Otavalo, Ecuador

View on our walk into Otavalo
View from our balcony
From Mindo, we moved on to Otavalo.  We were drawn to the area, primarily, by the massive Saturday market.  Pulling locals from dozens of surrounding villages to display their wares,   Ecuadorians and tourists from all over the world come to town for this weekly event.  Sunday through Friday the Plaza de las Ponchos and numerous stores throughout the city sell a variety of tablecloths, blankets, ponchos, wall hangings, jewelry and crafts made by the indigenous people, but on Saturday the market takes over much of the city.  On the edge of town, at the animal market, buyers and sellers haggle over pigs, sheep, goats, cattle, guinea pigs, chickens, even dogs and cats, for those looking for a pet.  Across the highway, there is a massive food market, and then in the center of town, leading out from the Plaza, numerous streets are taken over by vendors selling not only crafts and textiles, but just about anything you can think of.  Negotiating on prices is part of the game, but since many of the products are made by the vendors, we didn't bargain too hard on the few souvenirs we purchased.

In Otavalo the majority of the
populace still seemed to be in traditional dress, even though this habit is changing in much of the country.   Hair is worn long and braided by both sexes.  While men have transitioned to more western influenced clothing, the women maintain the indigenous dress on a daily basis.  On Sunday the men don their white calf-length pants and sandals made from cactus fiber (worn by both sexes) with a traditional formal shirt, sometimes topped with a poncho.  Among the women, the dress consists of a white embroidered blouse with full sleeves and a wrapped skirt with a wide woven belt, and woven ties in their long hair, multiple strands of beads and large earrings are also typically worn.  Ecuador has around 20 different ethnic groups, and the native dress varies widely.  The most commonly seen dress for women is the white embroidered top with a fully pleated skirt trimmed with embroidery, distinctive types of handwork signifying various highland communities.

Guinea pigs sold at the market are not destined to be pet, they wind up on the dinner table.  Prior to our visit, we had read that in the indigenous communities in this country, that guinea pigs, or cuy is considered a delicacy.  Owners at our hostel offered to prepare this dish for us, and we thought it would be a good opportunity to check it out.  Well, just leave it said that we won't be rushing out to try to have this meal again.  Luckily, they did not serve it with the head on, which from pictures I've seen, is more traditional, but then they probably realized that gringos may have a hard time dealing with that.  Food in Ecuador has been wonderful, with tremendous varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables available because of their mild temperatures and year-round growing season.  Cattle and dairy products are grass fed.

Surrounded by three volcanoes, the views from our place on the hill outside the city were phenomenal.  For much of our stay in the area we hung out on the patio of our apartment, and enjoyed the beauty.  But we did schedule side trips, which included a few nearby points of interest.  Our first destination was Lake Monjado, several miles out of town, located in a volcanic crater of one of the nearby mountains.  Driven to the Lake, we left our driver behind and hiked further up the mountain, but we were amazed to see little dots of people trekking up to the peaks.

Next, we traveled into the artisan community of Cotacachi.  Popular as an expat haven, we were curious to see what the small town of 9000 had to offer.  Unfortunately, by visiting on a Sunday, most of the town was shut down, with the exception of a number of leather shops featuring the hand-tooled products. the area is known for, and a handful of restaurants.   Traditional methods of tanning the leather, stretching, shaping, sewing and dying have been passed down through generations.  Great deals on leather works can be had, especially if you can buy directly from the craftsmen.  Also found in the Ibarra district, helados de paila, a unique sorbet first made by the Incans, is made with fruit, water and sugar mixed in a large copper bowl on a bed of ice, salt and straw.  Flavor offerings ranged from soursop and taxo, to more familiar guava and coconut.  I indulged in the mango, and was not disappointed.

From Cotacachi we moved on to the Peguche Waterfalls, ten minutes
outside Otavalo.  The 50-foot falls are considered an Indigenous Ceremonial Site, and are located within 40 acres of lovely protected forest.  A 30-40 minute walk from the base meandered along a well-maintained walkway, that was busy with locals enjoying all aspects of the park.  Vendors at the bottom provide snacks and beverages for the short trek, but they also provide prepared foods for the family wanting to have an impromptu picnic on the grounds.

After our stay in Otavalo, we headed back to Quito where we caught a one-hour flight down to Cuenca, where we will be for the next ten days.

This was our laundry being done, the old-fashioned way!

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