I felt a little guilty about escaping the concrete jungle of Quito so soon. Traveller’s burnout had struck and I definitely didn’t feel as if I’d done the city justice with my one venture into the beautiful historic centre. The best cure at the time was to get moving. And get moving we did. Otavalo is another stop on the gringo trail, usually the first or last stop (depending on which direction you’re going) before leaving Ecuador. It is famed for its artesanal market, rumored to be the biggest in South America. Every Saturday, the narrow streets turn into a maelstrom of typical Latin American-ness: people sell you anything from local Panama hats to sweet coin necklaces, and people shout at you all the time.
Kyle had his eyes glued to a little blue poster when I wandered into the hostel. In perfect Colorado drawl, ‘Dude, I think me and Nick are gonna go hang out here for a couple days, looks pretty nice.’ Basically, Kyle had seen some mountains and some trees on the poster (his two most favourite things in the world) and nothing was going to put a stop on his planned retreat to Rose Cottage. God.
Thankfully, the man is a genius and the hostel was absolutely exactly what everyone needed after a few days in the capital. The boys were riding their motorbike so, naturally, we decided to race: me on the bus and them on the 125cc Honda carrying 200 kilos. I beat them by a solid two hours, rolling into town just in time to see the surrounding mountains turn sunset orange and the hillside farms fade into the dusk. When the boys finally arrived we dug out Monopolio, the scary Spanish version of Monopoly which apparently consists of two awful diseases and exactly four usable playing pieces – bottle tops became hotels, which can become an interesting drinking game if you decide to buy up on real estate.
We dragged ourselves out of bed the next morning to 360 degree views of lush, green Ecuadorian countryside. From the hostel on the hilltop, roughly four kilometers from the town centre, we had clear views of four different volcanoes, each partially shrouded by cloud around their snowy peaks. Apart from a couple of quick trips into town for food supplies – made much easier with an unloaded motorbike – we kicked back in hammocks and enjoyed the warm sunshine.
We were joined the next day by Bonnie and Steve, a full- and half-Aussie. Steve, built like a graffitied tank, had a little bit of Kiwi about him, it was fun to pick on his accent until he stopped laughing and looked at me like he actually might kill me. We rolled down into town again, picking up enough food (and drinks) to last us a couple of days and had a huge hostel feast. Things were progressing nicely until someone suggested we play Monopolio and Steve turned it into a drinking game. Monopoly can be a trying game at the best of times, let alone when a tattooed Kiwi drinks half a litre of sugar cane moonshine from a dirty plastic bottle and starts slapping people with his bat-sized hands. One little Indonesian fellow who had been quiet until the moonshine came out made friends though, with the toilet.
Two days of laziness was enough, and it also happened to be Saturday, so we headed down to the market with sore heads in search of something to weigh us down a little more. The highlight of the afternoon was finding an Argentine who cuts coins using a fine hacksaw and makes them into jewelery. I’d never seen anything like it and ended up paying $17USD for one useless, but very cool, Aussie dollar. Kyle copied me.
To our relief, we could now tick the Otavalo market box and cross it out in our Lonely Planet books. We had some loose directions to a waterfall roughly 45 minutes walk from the hostel. Thinking only of my female readers, I jumped at the opportunity to provide you all with new photos of me in a waterfall – Loreal style – here’s one for starters:
It was unbelievably cold, so I hope you all appreciate what I went through to make that happen. We spent some time in and around the falls, totally worth the hot, humid walk to get there, and made our way back across some more remote farms, taking in more views of the closest volcano and small fields bearing crops entirely worked by hand.
Enjoy the short gallery of remaining photos below, unfortunately lacking in pictures from the market where I failed to take any good shots.
Next, to Colombia!