I am so impressed with the colorful, Quechua-speaking, Andean women whom I see everywhere on the streets and in the markeplace of this lovely town of Cuenca (QUEN-ka). They work so hard and seem to be so dedicated to everything they do, that I figured out last night that they are truly Amazonian. First of all, it´s impossible to overlook them as their dress is so distinctive and colorful, particularly their most unusual skirts.
These are jewel-tones and the rather heavy wool is pleated into teeny, tiny pleats right at the waistline. As all women could figure out, this makes them very bulky around the tummy area. Then, the skirt hangs full but only to the knees, ending in a scalloped embroidered hemline. So, the whole skirt assembly bustles importantly, swinging from side to side as they briskly walk with a quick short series of steps. Their legs are often bare, revealing very muscular calves and their shoes are pretty no-nonsense. I was puzzled as to why many of their skirts rose so high in the back and dipped below (barely) the knee in front. Then, I realized that most of those women had fairly large bellies and preferred to pull the elastic waistline down a bit in front, rather than constrict their middle. It´s a perfectly acceptable adaptation. So much so, that I thought that was the standard fashion.
Above, they wear layers of blouses and sweaters, always topped off by a big woolen shawl, frequently holding a small child tightly pressed against their back. They like bright colors and big plaid patterns. Perched straight upright on their head is, most often, a white Panama hat with a dark band, covering their long black braid.
These women are busy and deliberate as they move purposefully about handling a great deal of the sales that go on in this city. Of course, there are regular shops and offices here as in every big city, but these women run the myriad booths on the streets and sidewalks and they are certainly in charge in the big indoor market which mostly caters to locals. Enormous piles of colorful fruit and vegetables can´t compete with all the dead, cut up animals and fish on opposite aisles. Nothing in moderation…everything in plenty. Aisles selling shoes just overflow with huge piles of pairs – womens´s, children´s, men´s….pick one up and find the mate.
What an education! I wandered about in this big market at lunch time and I think I´ll go eat there today just to get a taste. Seems like most of the cook´s customers are the women merchants who sometimes have a whole family squeezed into their narrow confines, sitting on the little floor space, eating bowls or rice, stew and vegetables. The little ones just patiently hang about, not making a fuss. This is surely how the trade is passed on from one generation to the next. That kid has been in on the business of the mother since way before birth and every day afterwards.
I wouldn´t be surprised to learn that theirs is a matriarchial society because these Mamas and Grandmamas certainly seem to run the show on every matter. Plus, their men don´t have a costume and just dress like any other man. They are there helping with the work, but you tend not to notice them because the women and children are so very interesting to watch. No one begs here and that´s quite a comment too.
Well, I´m off to find a few pairs of socks to replace the ones the sack-snatcher grabbed away last week in Quito. That left me with only two sets, both of which I have been wearing a whole lot in these cool days. Just now, theyre in the wash and won´t be ready till 4:30. This would explain why my backpack is sitting upon my sandal-clad feet in this internet where the door is left open. Life and laundry must go on, just like at home. So must haircutting and I took care of that yesterday at a very swishy salon.
But, the good news is that I´ve found a very comfortable, quiet hostel with a private room and a true hot water shower for $18 per night and I moved in yesterday. I have a free breakfast at the hostal and can eat my other meal hugely for about $6…or less at the marketplace. I think I´ll stay put here until next week and am now trying to figure out how I´ll get to Lima, Peru. I could fly for around $300 but I see that would require me to miss some of the sights in the northern part of that country. Must soon break out my Lonely Planet and do some studying.