes, market activity begins early (around 5 am) on Saturdays and winds down by 8 ish.

↑ Buy and sell, our cows produce lot of milk and our pigs are fat and ready for slaughter. Treatment of animals is not the top priority (which part of the world treats animals fairly anyway?)

I woke up very early and made my way to the animal grounds looking forward to checking out the animal trade. I reached there by 5:30, the sun hadn’t even risen yet and the market was bustling in activity already.

The animal market ground is divided into various sectors. The area furthest from the entrance has large animals for trade: mostly cows, but I also saw few horses and llamas. The next area is for medium sized animals like pigs, sheep and alpacas. The third zone nearest to the entrance has small animals like chicken, rabbit, guinea pigs and even little kittens, puppies and birds (I guess as pets). There are a couple of butchers who will slaughter an animal you just bought and package it to go.


↑ Large animals being sold at the far end. Buy colourful ropes to tie animals with.

↑ Hectic salesmen with loud sales pitches, hardcore buyers with sharp haggling skills and animals (and tourists) watching the activity mutely. I heard that a guinea pig cost $2.

I always find it very odd to take pictures of people especially if I’m taking closeups although in a wider public setting it’s perfectly legit. Initially I just spent time hanging out at the fringes, watching people drag animals who were not the most cooperative ones. The place was quite crowded (even for me) so I can imagine the animals being really uncomfortable there.

By 7 am an army of tourists descended into the grounds armed with video and photo cameras. By then I had roamed the grounds twice and had become an (self-proclaimed) expert so watching the new arrivals run around with excitement and confusion made me laugh… ah amateurs! It was the right time to leave.

↑ Baskets and bags for sale. Buy some chicken or guinea pigs, tie them up and stuff into these baskets.

Overall I wasn’t thrilled by the market, but as a tourist you have to visit such ‘authentic’ sites and catch a glimpse of ‘local culture.’ Generally speaking I am not so interested in animals and certainly not interested in seeing cows, pigs and chicken. What was impressive was the market aspect of this event. btw it is worth mentioning that this place is certainly not for animal rights activists to visit.

What did you think of this market? Have you or would you visit such a place?