Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Breathless in Otavalo--6/25-29

When I arrived in Otavalo I found myself breathless. I found myself sucking in air occassionally and running out of breath when walking up the streets. No wonder the elevation here is about 8,000 feet.

I also found myself breathless from the beauty of Otavalo both in the territory around Otavalo, the beautiful cobble streets and beautiful buildings and the warm and friendly people who were mostly indigenas who predated the Incas.

This is my guide, Sisa, who toured me to the surrounding craft villages and natural scenery at the Cascadas de Peguche.


It is always a challenge crossing country borders, and I found that going from Colombia to Ecuador fairly easy. From Pasto, I caught a collectivo to Ipiales, Colombia and then another one to the border town of Rumichaca and another collectivo to the border. I then walked first to the Colombia Immigration to stamp my way out of the country. I then walked a few hundred feet to the Ecuador border where I filled out the normal immigration paperwork which was reviewed and then my entry immigration stamp was added to my passport.

Colombia Immigration Office

Walk to Ecuador Immigration Office
Ecuador Immigration Office

Following that, I walked down to where the taxis and collectivos were waiting and got a collectivo to Tulcan, Ecuador. Each collectivo cost less than a dollar. From Tulcan, I caught a bus for $3.75 all the way to Otavalo.

Quite a challenging road through the mountains on the way to Otavalo.

In Ecuador, the currency is the US Dollar with the coins being a combination of Ecuador currency that matches the US coins. I immediately realized that almost all of the $1.00s in Ecuador were the US $1 coin with either John Adams or Sacagewa imprinted on these coins. How amazing is that that the $1 USD coin is such a sucess here, but a failure in the US.

After checking into my hostel, I ended up walking about town starting with the Plaza de Ponchos where each day the vendors set up their wares to sell to tourists and wholesalers.

I couldn't help buying a new man bag to replace my Sapa, Vietnam bag. With a bit of negotiating, I got it for $3 off at $12. It is a bit roomier and I like the design.
Lots of hammocks.
Lace tablecloths and fancy hats for sale.

Otavalenos are mostly the indigena people who were here before the Incas and Spaniards. They are well known for their amazing textile-making skills and leather work. Many of them working at the markets and in businesses throughout town wear their traditional clothing. The women wear white blouses that are embroidered with flowers and other fanciful designs, black or blue long wool skirts, woven belts, and gold stranded necklaces. The single women sometimes wear a wool scarf with a knot on the left side and the married ones have the knot in the middle. The men wear dark felt hats, white shirts and high water white pants. The men braid their hair in a single strand and the women wrap their long hair with a woven wrap.

These indigenous people are the most financially sucessful business people of all indigenous people in all of Ecuador.

Following the Pancho Plaza visit, I headed to the public market where meats, fruits, vegetables, and other goods were sold. They also had food stalls where you could have cheap local meals if you could get overthe smiling pig.

Chickens by the truck load.


Here are some of the sights in Otavalo beginning with Plaza Bolivar where the government building an a Catholic church are located and was the site of the Inti Rayi festival that I just missedl

Another Catholic Church near Morales Calle.

I took a day tour to some of the craft villages around Otavalo and Laguna de San Pablo and Laguna de Cuicocha--a caldera filled deep blue, clear lake in a national park. My tour was through Ecomontes Tour and my guide was Sisa and driver was Edwin. Since I was the only person on this guided tour, instead of it being $40, it was $60.

We first stopped at a woven grass mat craft shop where a couple of young girls tried to show me how to make these mats. Sisa said it takes them about 4 hours to make these mats that use the reeds they gather from around the nearby Laguna de San Pablo. I tried my hand at mat weaving, but no way could I make one in 4 hours---more like 4 days.

We next went to the textile weaving "factory". This was next to Sisa's home and her father, sister, and brother were busy weaving when I got there.
Sisa, my guide, is picking out the different colored threads to use on the loom.
Her father is busy making a woven belt
Her sister is on another loom making another patterned woven strip. Sisa told me some friends of hers did the artwork found on all of the walls.

Her brother is using a backstrap loom to make woven bracelets and I ended up buying two of them. He was very happy to get paid for his work.


We then stopped by a music instrument making shop and here are all of the types of instruments they make here ranging from rain sticks, flutes, rattles, and horns. The artists was off performing at another fiesta nearby, but we saw the raw materials he started with in making these instruments.

We next stopped at the popular waterfalls called Cascada de Peguche.
Here is the challenging bridge over the river.
We next went to the very affluent village of Cotacahi where the finest leather work was on display in the elegant stores in this village. Sisa told me that this village was a very popular place for ex-pats to live in.
Here is the town square with the church where they were having a funeral celebration.
Our final stop was at the Laguna de Cuicocha which is a water filled caldera similar but smaller than Crater Lake in Oregon. The water was very clear and pure. Apparently no fish can survive here because there is no shoreline for them to lay their eggs. They offer boat rides around the small island in the middle of the lake.
That was the finish of my wonderful tour around Otavalo with Sisa and Edwin. Once back at the Rincon del Viajero I took a last relaxing rest in a hammock near their rooftop restaurant.

My last stop was at the busy bus terminal where I found my ride to Quito by just listening to the conductor chanting Quito-Quito-Quito by the bus bound for Quito. I got on for the two hour ride for just $2.50.


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