The Otavalo Marketplace-

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During winter break of my eighth grade school year, I traveled with my aunt, uncle and three cousins to Ecuador to visit the Galapagos islands. When we arrived in Ecuador’s capital, Quito, I realized how different it was from the United States of America. Not only did the climate and natural geography vary, but the majority of markets and boutiques on the streets had something completely different to offer. On Rio Amazonas Avenue, where our hotel was located, the Otavalo marketplace revealed how some cultures still make us of traditional buying and selling practices as they exchange goods in their unique social environment.

Each piece of jewelry in the marketplace varied from the next. There had to have been thousands of different sizes, types, and colors of necklaces, bracelets, watches, and other custom-made by the seller. For example, each necklace could only fit one neck and each ring could only fit one finger; and each had a different texture and weight. When overhearing the loud commotion of sellers negotiating prices with customers, I discovered that each piece of jewelry had a price which could be raised or lowered. The prices separated each accessory and based upon the shopper’s sense of fair-trading; one piece of jewelry could have a number of different prices. This practice contrasts to the way that the United States performs business when identical products cost the same amount. What Stephen Jay Gould calls “the authenticity of object” applies to each product of the marketplace because everything is so abstract and conceptual.

Gould’s “authenticity of place” applies to the environment of the Otavalo marketplace as well. Each product that is being sold at the vast market expresses visual qualities unique to the historical and social customs of Ecuador. It would be mysterious and strange if the Otavalo market moved to another country. For example, if tourists traveled to England and saw an Ecuadorian devoted bazaar, they would feel curious of bizarre. Although Ecuadorian products are sold all over the world, it seems that individuals, including myself, exercise more awe and admiration for Ecuadorian-sold products in Ecuador.

Throughout the Otavalo marketplace, there are people that cannot be seen anyplace else in the world. These Ecuadorian mystics, dressed in dark blue robes with long hoods draping down their backs, are scattered all over the busy market in search of money, food, and hospitality. Even though they are very poor and are considered to be homeless, tourists have to be very careful because the mystics approach whomever they consider foreigners. They won’t leave or stop begging until the tourists either pay them or walk away briskly. In the streets of Otavalo, these mystics can be seen singing native tribal songs and performing sacred rituals in hope of receiving a few extra coins. Even though there are large homeless populations in almost every country in the world, these Ecuadorian mystics war and possess characteristics that were unique in this society.

In the market, there was somewhat of a distinction between natives and tourists who came on vacation. The natives would get better deals on jewelry, furniture and household items than the tourists would. For example, when my uncle was trying to buy a chair out of the now three piece set, he was charged more than twice what the man before him was charged. This is so because Ecuador has such a struggling economy and large homeless population. Some of the population is somewhat discriminating against tourists, who they believe are taking advantage of their own country and insulting them. The natives want to give as much back to the actual Ecuadorian population as they can so they can lessen the poverty and strengthen the economic level of the country.

The usage of traditional buying and selling are shown through day to day life in the Otavalo market. All throughout the market my aunt, uncle, three cousins, and I observed things that could not be found anywhere outside of the marketplace or the actual seller’s table. The uniqueness of each product in the bazaar provided a feeling of delight to each browser. Authenticity enforces humanity’s understanding of the value of distinctiveness in natural and unnatural works in the world around us.





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