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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Animal Attraction

"How much for that chicken?" I asked a man who was strolling through Otavalo's animal market with a live chicken under his arm.

"AHHHHH,"he responded shoving the bird in my arms. "It's a great chicken. Look here, under the wing. It's a beautiful yellow color. This is a national chicken. There's nothing better."

"But how much?"

"For you, $15."

I had no idea what I was going to do with a live chicken, but the market was an incredible ethnographic experience for my first morning in this highland town nestled in a valley between a cluster of dormant volcanos.

At six o'clock in the morning, an empty field on the outskirts of town begins to fill up with trucks filled with cows, horses, pigs, chicks, ducks, guinea pigs, rabbits, kittens, dogs, and more being brought to auction. Crowds of people, whether buying or selling, meander through the mud and muck checking out their future meal.

A gigantic pig went for about $300--roughly $1 a pound, I'd guess. I think the man who bought it should have had a discount. The critter wasn't behaving so well, so it took three people to wrap a rope around its neck. It may have been the same pig that I later heard squealing loudly on the street. The owner kicked it a few times in the head and shoved it in the back of a truck.

I inquired about a turkey ($38), then a guinea pig (only $2!).

Sadly, the guinea pig is considered a food item, not a pet. And the price goes up to around $6 during holidays like Mother's Day. This is surprising, considering there seems to be a surplus of these little furry rodents in the surrounding countryside. A nearby lagoon is named after the cuy (its quechua name) due to its proliferation in the area.

My travel companions, Jennifer and Adrianne, considered buying one for Jennifer's birthday. We really weren't planning to eat it, but we imagined that it would have been fun to put it on a leash and lead it around town for the day, then sell it to someone else!

We left the animal market empty handed, but I caught myself a runaway kitten on the way out, which I returned to its vendor. It may have been the same kitten I heard mewing from inside a woman's bag as she walked down the street on her way home to solve a mouse problem.

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