Tag Archives: Otavalo Markets

Higher ground

I had underestimated how long it would take me to get from Colombia to Ecuador. As a result I wouldn’t be getting into Otavalo until late Saturday night which unfortunately, meant I would be missing the biggest market day.

The famous Otavalo Markets draws talented local artisans from miles around to flog their wares and in turn, hoards of haggling tourists from all over the world to hunt for a bargain.

I figured I might have troubles finding a room. So I decided on trying my luck in nearby Ibarra – a decent sized town just a few k’s north.

Around 11pm, I found a very cheap room in a huge old hotel which was eerily deserted. It could have easily been the scene for a horror film. I tried not to think about it as I padded down the creaky hall to the shared bathroom before bedtime.

The next morning I set off for Otavalo. I convinced the boys at the bus terminal to ‘watch’ my pack in a very open & most unsecure office – while I ambled off for a bit of retail therapy.

I did quite a bit of damage in just a few short hours. I bought a super soft alpaca-wool throw, a stack of stylin’ scarves, and other bits & bobs. The piece de resistance though, had to be the purple hoodie with llamas all over it. Boom! And all for under $100. The throw alone would cost maybe double of that, back home. One very happy customer.

After a delicious almuerzo, costing just $3 – I caught the bus onwards to Quito, getting in late afternoon with a cracking headache: Altitude sickness. One shower, 2 Ibuprofens, 3 beers & a lil kip later and I was good to go.

I had to go out that night to get some cash as I didn’t have enough to buy dinner. I walked around for about an hour in the Sunday deserted streets before I found an ATM.

Over breakfast the next day, I learned how lucky I had been not to have gotten mugged.

At least 3 tourists from the hostel had been robbed in the last 24 hours. One girl was having a coffee in a cafe – only to have a little old lady with a baby on her back come in, and shove her hand down the girl’s bra to swipe an iPhone she had earlier stashed down there.

After that – it’s all I heard: more & more stories of tourists getting done. Bags getting slashed. Pickpocketings. Taxi hi-jackings. Gun & knife-point robberies at ATMs. And so, I would just like to give a shout out to my guardian angel for watching over me: “Gratitud.”

Next day, I went to the Mitad del Mundo (aka “middle of the world”, aka the Equator) with a lovely Irish couple. We took a fun tour around the Intinan Museum, where they performed a raft of cool experiments: we saw the water in a sink swirl around in two different directions depending on which hemisphere the sink was moved to; and we each balanced a boiled egg on a nail on the actual equator line.

I then had a fun afternoon in the post office, trying to send my box of Otavalo goodies home to Aus. Lucky I had asked my taxi driver to wait for me. It went like this: Line up for 10 mins. Get back in the cab to buy my own box from the nearby supermercado. Line up for another 10 mins. Go to store across the road to procure my own tape. Line up for a further 10 mins. Go back across the road to obtain 2 copies of my passport.

My Spanish is now good enough to get by, but clearly there was a major communication breakdown. Sometimes the simplest things can be so time consuming.

My driver was the same dude who had driven us to the Equator earlier that day. One of the 5%. (See earlier posts for my theory that 95% of taxi drivers are c#*ts). He drove me around to get said items required to post my things and in the end came into the PO with me, to ascertain if there was anything else. He spent more than an hour with me. And he only wanted to charge me $10 for his troubles. I gave him $15.

That night, a bunch of us had dinner at the hostel & drinks by the fire on the rooftop balcony of the hostel, which afforded us amazing vistas of a lit-up city. It was a shame Quito was in the habit of scaring its visitors. I would have liked to have gone out & explored but no one was game.

The next day I went Cotopaxi. It was a scenic if not back-breaking 3-hour drive to one of the highest peaks in all of Ecuador.

Secret Garden Cotapaxi had come highly recommended by a lot of travellers I had met along the way. Everyone said it was completely worth the expense. And it was. When we got to the lodge, I let out a little squeal. It reminded me a bit of La Serrana. But with a Jacuzzi and a fireplace! We were welcomed by some friendly faces and a glass of warm wine. I just chilled out that afternoon. I felt like I had been racing around like a blue arsed fly since leaving Salento.

The next day I went with a lovely Argentinean girl, Vanessa (who only spoke Spanish) to walk part of Cotopaxi – a snow-capped conical volcano which is the 2nd highest peak in the country at 5,900m (and about 2 & ½ times the size of Mount Kosciusko). We were driven to 4,300m and then walked to the Refugio at 4,800m. It took us an hour & a quarter ‘cause it was so steep and a bit slippery. When the clouds cleared, we were treated to a spectacular view of the peak. We had a hot chocolate, and I decided I had it in me to walk an extra 200m to see the snowline. It took nearly 45 mins for the round trip. Basically 10 steps at a time – stop & catch my breath. The air was so thin.

When I finally got to the snowline, I felt a little sense of personal achievement. And I was lucky to get the whole place to myself. I couldn’t help it: I had to throw a snowball at my guide. He good humouredly threw one back at me. We powered back down the volcanic sandy bits and were back at the lodge in time for lunch. What an amazing morning it had been.

The next morning Vanessa & I went for a short walk through the fields and to a nearby waterfall. The place reminded me a little of Cooma, NSW. After lunch, we shared a cab back to Quito. She for her flight back to Buenos Aires and I for my flight to Guayaquil, where I spent a fairly non-descript night.

Next morning I was on an early morning flight to fulfil a lifelong dream: visiting the Galapagos Islands.

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