National Geographic : 1968 Feb
Hopeful huckster at the Thursday market in Cuenca proffers a guinea pig. Natives of the Andes, the rodents enjoy the run of rural houses as families fatten them for the pot. Vendors down the line display onions, limes, beans, and hot peppers. Another nearby open market, a city block in size, offers pottery, furniture, and tableware; a third sells only clothing. Bed and board on their backs, Indians pad home from the market in Otavalo, north of Quito. They brought produce to town before dawn, napping on the rolled bed mat until bargaining began. Between sales, the woman spun yarn on her wooden wheel. Cuenca (map, page 263). Near Guayaquil, tropical forest gave way to banana planta tions. The fruit accounts for more than half the country's annual exports of $185,000,000. Ecuador has reigned as the world's top bana na supplier since 1952 (pages 264-5). The Guayas River Basin has always re sponded generously to shifting demands on its remarkable fertility. From 1870 cacao was king, until a disease called witches' broom swept away cocoa fortunes in 1922. Rice then saved the day and became the nation's chief export. Coffee helped. Finally, bananas boomed when blight struck the Central Amer ican banana crop. "Treasure seekers have overrun Ecuador's highlands and eastern jungle for centuries," said young Lautaro (Tayo) Aspiazu, a Guaya quil banana export executive. "Yet real wealth has always been right here-our rich soil." With Tayo I helicoptered to plantations where he was supervising experiments to im prove bananas. We followed the fruit from 284 Squealing and kicking, a porker rides piggyback to the weekly market in Riobam ba. Each April the city holds a livestock fair.