The neighboring towns of Gualaceo and Sigsig are a fascinating look at small town life in Ecuador. A slow pace of life, mom and pop cottage industries, and complete absence of tourists except one curious gringa makes neighboring city Cuenca seem like New York in comparison.
Gualaceo is an hour from Cuenca, winding through dusty but beautiful hills. The Cuencanos go there weekends to picnic or camp by the river, or for young hormonal teenagers who live with their parents…to “changar”. (Ecuador slang word if the day, changar is literally to hook ones leg on someone elses’s, ie to cuddle). The young go there to buy cheap shoes with 4″ heels. Mine below we’re $10, a cheap price to be ready for the disco! Not to be outdone by Cuenca, Gualaceo even hosts the yearly tattoo convention, complete with a body paint parade, DJs, fire and aerial dancers, and live music.
Sigsig, at 1:40 from Cuenca is even less touristy. The best seafood I’ve had so far here was a “sudado de pescado”, ehich transkates to something unappetizing literally like sweating fish, but is actually a whole fish, baked in a clay pot if sorts in its own juices, $3.50. Farm eggs are a beautiful mottled color and are commonly sold by street vendors boiled with cumin for 10 cents each. The most interesting thing here really is not the food but walking slowly through the town, peeking in doorways to catch glimpses of the indigenous women, either weaving Panama hats by hand or ironing the product onto a mold to give it shape. Panama hats are popular in Panama and often exported there but Ecuador is the producer of the most famous. A superfino Montecristi hat can sell for several hundred dollars, takes months if labor to weave (due to using the tiniest filaments of straw) and can be safely rolled into a cigar box without losing its shape.