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Easter Saturday: Otavalo Market

Quito and Otavalo


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I was the first of our group to sit down for breakfast this morning and while I was waiting, I experienced an earthquake tremor! Just a minor one but I did feel the earth shake a bit and coffee cups rattle on the table. Then Kate arrived and just as she was agreeing that it must have been an earthquake, it happened again and she felt it.

After breakfast we got a lift in the hostel's minibus to one of the bus stations, where we hopped on a coach to a town north of Quito called Otavalo. It is famous across South America and beyond for its street markets, in particular the big handicrafts market that reaches its apogee on Saturdays. It took over 2 hours to get there and the scenery was spectacular.

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On the way there some ice cream sellers appeared on the bus at different points - Kate bought a coconut ice lolly (the best ice lollies she had ever had, apparently) and I bought a lovely chocolate one.

We knew there was a morning animal market in addition to the handicrafts market and the daily market, so we made a beeline for it as soon as we arrived. Before we did that, however, we had to go on a toilet hunt. We looked inside the church on the main square - it looked really interesting so I will definitely look round it properly when I come back here with Dave in June - but they didn't have any toilet; luckily, after we had exited from there Mark then spotted some public toilets nearby.

Market sellers had spread across the town even outside the official market areas, so there was lots to see on our walk. Unfortunately the animal market had mostly finished by the time we got there, so almost all the big animals had been sold other than a few sheep, but we did see little pens and cages of guinea pigs, pigeons, chickens, ducklings and a rabbit.

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Next to the market I noticed a stand making and selling the same type of delicious batter things that I saw in Ambato at Carnival, so I bought and ate two; then some of the others bought one.

Indigenous Otavalo people still wear traditional dress and take great pride in it, even the young people who you'd think would more likely to wear modern clothes. Everywhere we saw women wearing their traditional bead necklaces and bracelets, distinctive white blouses with elbow-length flared laced sleeves and flower or other embroidering over the chest area, dark skirts, coloured bands round the waist and hair tied back with a cloth band. We also saw some men wearing their traditional clothing - white trousers, dark ponchos and hats.

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On returning from the animal market we explored the daily market a bit more. This was extremely untouristy, filled with butchers' stalls, lunch counters, fruit and vegetable stalls, general stalls with tins and packets of food as well as sacks of maize, flour and other grains, and stalls selling non-edible household goods.

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While walking past one of the lunch counters Kate noticed that it sold 'cuy' - guinea pig! The others all decided to have some for lunch but I originally decided I wouldn't, because I knew it would be fried and I've had that before in Bolivia five years ago; I remember thinking at the time that although it was nice fried, I'd have it roasted or as part of a stew the next time.

Guinea pig is expensive in Ecuador so the others decided to have just one between them. They sat up at the side of the stall on an inbuilt bench and waited 25 minutes or so for the dish to be prepared. At one point one of the women at the stall asked if they wanted to take photos of the guinea pig being cooked, so Kate went over and took a photo. Apparently it was indeed being fried in a pan, was flattened a bit and didn't have any fur on it - the same as what I had in Bolivia. When it arrived they each got a quarter on a plate along with toasted corn, some sort of boiled corn, tomato and onion salsa, potato in some sort of sauce, some tomato and lettuce. They also brought me out a plate and we thought that it was included in the $25 we'd paid for our meal, so I accepted. It was tasty but somewhat hard to get the meat off the bones. Of course, once we'd all finished eating it turned out that it wasn't included after all, but it still worked out as $6 each which was pretty good value.

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The famous handicrafts market (Plaza de Ponchos) was our next destination. I was tempted by a lot of things but didn't buy anything because I knew I would be coming back here in June with Dave. I can tell I will be loading myself up then! Kate and Andrew bought a lovely piece of artist's work that they plan to get framed and put up in their house, Kate also got a little carved stone turtle keyring and Andrew bought something that he thought was a carved wooden axe-shaped ornament that turned out to be a pipe. Emma and Mark also bought things but I've forgotten what they were.

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Instead of going straight back to Quito, we then caught a bus to the town of Cayambe.

Posted by 3Traveller 09:37 Archived in Ecuador Tagged mountains birds market sisters quito otavalo andes explorations ecuadorian_cuisine traditional_customs

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