Saturday, October 20, 2012

Otavalo, Ecuador

Despite the fact that we got to our hotel in Quito after 9pm local time (same as Central Time, in case you're wondering), we decided that we should try to hit the ground running today and go up to Otavalo to see the Saturday market, where all the local weavers and artisans come to sell their wares.

It wasn't easy to get there, as we didn't hire a private driver or sign up for a tour. Instead we took a taxi to the bus terminal at the far north end of town, then hopped the next bus for Otavalo, along with everyone else. There were two other English-speaking women on the bus. But we got there just fine, and enjoyed the view on the way.

It was a little jolty, but we both swayed ourselves to sleep as our bus wound its way first up one side of the switchbacks, and then braked all the way down the other.

Once there, we realized two things: 1) whomever does the weather forecasts for Ecuador is a monkey with a typewriter, and 2) that we really should've brought sunscreen and hats rather than our rain jackets and scarves.  So the first order of business was to buy some sunscreen.  After that, we explored the market.

After wandering around with my scarf over my head for a while, David finally convinced me to look at some of the straw hats. They're what people in the US call a panama hat, but they're actually made in Ecuador.  I got a little experience in bartering and the nice lady who was willing to bring me hat after hat to fit my giant head threw in a hatband as well.

There were some of the most beautiful weavings I have ever seen; of beautiful alpaca, soft soft wool; blankets, scarves, tablecloths, runners, rugs, shawls, ponchos. I wish I were able to bring back something for each of you--there were plenty of things to choose from.

We bought a small zippered bag to put in my purse for things like sunscreen, advil, toilet paper and chapstick (strangely enough, all things we forgot to bring with us) from this woman and her beautiful daughter, and chatted with them very briefly. After we bought the bag I asked her if I could take her daughter's picture, and while it took a little hand holding and convincing, she rose to the challenge. It was clear, even through the language barrier, that her mother was showing her the ropes--how to sell, how to dress, how to smile.

Feeling that we'd accomplished our missions, we sat down for a shared disappointing ham sandwich and two pieces of delicious pie at the Shenandoah Pie Company, which was recommended by the guidebooks.

We sat for a while in the cool of the cafe, just watching the world go by.  There was a neat painting of a bicycle with an umbrella that I was trying to take a picture of, but I managed to get some interesting local color as well.

Then after some more walking around and staring at things that won't fit into our bags, we wandered back to the bus station to head home.  

On the way to Otavalo we apparently were lucky enough to get the first two seats on the bus assigned to us, and a driver/conductor who didn't want to play a movie. This time, not so lucky.  The seats were very tight, with virtually no leg room.  If that weren't bad enough, we sat on the "wrong" side on the way out, so our view (while spectacular) was the same as the one we had coming to Otavalo.  But the best was yet to come. They put on a movie, initially in English but eventually switched to Spanish, thankfully, which was the worst movie ever. Actually, I said that and David made me clarify. It was the worst movie I've ever seen on a bus, so far.

I had actually read about the fact that they tend to play violent, bloody movies on these buses, so I told David to bring his headphones and music player. That was a godsend, because even though the movie was dubbed, it was really hard to tune out. All I can tell you is that it involved Liam Neeson, a plane crash in the snowy wilderness, and a band of rag-tag lumberjack-like men getting picked off one by one by hungry wolves. As the credits rolled right when we pulled into Quito, and the battery in my music player gave up the ghost, I noted that the name of the movie was "The Grey."  If you ever come across that title, for the love of God do not rent it.

And here I thought picking the bus with the blue-eyed Jesus on it would save me from violence.  I guess I should be grateful that he brought us back in one piece. His eyes must have been on the road.