Ecuador: Finals Days in Ecuador – Otavalo and Quito
The further north I go in Ecuador, the more familiar things become, as I am getting closer to the Colombian border. This portion of the trip should have been very familiar, as I have been in Ecuador before, when I was 10 or so, with my mom and 2 of my aunts. On that trip, we went to Quito and Otavalo, which is where I spent the last 4 days of this trip. However, I didn’t remember anything from before. I kept waiting for something to strike me as familiar, but the only thing I vaguely remembered visiting, was the statue of some virgin that overlooks the city of Quito. So it was like being here again for the first time.
After leaving the Quilotoa loop and getting back on the PanAmerican Highway, I headed north through Quito to the town of Otavalo. Otavalo is most known for its Saturday markets, but since I seem to be doing everything backwards, I was only going to be there Sunday through Wednesday. Monday I spent the morning wandering around the town and checking out all of the great things to buy at the market. In the afternoon I hopped on a bus that went up into some of the neighboring mountain villages and then back into town. The driver was really confused as to why I had no destination and instead wanted to go in a full circle, but I finally made him understand that I was just along for the ride. There are a lot of people in this area that still wear their traditional Indian clothing. The women wear long black skirts and very lacy shirts and then wrap shawls around themselves in different patterns and the men are in all white linen. It is a very different look than the rest of the native dress I’ve seen so far. For the most part, it’s only the women that have maintained the tradition and probably a third of the women were still in traditional attire. However, only the elderly men still wear the white linen. I found pretty comical to see all of these young couples walking around, hand in hand, the girl all decked out in these fancy traditional outfits and the guys looking like a Tommy Hilfiger ad.
The second day I got up early and took a bus and then a taxi to the Cuicocha Lagoon, another crater about a half hour outside of Otavalo. I had intended to take a path that went all the way around the lagoon that took about 5 hours to walk, but there were postings warning that there had recently been some armed robberies on the path, so I was only able to walk a little ways to a lookout point and back. I decided to walk the 6 miles back to the next town for some exercise and got back just in time to stop for some lunch before catching the bus back to Otavalo. It was a very nice side trip, although there wasn’t a soul in sight, so it was a bit eerie. I spent the afternoon doing the majority of my Christmas shopping at the market and treated myself to a nice dinner. Up until this point, I don’t think I had spent more than 4 bucks or so on a meal, but went all out with wine and everything for a whopping 7 bucks. It’s great!!
Two food related things I learned in Otavalo: Hawaiian pizza here is served with ham, pineapple, AND sliced peaches….phenomenal! When I get home I’ll have to let Mario’s Two Fisted Pizza know!! Also, there is actually a broccoli flavored tea…it’s just as disgusting as it sounds.
On Wednesday morning I took an early bus into Quito and decided to stay in El Mariscal, the part of town dubbed “Gringolandia” and sure enough, it’s got to be the backpackierest neighborhood I’ve ever been in. Had I been traveling longer, and craving certain foods, this would have been heaven!! If I’d landed here blindfolded I would have had no idea where I was because on a single block you could find Italian, Sushi, Thai, Indian, BBQ, Schwarma, and about anything else you could want. I also stumbled across two used book stores run by US expats, absolute bliss for a bookworm such as myself.
It’s rainy season in Quito, and rain it does!! As in torrential downpour rain. Both of the afternoons I was in Quito I got soaked to the bone. When the rain first hit, I foolishly put on my raincoat and bought an umbrella, but that was pointless because in minutes I drenched! Anyway, before the first rain hit, I was able to take the metro into the old historic center of the town to check it out and walk around. As with all city centers down here, it was full with ornate churches and plazas, cobblestone streets, tons of people all over the place, and policemen trying to bring order to the mayhem.
On Thursday, my last day in Ecuador I went out to the Equator Monument – the “Center of the World.” I’d been here before too, but didn’t remember. Turns out, the massive monument and surrounding museums and things, was built some 200 meters off from the actual equator line. 9 years ago, when they checked it with GPS, they realized that the actual equator was outside of the park! So, I went to a smaller museum outside of the main one where the actual equator passes through and went on the guided tour. It was like being back in Elementary school science. We did all of these “equator tricks” that were just amazing. We saw how water goes down a drain differently on the north and south hemisphere and on the actual equator it goes straight down. I was able to balance an egg on a nail – a real resume builder!! It was really fascinating how when you were standing on the exact equator line, certain things would happen, but when you took 2 steps to the north, or 2 steps to the south, it changed completely. Anyway, we were like kids in a candy store playing all these games and experiments.
Ecuador has been absolutely amazing. I have loved everything I have seen here. The people have been so incredibly friendly. You walk into any small restaurant and everyone says hello to you, including all the people dining. Bus drivers have gone out of there way to shuffle me from one bus to the next and to help me get to my destinations. Hostel employees have been helpful in giving local pointers and knowledge and they do a great job of making s modest little hotel room seem like home. I can only hope that I find this same hospitality as I continue on my way around the continent. Naturally, I regret not being able to go out to the Galapagos Islands, the highlight of Ecuador. But it is just so expensive!! A 5 day trip out there would have cost more than I will spend in 5 weeks. But the Galapagos are a must see and do….so I guess I can leave Ecuador knowing that I will be back some day!!
And now, it’s Friday the 22nd and I’m on a plane flying to Bogotá. As a backpacker, flying is completely cheating, but hey, it’s Christmas. The alternative was 30 hours by bus…so cheat I did indeed. I’m expecting a bit of a family reunion at the airport as I fly in at 11, my aunt and cousin from Brazil fly in shortly after, and my uncle from Miami comes in today as well. It will be great to be with family and a refreshing change from the solo travel I’ve been experiencing for the past 3 and a half weeks. I am shocked at how quickly time has gone by. I left Denver exactly one month ago today, and it seems like only a few days. At this rate, I’ll be back home in the blink of an eye.