Background information: What is Otavalo? Otavalo is a small town north of Quito. It is FAMOUS in South America for its market, especially on Saturdays when the market is the biggest. Also nearby is Cotocachi, a small town known for its leather work. Close to Cotocachi is the volcanic crater lake, Cuicocha. The C names around here were so easy to mix up, especially when you factor in Cotopaxi, a volcano to the south of Quito. There are also lots of traditional haciendas nearby to stay at.
Bea and I took a taxi to the other north bus terminal, **Carcelen, to meet the other students at 8:30 (I brought my big backpack. So excited). The line to buy tickets for Otavalo was INSANE, so we took a chance on a guy with a mini-bus. For anyone who feels like lecturing me for this: we felt out the situation and went with it. There were indigenous people in the same bus, which made me feel better, and he seemed semi-legit, at least. Plus, we paid like $4 each and skipped the line for tickets…
Anyway, we arrived and located the bus station first, so that the 4 students who weren’t staying the night knew where to go. Then we found the market, and I was overwhelmed. The stalls were absolutely overflowing with beautiful handmade clothing, blankets, wall hangings, scarves, baby clothes, hats, hammocks, trinkets, jewelry, figurines…
We ate at a restaurant called **Mi Otavalito, which had good food in about the normal wait time in Ecuador (significantly longer than the USA). Almost everyone got the menu of the day, which was a fantastic value: soup, corn on the cob with cheese, juice, a main course, and a piece of carrot cake at the end. I ordered a sandwich with chicken and avocado, and lemonade, for the exact same price, as I didn’t feel incredibly hungry. The menu of the day would have been a better option, as I eventually bought a piece of carrot cake anyway and ended up paying slightly more than everyone else for less food. **Fun fact: go to the bathroom here. It’s super neat.
We decided to go ahead to Cuicocha, the crater lake. We planned to take a taxi, but we actually had to pay like $0.25 to take a bus to the closest stop and from there we took a taxi for like $1 each to the lake. They have a restaurant, some artisanal shops, and a boat tour company. We paid $4 to take the tour around the lake, and waited about half an hour, since we came on a Saturday. They load the boats so full that they can’t turn quickly, or else the boat will tip, but the guide seemed to know what he was doing. It was a beautiful tour, lasting around 30 minutes. We saw ducks, the two islands in the middle of the lake, and bubbles from the still-active volcano that rose to the surface of the water. **Keep your ticket, as you get a free cup of canelazo afterwards. In Quito, canelazo is basically hot, alcoholic orange juice. This was more like hot apple cider, with or without alcohol. I’m not sure which is the “correct/traditional” form, but I liked both. Afterwards, the frustrating part is that you just have to wait for a taxi driver to come and drop someone else off… Luckily, our driver gave us his phone number, and we called. He was 20 minutes away, but he was willing to take us to Cotocachi, so we were willing to wait for him. From the lake to Cotocachi, we paid $2 a person and he pointed out the street with the most leather goods stores and a festival that was going on.
The indigenous groups have a festival every year around this time, close to the time of the summer solstice, to bring good luck to their upcoming corn harvest. It was taking place in the town square, so we walked closer to see. After asking many people, being ignored by some and not understanding others, we found out that each indigenous group gets a turn to “dance” their way to each corner of the square, taking the square as if in battle. I’m sure there is more significance to that, as well as to the clothing and hats they wore, but we couldn’t interpret what it was. The dancing appeared to just be foot stomping/shuffling, but these men (it was only men) were practically falling over with exhaustion. *Unfortunately, I only took a video, which I can’t attach.
We then walked down the street with the leather stores very briefly before heading to the city’s bus terminal to return to Otavalo. I would have loved to stay longer, but the other students were worried about missing their bus back to Quito. We paid around $0.50 to return to Otavalo, and walked around the market more. I did a bit of shopping, as I came to Ecuador with the intention of bringing my family’s Christmas gifts back home with me. However, because I know that some of them read this blog, I am not going to write about what I got them. I’ll write that post when I’m back and they have received their gifts because I don’t want to wait until December to give them out.
