By the time I reach the animal market, it's already winding down, even though it's only eight AM. People are leaving with their purchases and wares, packing the live chickens and guinea pigs into trucks or potato sacks and hauling them away. The vendors got here at five, and I bet most had to wake up by two or three to get down here, down onto this trodden meadow that overlooks Otavalo.
To get to the animal market, I cross this town that's stretched over an Andean floodplain, two hours north of Quito. I walk through the busy central park and down the long cement stairs that lead across the bridge, then over the deep, grassy gully that's littered with trash and criss-crossed with laundry lines. I walk up the hill, past the vendors who have set up their stands against the wall, stands and tables and blankets covered with folded t-shirts, gold beaded necklaces, piles of woven hip-belts and racks of lacy tunics. Loops and loops of rope. I cross the Interamericana, and from where I stand, at the brink of the market, I can see the treeless mountains, the parcels of farmland, the hazy clouds that cling to the tops of the peaks. These are the Andes, I think, and feel suddenly chilled.
What a market. I pass guinea pigs in baskets, climbing on top of one another and sleeping against each other. I peer into buckets of tiny puppies, sleeping bunnies, breathless chicks. One man holds two tiny kittens in his arms; he gazes at the people that pass with no expression on his face as the kittens mew and scramble, trying to escape. A little girl stands with two goats on ropes; an old man, shorter than five feet, for sure, screams that his calf is for sale. Cows, sheep, chickens everywhere, and beyond all of us, the silent peaks, shrouded in fog. In this light, they are glowing.
Here, some men wear their hair as long as the women, and god, they have such beautiful hair. It's thick and silky and hangs in clean braids down past their shoulder blades. They are proud of their hair, I am sure of it. Women stand around chatting in fedoras and long black skirts and white lace blouses embroidered with flowers, bright woven bands wrapped around the length of their braids. The older men, in spotless white pants and blue ponchos and wide-brimmed hats, gaze at the animals with dark eyes. It's one of those times I wish I weren't alone. How my mother would love this market, I think, and how my father would admire these mountains. That meadow, these people: I am awed, and I am sorry, because I want you here with me, too.