Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ecuador – Otavalo, the market stampede

We decided to continue traveling like the locals do and using Quito's fantastic local transportation to get to the Northern bus terminal seemed like a good idea since it was simple from the southern terminal. Well, not this time. There should have been a direct bus but we ended up at the town with the same name (Carcelén) as the terminal. Actually in the end, we think we should have gotten off the bus earlier at the end terminal for the trolley bus, but everything is obvious in hindsight.

So now it's a 20 minute walk uphill to backtrack towards the Carcelén terminal. We go through a neighborhood that we have no idea about... heading towards an unknown bus terminal. Yes, in one of the most dangerous cities in Ecuador. Not a smart idea, at all (but it is mid-day, if that is a good excuse). Sure, we broke all the cardinal rules of safety in a short period of time. Verdict: $8 taxi versus 50 cents is perhaps worth the investment. Or ask better questions. Locals are always helpful.

Men or Women, in Otavalo?
It's the guys here that
have the long hair.
So back to the gringo trail for us...We board the Otavalo bus. Our bus stops to pick up locals along the way who look very different to the indigenous people that we've seen so far. Their features resemble American Indians from the past with a slight Latina twang. Their clothes are also unusual. The women wear stark white blouse that have gauzy sleeves and remind us of a gypsy kind of look. The men wear ponchos and a local variation of Panama hats.

Julane is especially fond of the fact that most men have long hair, often worn in a single braid. She mentions that these are by far the most attractive men she's seen so far in Latin America!

Welcome to Otavalo,
 the pigs here look pretty smart too.
We arrive easily in the center of Otavalo and within 5 minutes have a room a hostel. Why did we come to this town? Well it's famous for having one of the best and biggest indigenous markets in South America. Shopping devotees come from Quito just to try and satiate their ravenous appetites or fill every inch of their suitcases with souvenirs. We get a glimpse of the tourist market which is daily. Yes, it's huge. But to our dismay, it's all the stuff that we've been seeing in Peru and Bolivia.
Of course there are a few original items from Ecuador like the gypsy/Indian shirt of this region, a bit of painted artwork and some variation on the knitted alpaca hats and sweaters, but honestly, it's the same old crap. We spend about 10 minutes and have enough.

It really is a pretty town
The next day, we roam about the quaint town. It's comfortably small and nice. They seem to have hired a street light decorator to brighten up the town. We go for lunch at a popular restaurant called "Yolanda's Chicha de Yamor" on the outskirts of town. It's filled with local families. The queue to order takes about 20 minutes at the counter even though the food is dished up from huge piping hot containers.
This is what 2 dollars gets ya!
It's comida typical. They serve only one combo plate in two sizes: $2 or $3. We share the smaller $2 plate and are full afterwards. We just love this country! We wash it all down with a $1 liter of Chicha de Yamor. Yes, that's what is famous here. This Chica drink is made from a variety of seven different kinds of corns that are cooked and cooked until the corn disintegrates into this famous drink. Do we like it? Well, let's say, one liter was about ¾ of a liter too much. We won't need to order it again. But the food is rich and heavy and tasty. We've managed to add an extra kilo on here in Ecuador and have enjoyed every bite!

Cold beer and hot fire. Perfect combo!
We notice more and more tourists arriving as the day draws into darkness. The early bird shopping junkies are here now and tomorrow the day-trippers will arrive. And all we plan to do it watch the locals that come weekly to sell to each other. They aren't here for the gringos. After a bit of beer by the fireplace in our hostel, we tuck in early for a busy Saturday.

The street becomes a market.
After an 8am breakfast, we hit the streets. Tourist souvenir junk market: same as before. We circumvent it and the hordes of white faces being led around by tour guides like lost sheep. The streets leading to the animal market are packed with sellers. Everything from fruit and vegetables to clothing are laid out on the sidewalks and streets. There are the typical mobile sellers carting and toting their goods as they weave through the shoppers. Plastic containers seem popular today. Some people are heading towards us with live animals. Yep, we are on the right track now.

"You pull, I push. Hurry up before
the next taxi runs us over."
An older woman is pushing a young calf while a young girl is pulling it in the front with a rope. The calf is resisting and yelping as if it is going to the slaughterhouse or maybe is just missing it's mother's morning milk.
No these are not pets!!
(just more pretty food...)
We cross a bridge and then the Panamerican highway and see a vast dirt arena filled with activity and animals. The peripheral edge seems to cater to small animals. There is the typical live market meat: chickens, goats, sheep but also a few others such as rabbits, guinea pigs and dogs. We are a bit confused now. Which are the prospective meat beasts and which are the prospective pets? They are all being sold together. We rationalize that the puppies must be pets as we don't see any full grown dogs there (which would have more meat content!) But we didn't see any cats for sale?!

The guinea pig wiggle
The woman selling the guinea pigs were most gentle in advertising their sale. They held them by the neck with the bodies dangling freely. It looked very uncomfortable but perhaps is the best method for showing the meat content of the critter. Guinea pigs here are the size of a normal cat.

More small animals being handled.

We wandered farther into the animal arena. There were now pigs appearing some of which were humungous in size. There were also some llamas and in the very last section were the cattle.

The bigger animals are handled
by men though
But no one seems to care about him.
He's got to be the biggest pig
that we've ever seen.
Ice cream for sale. From the cow
then back to the cow-pen.
High tea!

 We spent quite a bit of time people watching. There was lots food and drink on sale. Food is never in short supply. in Latin America. The scene was very animated and even though we certainly didn't blend in, we were easily tolerated in the hustle and bustle of the trading day session.

The hats seem to be
unisex too

The classic men's look
Both men and women wear
these skimpy unisex
cloth slippers.

Generally most men had long hair and many carried lasso ropes, donned a hat, and in general had a bit of a "cowboy meets Indian" kind of look.While the women were "gypsy meets Indian".

We wandered back without purchasing anything. But we were happy to have seen the animal market.

At 12:30, we headed to the bus terminal and joined the long line of people waiting to go to Ibarra. Luckily the buses were frequent. In Ibarra, where we need to change for Tulcán, our next and final stop in Ecuador

This little piggy went to market and
this little piggy went (squealing) wee wee  all the way home.