On a flying visit through Riobamba I didn’t really get a chance to fully experience the city, but I did get a taste of what was a far bigger place than I had expected. This was a stopover en-route to Cuenca and the Vilcabamba.
I needed food. Wandering down towards where the hostel owners suggested were some good eateries, I stumbled across a little side street full of street food traders. Was my stomach ready to give it a go? For sure. Ecuadorian families and friends sat cramped at tables eating plates of rice and meat – the set evening meal for $3. The air was full of chatter and seasoned smells. There was generally very little differentiation between each stall on the main stretch, but a bit further along were a few alternative options. My favourite, however, had to be the empañada lady who initially wasn’t best pleased to be serving tourists but then once we returned she broke into a smile. The return was clearly an approval of her meat and cheese pastries. A little further along, a couple were selling all sorts of breads. The pan with honey was amazing; dense and gooey and filling. Another little lady was selling some mysterious looking food wrapped in leaves. It was quimbolito – a sweet, moist corn cake steamed in a leaf and eaten with ones fingers. Delicious.
All this street food sat sweetly in my belly. It was so much better than the proper, more expensive restaurants. The mix of tastes, the atmosphere, the buzz of the place. I could eat there every night.
It’s Saturday and I’m standing with my backpack perched on a wall assessing the end of a busy market day in Riobamba. The bus from Baños has dropped me off and I’m trying to figure out which way to go from here. I’m also quite content watching, taking in the scene. The ground is strewn with food remnants and waste and plastic spoons from on-the-go dining. Strong, young and upright men help their elders load up trucks with unsold goods – tools, packaged food, sandals, and crafts. A man wanders by trying to sell the last of his toilet roll bulks for $1. Most people are packing up but the animal traders are holding out for that last minute, tired and emotionally driven purchase.
It’s a controversial issue but coming from a country where pets are treated as part of the family and where pet insurance is becoming standard and where animal rights are so much more respected, it can feel uncomfortable to see cramped metal enclosures holding in hoards of animals and birds.
A young teenager in a bright red shirt that reads ‘Hombre’ is trying to persuade his mum to buy a puppy. The trader reaches in and grabs out a white, fluffy ball. The boy hugs it in close, holds it out at arm’s length, turns it around to inspect it and then drops it back in with its siblings. The trader refuses to lose the sale and lifts out another, this time a short haired brown pup with big chocolate eyes. The boy goes through the same process, conferring with his mum, but it’s the same outcome: back into the pen. But… he can’t forget the white fluff ball and back out she comes and it could be love, this teen on the brink of machismo and this innocent little animal. They leave together.
And stupid me. I forget to ask how much a doggy in a cramped pen goes for, so the purpose of this post can’t be fulfilled. Oops.