Athena, Marilyn and I got the other 4 students to the bus station and then we decided to locate out hotels/hostals. We found their hotel, a decent walk from the bus terminal. It seemed very nice, quiet, and safe. My hostal was on the other side of town, so we decided to eat first. We ate at a restaurant called **Quino near their hotel. It was a little late, so we had to wait for the food to be cooked fresh, which was fine with me. The fresh juice was delicious, as was the trout with garlic sauce that I had. Athena and Marilyn said that they also had good wine, and it was all reasonably priced.
We followed their map to my hostal, which took us through the town square, and unfortunately, through a dark, closed food market. We were a bit uncomfortable, but we made it where the hostal was supposed to be. However, we couldn’t find it… After walking around for nearly half an hour, we found it near the listed address with a poorly-lit sign in an almost-unreadable font… Upon walking in, the woman at the desk informed me that she couldn’t check me in, so she went to get her husband. After 20 more minutes of waiting, he showed up and asked her to check my room. She returned and said that it wasn’t ready, and they whispered a bit. By this point, I had bad feelings about this hostal, and instead of waiting 15 minutes like he asked, I asked him to cancel my reservation. We did walk by the city square, which was lit up in the dark.
I went back to the hotel with Athena and Marilyn, but it was unfortunately booked full (**Hotel Riviera Sucre). Their sister hotel around the corner, however, was not (**Hotel Santa Fe). I was incredibly thankful for the other students walking with me, and I ended up paying only $2 more than I would have at the hostel. At this hotel, I got my own room with a bathroom, and it felt safe and clean.
Otavalo is a shockingly noisy town, so I was awake early to start the day. Breakfast isn’t included at the hotel, but there is an attached restaurant that serves breakfast. For $2.50, I got a glass of fresh juice, cafe con leche, scrambled eggs with ham, and a large sandwich. For that price, I had no problem paying to eat breakfast.
Afterwards, I headed back to the market. Again, since some of my family reads this, I’m not going to write about my purchases yet, but I will later on! I much preferred the market today, a Sunday. Sundays are when the market is at its smallest, and it was much easier to navigate. There may have been slightly less variety, but almost of all of the vendors sell the exact same, or similar, items, for almost the same prices. The smaller size of the market made my shopping very easy, and by purchasing one item and then returning to the same vendor, I got several “special discounts” for coming back. Whether or not I actually got a lower price, well, I’ll never know. I don’t feel like I overpaid for any single thing I bought though, considering that it was all handmade and the prices that I would have paid at home.
I will say that, for myself, I bought a blanket, a sweater, a scarf, and a necklace, and I’m quite pleased with all of those purchases.
I got on my bus back to Quito around 11. I hadn’t planned on leaving that early, but I decided to leave before I started buying things that I didn’t actually need. On the bus back, I met a nice man, Jaime, and his son. He was very friendly, and pointed out landmarks to me throughout the bus ride. My professor and I had been talking about making friends with people who live in Ecuador and the benefits that it can have, so when he asked if we could exchange phone numbers to practice our languages, I said okay. If something weird happened, I planned to just block him. Fast forward several days, and I sadly ended up blocking him after he asked where I was approximately 10 times over the course of one day… I tried, at least!! Otherwise, the trip home was quite uneventful, and the bus was nearly empty, making for a pleasant trip.
When I got back to the house, the cleaning lady was there cleaning my room. I always appreciate when she comes, as the floors get dirty quite quickly if I keep the window open. However, the family won’t let me go in the room while she’s here, so I waited and waited. Eventually, I left my stuff on the balcony and went with another student to get lunch. Long story short, the food near the house isn’t very good and we ended up eating ice cream for lunch (not that I’m complaining). When I got back in my room, I packed up the gifts that I’d bought into my suitcase, after taking pictures for my mom to approve. When I leave, I plan to put my personal belongings in my new big backpack, as I primarily have clothes, so they don’t need much protection.
I also blogged and started watching the new season of Orange is the New Black on Netflix. Everyone, including myself, knew that I wouldn’t last until I got home to watch it.
At dinner, we had soup, rice, red peppers, and chicken. Rice and chicken tends to get old, as it’s incredibly popular in Ecuador, but it’s always good and almost always accompanied by fresh juice, which is a plus.