Otavalo and Cotacachi: Ecuadorean Market Towns

Ecuador is obviously different from Colombia in many ways. The landscape immediately changed after the border from mountainous terrain to rolling hills. The climate is a lot drier, and thus browner, and there’s less sprawling coffee plantations and more farmland. Sheep, cattle, llamas, pigs, all sorts of wildlife with more flat land and sparser forests. Women stand in lines tilling the fields by hand or carrying bundles of sticks along the side of the road.
  Even though the currency of Ecuador is the US dollar, the dress is much less influenced by North American apparel. Many locals wear the traditional clothing of brightly coloured ponchos or capes, dark pants (long thick skirts for the women) and fedora hats. The women carry their children in swaddled blankets on their backs, and are almost always adorned with thick necklaces of gold and silver chains.

At nearly every stop the bus made, people selling cheap food or trinkets climbed on to sell their goods. Homemade potato chips, apples, chicken, nuts, water, icecream, you name it. The venders walk up and down the isle calling out the names of their goods in rapid succession. “helado helado helado helado!!” “papas papas papas!!!” “un dollar por seis; veinte cinco centavos!” The men or women stay on for a stop or two, then tell the driver to stop so they can jump onto another bus. You will never find yourself hungry on an Ecuadorean bus, that’s for sure!

On our first day in Quito we did very little. We grabbed lunch at a bar in the main square, checked out a park and ventured back to our hostel to wait for Diane to join us! Now that Hilary had gone home to Toronto, Diane agreed to join us for our trip around Ecuador and we were very excited! The three of us went for delicious Mexican food for dinner, then called it a night early to get ready for a long day trip to Otavalo in the morning.

Otavalo is a market town about 2 hours North of Quito. It is a wonderful little town with a plethora of street venders selling food and a beautiful craft market full of traditional Ecuadorean wares. The three of us got up early to start our day. We watched a very entertaining Jackie Chan movie in Spanish on the bus ride out and arrived in Otavalo by the early afternoon. Buses in Ecuador are incredibly cheap: about $1 for every hour of the trip. Such a far cry from Brazil, which are between 8 and 10 times the price!! So we were all happy to reach the town for the cost of a toonie!

The market was quiet on the Monday that we went, but had some great deals! There were tonnes of intricate, hand-carved silver pendants and earrings, wood carvings of native animals, hand held pipes, thick alpaca sweaters, brightly coloured paintings, and traditional blankets and scarves. We had a great time walking from stall to stall bargaining for the best price and checking out the handicrafts. In the end, Diane and I both bought sweaters and Adam got an alpaca blanket that was gorgeous! When we’d properly explored the market, we ventured back to the bus station to catch a bus to Cotacachi. I never would have known that this place existed had it not been for Cathy, who told me about the leather bags she had bought from there. Only 40 minutes and 20 cents from Otavalo, Cotacachi is even more quaint and beautiful! From what we saw, it was only several blocks squared: the bus station went only 2 places, there was one plaza with a church… and a million leather shops! The place smelled amazing, with real leather scents coming out of the stores. Jackets, purses, wallets, shoes! Each place had handmade leather wares for super cheap and many of the shop owners made their products right there in the store. We spent a good hour at least walking up and down two city blocks checking out all the leather in each store along the way. We got some great deals in the end and then made our three hour trek back to Otavalo and finally Quito. We had cheap eats at a local Ecuadorean restaurant of rice, chicken and lentils for $2.75 then back to our hostel for a few beers and games of pool.  Not a bad first day in Ecuador!

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