A day after arriving in Quito, Ecuador my journey took me to Otavalo, a culture-rich mountain village nestled in the Andes, just two hours north of Quito, Ecuador.

 

Having a tour guide and driver is an inexpensive way to see the sites of Ecuador. Our guide Roberto, a native Ecuadorian, shared his extensive knowledge about the area and history of the places we visited on this day.

 

 

We meandered down the highway which was quite smooth considering the economy in Ecuador is in sad shape. We stopped along the highway to view Cayambe, the third highest volcano in Ecuador towering over 18,000 feet. In this spot we were at the equator almost 0.0 degrees, longitude and latitude.

 

Continuing, we passed small towns with flower shops overflowing with bright beautiful flowers. Ecuador is one of the global leaders in the exportation of roses, however, we saw a lot of sunflowers this time of year.

We also saw some ‘not so beautiful things’ for sale, such as, pig carcases hooked outside small shops. I will spare my readers the visual and details but this is a way of life for the people here.

 

We stopped at a café and had a sample of bizcochos, which are like a biscotti. And this is where we met the adorable alpaca, fondly nicknamed, ‘Bucky’ because his two bottom teeth are a couple inches long and protrude skyward. Poor guy.

 

We arrived in Otavalo where the local population consist of longstanding indigenous people, the Otavalos, who populated the area long before the Incas. They are known for their weaving of wool, folk music, and handicrafts.

 

We went to the animal market and then to the open market.
At the animal market the locals gather to buy and sell livestock, chickens, ducks, guinea pigs and puppies.

I came upon a young girl who just got her first puppy at the market. I hope she gives it a good home because there are a lot of stray dogs in Ecuador, not so much in the cities but in the small towns and rural areas. You’ll see them walking alongside the roads, they seem to know to avoid traffic and not wander into the streets.

 

The open market which was adjacent to the animal market had vendors selling clothing, food, plants, electronics, and random gadgets. I bought a few hand-embroidered tops for my nieces here that only cost a few dollars each.

 

We left the market and drove to a small adobe home to discover a workshop full of handmade South American instruments consisting of bamboo flutes, drums, guitars and array of others.

 

This was the home and workshop of Jose Luis Pichamba, a world-renowned musician. He gave us a demonstration of these magical instruments. He then made a pan flute right before our eyes, in a matter of just a few minutes. From there he sat down and began to serenade us, playing his guitar and the flute at the same time. You can check it all out here in the video.

Because of the time I spent here, listening to the music from generations past, I started to get a sense for the Otavalo culture.

 

Next, it was on to witness a weaving demonstration at a three-story shop that was chock full of beautiful hand-woven tapestries, rugs, scarves, hats, clothing and more. The quality and craftmanship of the woven textiles are extraordinary. The demonstration led us to some of the ancient secrets and traditions used by the Otavalos over the centuries.

 

From seeds and plants creating pigments of browns, greys, black, yellow, and green, to tiny beetles they squish, which produces a significant amount of blood, to create rich pigments of reds, oranges and purples. This video will show exactly what I mean.

 

The wools used to weave range from adult lama, baby lama, lamb, and sheep. The wool gets spun, dyed, then woven using looms that haven’t changed for centuries.

 

The work involved to create a piece is complicated, strenuous, tedious, and demands much attention and focus to the detail. The weavers spend two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon each day until the item is complete.

Well worth the small price tag.

 

Nature calls as we took a short hike at Comuna Fakcha Llakta to see the sacred 60-foot Peguche Waterfall. The locals bath in the waterfall pool as a ritual and afterward hold a traditional dance before the beginning of the sun and harvest festival held on June 21st.

 

Before entering the protected forest there are small shops with crafts and an ancient ruin claimed to be the center of the world. I’m not too sure it’s true or just folklore, but it makes for a good story. You can see it in the video.

 

 

From there, we ventured into Otavalo to explore another open market held within the city square. This is the largest open market with seemingly hundreds of local vendors.

 

Buyer-beware when going to this market since some of the vendors will try to pass off products made in China as locally made.

 

By this time, it was time for lunch. We headed to Cotacachi, a nearby small town where the streets are store-lined with leather goods. But first, we had lunch at a local restaurant which served the ever-popular Ecuadorian potato soup before heading out to shop.

 

I was amazed at the high quality and extraordinary prices of the leather goods. Lucky me, I was able to get amazing steals on a couple purses I bought.

 

It was a fun and entertaining day before we headed back to Quito but just before we left I was greeted by an adorable sweet-faced stray dog. I couldn’t resist the urge to give him some food, so I went across the street to the bakery, and he followed me. I think he may have been able to read the sign on my forehead saying ‘sucker for homeless pups’. I bought a fresh roll and gave it to him and then another dog came along and was looking inquisitively as to where the food came from. Sucker that I am, I went back in and bought another roll to give to him.  Their bellies were satisfied and so was my heart.

 

If you haven’t checked out the video yet, go here now.

 

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Nancy Seagal

 

 

 

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