Ambato to Guaranda–Fruits of Travel!

We took a bus trip down the Andes to Ambato from Quito. (I’m writing this now in Arequipa, Peru, almost two weeks after we did it… it’ll take me a while to catch up with all the stops on this amazing journey. It’s been a deluge of new experiences, sights, and ideas nearly every day with hardly any downtime until now.) Ambato is a bustling city sitting in a fold in the mountains, a central market town that has a population around 350,000, but a huge hinterland. We’d heard they have an amazing fruit and vegetable market and that the annual Festival of Fruits and Flowers would be happening while we were there. Turns out it was starting a few days later, so we missed the festival, but we did make it to the Mercado de Mayoristas (The Wholesale Produce Market).

The Ambato Mercado de Mayoristas... what a beautiful market!

We arrived in Ambato on a Sunday night, full of anticipation for the Monday morning market. Our hotel was a bit seedy, right in the heart of the City, next to one of the three markets. Turned out to be incredibly noisy, with dozens of buses and taxis roaring by all night, and by dawn, the streets were jammed with students on their way to school, countless people coming and going, buying and selling. But the night before we asked the hotel concierge if there was anything going on and he suggested we take a cab to a neighborhood music festival. We did, and it was eerie, riding in the cab through completely deserted streets. No cars parked anywhere (a recurrent experience as we made our way through Ecuador–nighttime streets are devoid of cars or people!) and when we came to the festa, it was over. So we had the cab turn around and take us back.

The next morning we went a block to the nearest market and made inquiries, which led us to grab a cab to the very outskirts where our Quito bus had unceremoniously dumped us (as opposed to a terminal in the city) the previous day. There we came to the Mercado de Mayoristas and had a splendid few hours wandering around enjoying the smells, sights, tastes, and friendly people.

Most of this post is in the form of photos and captions, so read on…

This was our first view of the sprawling Mercado de Mayoristas.

We got a high spot for some great views...

The vibrancy of the market was irresistable. After a pause to drink it all in, we started to make our way into it.

This charming woman was selling small plastic bags with fresh potato mash, with salsa and onions... Adriana didn't take long to decide she wanted one.

Here's a close-up... the dark crackling stuff was absolutely delicious! Salty!... and it turned out it was pig's blood! yum!

Each part of the market had its own focus... here, obviously, are the bananas!

Tasting bananas... this being a wholesale market, there were few opportunities to buy small quantities, but many vendors were happy to give us tastes of their products.

So many picturesque moments like this... not to be overly voyeuristic, but it was a pleasure to share by proximity so many everyday life moments!

Corn in Ecuador is called Choclo, and usually looks like this... and tastes great! fresh or dried and roasted... awesome...

Adri tried one of these "tree tomatoes" as a dessert while we were in Quito... somehow I can't really eat a tomato in sugar as a dessert, but these sure look cute!

Plenty of exotic tropical fruits in this market... wish I could remember their names!

It's the end of summer here just below the equator, so the fresh fruit abundance has been really impressive!

Another mystery... must've been spiky before trimming?

Star fruit... what do they taste like? I didn't get to try...

Nope, they're not cherries... pits and sweet, but something else...

Pears! small but perfect!

These freight trikes were ubiquitous throughout the market... and later in the trip we saw even more in Peru.

Wish I'd had time to explore this association of tricicleros.... a union of the freight trike guys...

As so often happens, the bicycle becomes the transit option for the most determined of small entrepreneurs...

Here's a garlic merchant.

Adriana got into a long conversation with these potato sellers... they make about 85 cents per 50 kilo bag they sell, and sell about 20-30 bags a day!

These two were in an intense conversation, passing their cell phones back and forth--discussing their respective features I supposed.

So our day at the market came to an end and we headed back into the center of Ambato to make our getaway. But not before we had an hour to hang out with Heleana Zambonino, our friend we’d made originally in Guadalajara. Thanks to her we had such good contacts in Quito (and also thanks to her recommendation, we had a great tour operator for our Inca Trail Hike last weekend, Enigma Tours).

Adri, Heli, and me on the street in front of our hotel in Ambato.

This is the street scene under our hotel window in Ambato. A roar 24/7.

It took us about an hour but we finally got a cab to take us to the bus station, where we caught a bus for the mountain town of Guaranda. We heard it was beautiful itself, and had the best Carnaval in Ecuador. We rode across a landscape that continually left us gasping with delight. The high Ecuadorian Andes are absolutely gorgeous! We crossed the flank of Chimborazo, one of a dozen massive volcanoes in Ecuador, but it was hidden in the clouds as we passed this time.

Ambato is back there in the far distance behind the last visible hills...

A quick snap out the bus window unexpectedly caught this memorial near a high mountain pass.

We'd heard the trip to Guaranda was really spectacular and as you can see, it was!

This is the view of Guaranda from our hotel, beautifully situated on a hillside above it.

Turning around from the previous photo, I took this funny portrait of us.

It was a short jaunt from our hotel into the center of town, but we passed this odd, lost doorway on our way.

Then we took this better self-portrait...

Caught this glimpse of Carnaval preparations, and was scolded for taking this photo!

The historic center of Guaranda, full of charming architecture.

Carnaval decorations on the front of City Hall.

We had already seen the common Ecuadorian Carnaval ritual of getting hit with water in Quito, but it was a bigger deal in Guaranda. The kids behind the cars in this photo are one "gang" preparing their water balloons for a frontal assault on another group standing in the central plaza.

This is the other group, under attack, dishing it back, but also pulling back under the onslaught. Fun to watch! but later it got a bit ugly when someone took offense in a typical macho way...

We repaired to a lovely restaurant where we enjoyed the sunset over the city center while we dined... the next day we would come back to enjoy a full-blown Carnaval parade through town.

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