Cuenca, Ecuador

Cuenca, Ecuador

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Food Phobias Part 2 of 2 ( Plus St. Bernard Poop and IRS Crackdown)


I'm dividing this blog entry (which is already Part 2 of 2) into two further subjects:
  1. Walking to the Market - for those who do not want to see the "Meats" section, and
  2. Meats - probably the real reason you are reading the blog today!  If you don't want to see pictures of live and dead animals, don't read this part!  I'll warn you before the "gross" photos.
There are a lot photos in this posting.  Click on a photo to enlarge it.


Our street, Los Pinos (The Pines) is a rather short street that ends at the Tomebamba River.  Cuenca has 4 rivers, and the Tomebamba is the largest and most well known of the 4.  There are nice walking paths that follow the river, and lots of green spaces as well.  

When Tom lets me get a St. Bernard (hint, hint) the green area on our street is where HE (not me!) will let the dog go poo!

When we walk to the city's largest open market, Feria Libre, we cut across the green area.

A hibiscus tree in the green space - it is beautiful!  I'm putting this photo first so that it shows up on the blog advertising. Trust me, you would rather see this than the guinea pigs!

High end clothing store in the lobby of our building.  You may buy the clothes on credit - 3, 6 or 9 months!  Not entirely convinced that the brands are legit...

A new addition to our lobby retail, a chiropractic office just opened this week. 

When Tom lets the St. Bernard poo, he'll have to clean up the poo!  Sonny and I will be taking a nap!

The green space along the Tomebamba at the end of our street.
The Tomebamba at the end of our street.  It has been raining in the mountains; therefore, the river is getting high and turbulent.

As many of you know, I was an Internal Revenue Agent for years. As such, I have no sympathy for those who cheat the system or think the rules don't apply to them.  Several in my family are also accountants, and we all share this viewpoint.   Well, down here, the Ecuadorian IRS (SRI) plays hardball.  If you are caught cheating or not following the rules, they will lock you down, and place VERY LARGE signs on your house or business.  Sort of "Scarlet Letters" for tax violations.  To make the punishment even more severe, the business is required to keep paying the employees even though they are not working!

We've seen the signs all over town.  This is a picture of the restaurant directly across the street from our building.  The SRI found that they were not issuing the proper receipts (eg: not reporting all of the income) so they shut them down a few days ago.   According the signs, they may re-open on the 27th of this month - a 6-day penalty.

They started busting up the street to make way for the tram just a couple of blocks from us.  The line is in varying degrees of completion all around the city.  Traffic around the market is terrible now!


In my last post, I talked about how food cleanliness issues are dealt with here.  This post is all about my phobias when dealing with meats:  how they look, how they are stored, and how they smell.

SIDE NOTE:  This week, the local papers have been covering reports about the cleanliness of the city's many markets.  There are sanitation rules in place here, and the city is starting to crack down on violators.  The vendors claim that the city has failed to keep up with maintenance at the markets; therefore, many of the rules cannot be carried out.  The market buildings are indeed in need of repair and cleaning.  Knowing Cuenca's "get things done" approach, I'm sure there will be vast improvements coming soon.

Back home, like millions of other Americans, we bought our meat from the supermarket. Beautiful pieces displayed in Styrofoam trays with tightly wrapped cellophane covers.  You had no idea that it was once a piece of a living, breathing animal, and millions of us like it that way!  We were far, far removed from the reality of that piece of meat, and we liked it!

Here in Ecuador (like most other places on the earth) things are "different."  Sure, we still buy our meat in Styrofoam trays with tightly wrapped cellophane covers in refrigerated meat cases in the grocery store, but we are in the minority.  Most Ecuadorians buy their meats from the many open-air markets.  Typically, the markets are very organized:  produce vendors in this area, crafts in that area, etc. The area's largest such market, Feria Libre, is just a couple of blocks from our house.  I absolutely love to walk around Feria Libre and watch the people.

Approaching Feria Libre.  There are street vendors as well as sidewalk vendors that surround the main building.

Vendors on the sidewalk as we approach the market.

A vendor selling popcorn balls and (non-alcoholic) jello shots.

More sidewalk vendors.

Too bad this one turned out fuzzy - typical scene of old women selling a few goods on the sidewalk.  ....right next to lingerie!

More sidewalk vendors.  In this area near an entrance, they are selling everything from blender parts to produce to toilet paper.

