I survived my pickpocketing at the border but one hundred dollars lighter and I jumped on a bus to Otovalo. I had been here before but I wanted to break my journey and this town warranted a better look around.
In the end I stayed here for ten days in two different hostels so I really got a feel for the place and its residents, bouncing in and out of Quito in between. Since my first visit to Otovalo there had been an earthquake and the road through the mountain is currently closed. It now takes twice as long to get to the town from Quito on a very long winding route which has had a severe impact on the number of tourists who pop up from the capital for the day.
Bt it is worth making the effort and it is worth staying longer. Otavalo has got, of course the crafty, artisan market – the biggest and arguably the best in Ecuador and it also has a weekly animal market. There are TWO volcanos looming over the town and some beautiful towns and villages within striking distance. It has lakes, mountains and a scenic railway line passes quite close by.
I spent some quality downtime here writing and walking in the countryside and I also I met a British lady who had repatriated herself to the town and we went out together on a couple of day trips.
We visited the nearby waterfalls at the Cascada de Peguche which are considered a sacred site by the local indigenous people and who hold ceremonies under and near them.
We visited the large lagoon, the Lago San Pablo on a very still, foggy day, a day when dampness hung in the air and deadened all sounds and sucked the life and colour out of the landscape. We saw the little pond formed where the stream tumbled down from the mountains and where the ancient stone washing stones stood. The indigenous ladies still gather here in this pool to wash their clothes, pummelling them on the rocks, and chattering and passing the time of day while they sit or stand in the water.
Another day we trekked for five and a half hours the fourteen kilometres around the rim of the Laguna de Cuicocha with its two forested humps of islands hunched in the middle and is so named for the guinea pigs that the islands are supposed to resemble. That trek was actually quite tough as in some places where the path climbed very high above the crater, and the gradient rising from 3100 to 3400 metres but it was very beautiful. The path wound in and out of trees and each time it took us back out above the lake our viewpoint had shifted and we had a different perspective. The lake changed from a moody, glassy black which reflected the mountains to molten mercurial silver and all shades of blue/green in between.
We had rain, sun and hail thrown at us while we walked and then when we finally reached the road we had to hitchhike back to the town as there was no public transport. That in itself was an adventure as we climbed into the back of a truck who had already picked up a lady and a drunk guy who kept retching in the corner – and thenthe truck got a puncture too.
Julie the British lady that I had met was a masseuse and did something with crystals. I had a lovely massage and she read my cards (something like tarots) with uncanny accuracy but the jury is still out on the crystal stuff. I supposedly had all my bad energy taken away from me, but following subsequent events she would probably dispute that!
On one of my return trips to Otavalo (by now my third visit) I was accompanied by the uber intelligent Marcel from Germany who I had met in Quito. My trip has been educational in more ways than one but before I set out I never expected that I would learn about black holes, quantum physics and tons of other sciency stuff. And all credit to Marcel that despite my blank looks he didn’t tell me that I was completely stupid and he did explain a lot of stuff in a way that even my non-scientific mind could grasp (I gave up on physics in school on the day that we made patterns with a magnet and iron filings. What use was that ever going to be in my life?)
One evening we heard that there was a cockfight going on. This is legal in Ecuador and most towns have an arena. We debated the ethics of going and then decided that, provided we didn’t have to pay an entrance fee, we might at least pop our heads in and see what was going on.
It wasn’t as bad as I had thought – I actually found it more interesting watching the crowd watching the fighting than the birds themselves. It was similar to a boxing match in as much as there were timed segments, the referree would frequently pause the match and there was some big money changing hands among the crowd.
We stayed for just twenty minutes which was quite enough, and I would not go again but just after we had left we were told that there had been an immediate kill which had earned the owner of the bird a huge two thousand dollars.
I have to ‘fess up to not being particularily politically correct in several respects because I also visited the animal market twice as well as the cock fight. And they were both very un-pc. But interesting. And quite legal and normal in Colombia. In the market there were all sorts of animals changing hands, from tiny little chicks and puppies to pigs, goats and bulls. Some very grand cockerels were on display which we later learnt were being sold for cock fighting and a man was very strangely leading a randy bull around on a rope.
Daniel from Cuenca had joined us in Otavalo by now and the three of us spent a hilarious half hour watching the bull unsucessfully attempt to mount the other bulls that were tied up to the fence but he only succeeded in spraying everything and anybody who was stood too close with sperm. Very prurile and childish but ever so funny. Daniel actualy recorded the whole thing if you are interested!
Daniel had joined us in Cuenca for a music festival which I had been reliably informed by Julie the Brit would take place at the sacred waterfall and which would be a moving,s spiritual affair. Was it heck!
It was not at the waterfall at all, but in a large, drafty sports hall. A bevvy of bands took their turn on stage but none of the music was spiritual – it was all a jazzed up version of the music that you can hear on many high streets. Pan pipes accompanied by drums and guitars didn’t really do it for us since we were expecting such big things. I have to say that it was a dreadful night – not least because a man who was sat next to me shoved his tongue in my ear and told me that he loved me (I moved pretty sharpish). Marcel thought that the whole visit to Otavalo was hilariously funny and Daniel couldn’t wait to leave Ecuador (I should point at that neither were the owner of the out of control tongue)
One nice thing about Otavalo was that I also had the chance to meet up with Ashley from the States who I had previously met in Banos. I was told before I started to travel that there was a well worn path that travellers followed but I never believed that I would re-meet the same people again. After all, the distances are so huge, but people swap Facebook addresses and hook up again. If somebody can recommend a hostel or a good place to visit that can sometimes be safer than winging it (not always as some of the best things that I have seen or done have been when I have got lost)
Since my return to the UK after my trip I have even met up with fellow travellers here too and that is fantastic because you have the connection and the shared memories.
Leaving Otavalo behind on November 2nd Marcel and I in our bus drove past the cemetary where the indigenous population bury their dead. It was packed. The roads around it were solid with people and families laden down with baskets and flowers because it was ‘The Day of the Dead’ which is celebrated all around Central and South America and Mexico. It is a day of celebration rather than sadness when whole (usually indigenous) families decamp to the graves of their ancestors and hold a picnic alonsgside their resting place, complete with their deceased relatives favourite foods.
Arriving back in Quito we also witnessed the way that some of the city folk commemorated the Day of the Dead. Enter your email address and follow me to ensure that you don’t miss my my next installment or like me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter