A snippet of Otavalo

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South America » Ecuador » North » Otavalo
August 13th 2010
Published: August 13th 2010
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I rolled into town alone and a little flustered. My first town arrival without my beloved travel partner Anna and I was daunted.
But after a frustrated yet determined hour I unloaded my dusty pack onto the squashy bed of a hostel of which I was the only occupant.
After another hour of so wandering the few streets of the town I felt much better. A Thursday night; the town was void of tourists and got on its merry way without interupptions. A beautifully colourful craft market was winding up in the town centre square, people were cooking steaming piles of corn and miscellaneous meat on the side of the road, and a group of men were playing an animated game of what looked like four square, but with a little rubber ball, and standing about 100m away from each other. I set myself up in a restaurant overlooking the bustling, noisy, heavily scented square, drinking a beer and some nachos (with real cheese!) watching the sun set behind a verdant green mountain with a hat of squashy clouds.

On Saturday the town transforms. The amicable cheeriness of the locals doesn't change, neither do the beautiful immaculate indigenous clothes that they are always wearing, but the town swells in huge proportions. The market that was based only in the small town square manifested into a giant array of overwhelming stores, lining all the streets for about 5 blocks in every direction. They sell everything that you could possibly think of, but the most outstanding are the piles and piles of fabrics, blankets, jumpers and weaved items in the most vibrant colours, in the softest fabrics. But there is an array of jewelry, bags, paintings, crafts, shoes, bags, hats, trinkets, food, produce and even a bustling smelly interesting animal market just over the Panamerican highway! It was here that I saw baskets filled with guinea pigs and learnt about two interesting ways they are utilised in Otavalo. One way, just like the rest of Ecuador, is on their dinner plates as a definite delicacy. The second is unique to Otavalo, as an indigenous medicine technique. I was informed that a guinea pig is shaken forcibly over the body of an unwell person until the guinea pig dies. It is then dissected, and whatever is wrong with the guinea pig is wrong with the person!

Just as the weekend day is primarily dominated by the artisans, the weekend night is dominated by the musicians. Musica Folklorica is extremely popular in the Andes and is beautiful. A group of five or so men, long black hair tied back into ponytails, group together and play seemingly endless, animated, beautiful songs in Spanish and in their respective indigneous languages. There is usually a drum, some pan pipes or recorders, and multiple guitars including one that looks like a 12string ukulele. They jump and sing and whistle and grin from ear to ear. My final night in Otavalo was spent listening to such a band and I couldn't keep the smile off my face, or the tap out of my feet. A perfect night to finish on, before heading back to Quito to make my way to my volunteering position.


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