Video: Shop ‘til you Drop in La Libertad, Ecuador

There are plenty of reasons to go to La Libertad, here on the Santa Elena peninsula that juts out into the Pacific Ocean on the west coast of Ecuador. You can go to take care of business at one of the government office like the IESS (social security and healthcare) or SRI (income taxes). You could be visiting one of the many banks, getting blood work done, stopping at a utility office to pay a bill, or just out to enjoy the beach and a meal at one of the many restaurants.

Most the time when we jump on the bus in Salinas for the 30-cent ride to La Libertad (we call it “the ‘Tad”), it is to get some shopping done. Sure, we could get off the bus at the modern SuperMaxi grocery store, or the El Paseo Mall—and often we do—but there’s cheaper prices and more fun to be had by staying on the bus until we reach the downtown La Libertad business district.

Although you can find traditional stores in La Libertad for groceries, electronics, major appliances, and so on, most of the shoppers there are either shopping the more traditional Centro Comercial Buenaventura Moreno (usually referred to simply as “Centro” or “Aventura”), or bargaining at the many shops and stalls that line more than 10 blocks and form the shopping district.

This is a place where you can buy anything and everything—the trick is finding what you need in this often chaotic profusion of goods and services. We have visited La Libertad to successfully find things like flea and tick medication for our dog, wafer batteries for an Apple TV remote, an entire remote control for an old DVD player, various hardware items, a place to get shoes repaired, and of course fresh produce, meats, and seafood.

I really enjoy visiting this part of La Libertad. Colorful merchandise spills out into the streets while vendors constantly call attention to their wares. This is where most of the native Ecuadorians shop, where prices are negotiable, everything is cash only, and there is no sales tax or receipts.

Strolling through the food vendors, you find many items pre-packaged in clear plastic bags for quick sale. You see a lot of items grouped by price, each bag holding 50-cents’ or a dollar’s worth of merchandise. This is not always convenient, due to the low prices for some of the produce. For example, I once had a hard time finding just a pound of carrots, as most stalls had them bagged as four pounds for $1, or two pounds for 50 cents. And I like limes, but do I really need 30, 40, or even 50 sometimes for $1?

The highlight of every trip for me is the Mercado de Pescado, or Fish Market. Although they are selling a variety of seafood out on the street (even cooking it up and serving it in some locations), the Fish Market is a roofed area with individual stalls that provide clean working and display areas for the fish vendors. Each stall has running water, refrigerators, and ice chests to keep everything fresh.

You can find at least a dozen varieties of fish, from small snappers up to filets from 200-pound marlin or tuna. There are clams, mussels, salted fish, squid, octopus, eel, crabs, lobster, and of course lots of shrimp.

Often I will come here to find a 10- to 15-pound flounder, tuna, or sea bass, and negotiate a price for the entire fish. Usually, they will sell for as low as $2 per pound, and they clean and filet the fish for you. They always save the rest of the carcass for you in a separate bag, which I accept of course, to use as base for fish stock. I’ll take that home and divide it up into meal-sized portions for two, and freeze whatever we are not having that night in zip lock freezer bags for future use. Shopping this way allows us to plate a seafood meal for two for less than $1 a serving.

For variety, prices, and just plain fun, it is hard to beat a trip to The ‘Tad.

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