Tom (toward the right) standing near "our" produce lady's stall. The kiosk behind him makes keys.
Our produce lady.  Tom actually got her to smile - she's a tough cookie, but she's starting to warm up to us Gringos!  I hate that the photo turned out so dark because her produce looks like a painting!

Tons of baskets at this vendor.  I want them all, but she's mean, and scares me!

These are NOT adult dresses - they look like they would fit a 3-year old!

Typical of the indoor booths - this one (like many, many, many others in this section) sells shoes. It was too dark inside to focus correctly.

Feria Libre is an enormous complex of open fields, street vendors, and open-sided buildings.  You can buy nearly everything at this type of market:  clothes, electronics, produce (most of which we have no idea what it is!) auto parts, baskets, handicrafts, pots & pans, fabric, pets, small animals (chickens, guinea pigs, rabbits, ducks)......and meat.  Lots and lots of meat!

This is where I had to learn to put aside a lot of my food phobias.....

WARNING:  Turn back now, if you don't want to see the photos!

(I should point out that is is quite possible to completely avoid the "meat section" of these markets)

No, the meat at these markets is NOT sold in little Styrofoam trays!  It is found piled on the ground, hanging from hooks, or sitting on counters.  Nothing is refrigerated.  Piles of intestines are stacked here/there.  A cow's leg, or hoof, or head may be sitting next to a stack of skinned guinea pigs.  You'll see freshly killed chickens (still dripping blood from the chopped off legs!) stacked on the ground. Did I mention the piles of intestines?  Livers and tongues may be displayed next to a full pig on a roasting spit.  Half of a cow will be hanging on a hook. We've seen feral cats helping themselves to some of the low hanging intestines!  It is like a vegetarian's idea of hell!

A trip to any "meat section" of such a market is not for the faint of heart!  The sight of slaughtered animals, blood and guts (literally) is not something I was used to seeing in my sanitized grocery store world!  Believe it or not, I could handle the sights far better than I could/can handle the smells.  As I mentioned, there is no refrigeration and very little ventilation in these markets.

Because the city is cracking down on sanitary conditions in the markets, the vendors were quite anxious when they saw my camera.  Out of respect for them, I didn't take photos of their booths with the meat.  This photo is from, and shows how many of the meat stalls look here.  Now, just imagine about 50 such booths at Feria Libre, and you get the picture! 
(This photo is from  

We see this truck every time we visit Feria Libre.  It is full of chickens being delivered to the vendors inside (and outside)  Hundreds and hundreds of chickens in that little truck!

Notice the kitten in with the rabbits on the left. He was tied to the crate with a string to keep him from escaping.  He was so cute!  This vendor is also selling puppies, ducks, turkeys, birds, you name it.

Boxes and boxes and boxes of live crabs in the "seafood section."
If the livestock is slaughtered at 8AM, brought to the market by 8:30AM, then sold to the customer by 9AM, then I could see an argument for no refrigeration.  What exists, however, are row upon row upon row of stalls selling the exact same meat.  There's no way all those stalls sell all their meat within a safe "no-refrigeration" window!  

These markets are very crowded with both people and merchandise.  That means as you walk down the aisles, you are going to be up close and personal with the meat and blood.  Again, with my food phobias, this was very tough to do!

We do not buy our meat in these markets.  Instead, we stay in our comfort zone of the grocery store.  I think most ex-pats do the same thing, although we know a few who do buy their meat at the markets.   

Like a lot of world, Ecuadorians don't waste much of an animal.  You'll see dishes that contain stomach, feet, brains, organs, etc.  

As many of you may know, guinea pigs ("cuy") are a delicacy here.  It is a very expensive ($30) dish in restaurants, even though you see cuy everywhere here.  Here are some BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER photos of the cuy in the markets here:


DURING (notice the bucket of intestines next to the stool)

AFTER.  Roasting the cuy on large spikes. They only remove the intestines and fur.  Everything else gets cooked.

So I'm getting used to seeing the raw meats in the markets.  I don't know if we'll get to the comfort point of actually buying our meat in them, but I'm at peace with the fact that the meat is there in my face.

When we eat out, I don't order anything containing chicken if I think there is a possibility of the chicken having bones - just like I did in Charlotte!  I don't order soup unless I know it is vegetarian.  I don't order cuy!

So far, my phobias and I coexist quite well in Cuenca; however, I know that sometime, somewhere, I'm going to be presented a plate with bones, skin, shell, etc. and then I'll crack!

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