Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Otavalo - muchos market

After giving Ibarra some 'airspace' I couldn't possibly miss out a few words on Otavalo. A whole 40 cents each on the bus from Ibarra (transport is so cheap in Ecuador) and we were there and ready to set about finding somewhere to stay. There is plenty of choice and luckily so as the first hostel wanted to charge us $24 a night! We swiftly moved on and found that most places are a more reasonable $12 to $14 for two people.

In Otavalo, the difference between a week night and weekend night is huge. The main feature is the Saturday market which draws people from all around, a good deal probably from Quito. On the Thursday night we had our pick of places to dine, but on Friday the streets were buzzing with Ecuadorians and tourists and the restaurants were packed. Fancying a bit of middle-eastern cuisine, we headed for a restaurant we'd seen the previous day. However tonight it had attracted scores of teenagers who were all busy passing around the hookah water pipes. Not the ideal eating environment, we decided to forget the falafel and try somewhere else.
So, the main attraction is the Saturday market and it was the reason we'd planned to stay for the weekend. I have to say that it was a bit of a let down. Perhaps I'm not the best judge given that I don't love markets in general. However, I'm open to be proved wrong, and look how I felt about horses just a couple weeks ago?

This 'must see' market was certainly big. Most of the central streets were filled out with vendors and, though not finding a new passion, I did enjoy walking around. I actually made a purchase too. In need of some sunglasses, I entered into some polite bargaining, however this particular vendor decided not to be polite and started proceedings at a whopping $18! It was as best I could do to get him down to a more reasonable $6, but even that was slightly over the odds.

So, the market is a little too tourist influenced and the modern buildings scattered about the town are not all that attractive - they've gone for a lot of mirrored glass in a garish 80's style - but Otavalo has an interesting ethnic mix and a lot of history as a trading town. There are many indigenous people, the women wearing the traditional white patterned blouses and the men pony tails and hats. All the people were genuinely friendly too.
And there is an awful lot to keep you occupied on the activity front. We chose a hike around the crater late of Laguna de Cuicocha. The sun was intense and the climbs steep and long at times, but the 5 hour walk was worth it for the fabulous views. Looking at the photos now, there is something that looks almost superimposed or 'photoshopped' about them. But from some angles it really was almost too perfect!


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