Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Otavalo or Bust

Today we left Quito for the first time this trip. We will return and leave again, to return once more. We did not tell our hotel, when we asked them to call us a taxi, but we were going to the hotel where we will return to. They have agreed that we can leave our unneeded suitcases there, so we are leaving two carry-on pieces, only taking the duffel back for our short excursion.

We are heading to Otavalo for 3 nights. Otavalo is known for having the largest handicraft market in South America. It used to be only on Sundays, but it became so popular, they now have it daily. Buses from Quito run every fifteen minutes, but we have read horror stories about robberies along the way. Some have said that the robbers get on the bus as accomplices of the driver, so nothing happens. After finding that all suggestions for shuttles were no longer an option, we decided we needed to brave it.

Once the luggage was safely placed and locked up, we asked the reception clerk about the safety of the bus to Otavalo. He said it is tranquillo, meaning peaceful. Taking his word, he called a taxi for us to take us to the bus station. Everyone and every tour book states you have to go to the North bus station for this trip. It took about an hour once departing Old Town. Off we went to the Otavalo ticket office once dragged our butts from the taxi, paying the $15 fare. However, a man came up to us stating that we were at the wrong bus station. There were no buses going to Otavalo from there.

Being totally confused, this young man started speaking to the person redirecting us and informed us we needed to go to a different station still miles away. The bright side being the 2nd taxi ride would only be $2. Being suspicious on my travels, I wanted to know where the young man was from. Lisbon, Portugal. He had done a 2 month travel journey around Europe last year by train. This year, he is doing a 3 month South American adventure. He started in Bogotá. It was funny to hear him say that he was going through some culture shock, continuing with his impressions that South America is nothing like Europe. We shared a taxi and he directed us to the correct bus, but then the budding friendship ended.

A conductor pointed us to seats. We had heard you should try to sit at the front, so in case of robbery you are not stuck toward the back. Safely placed in front, the seats were plush red with new covers and the windows were decorated in drapes. Just like most of Europe and Africa, the Ecuadorians have the same notion that any air will make you ill. I kept opening our window and various passengers behind us, continued to close it. Finally, a compromise was made for partially open.

According the ‘schedule’ I write with humor, we should have arrived 2 to 2 ½ hours after departing Quito. Traffic was heavy at times, but there were unexplained stops at other times. One did turn out to be a toll booth with backed up traffic, but others were inexplicable. There were signs on the back of the driver’s booth. I was wondering if they said, “This glass is not clear so you don’t die of fright from my driving” or “If you could see what I can see, you would be walking this leg of the journey” or a take on the old US signs, “How is my driving? Call 1-800-Eat S**t, but in Spanish ¿Cómo es mi conducción? Llame al 1-800-comer mierda. There were some real hairpin turns that did make me nervous, but we made it on one piece.

Otavalo is also known for having a number of people who still retain the old way of dress. I was excited to see this. As soon as we checked into Hostal Doña Esther (lovely website), I knew I would love this town. Dropping our meager things, we set out to explore. Downstairs is a restaurant and a separate reading room with a fireplace. The room is lovely and all of them sit on the courtyard, which is charming with plants and painted motifs. Immediately, we found a tiny coffee place with the best espresso drinks. The young woman had baked cupcakes with a Christmas theme, so Ron had one.

The town square is one square block and filled with life. You can tell this is a Catholic town with the giant sized crèche on one side of the park. There is no baby yet or they have kidnapping problems.

Walking around the city is more delightful than Quito. It is busy, but not overwhelming. If feels safer and due to its size, there is no public transport other than taxis, but it is not needed. At dinner, we went to a Frommer’s recommendation Buena Vista. Luckily, we were able to score the only table on the balcony, which overlooks the giant handicraft market. As we were dining, they were closing up for the day. The amount of work it takes is incredible. I would have lasted two days and then said “Chuck this!”

On the way back to the hotel, there were different little children groups giving Christmas concerts conveniently on the steps of an ice cream store in one instance and in front of pastry shops in the other two. Dressed with angel wings, the little girls were certainly angelic, while the boys had jester type elves hats for one of the groups. Another group was some type of scouts and they had on scout uniforms, but still could not have been older than 4th graders. The third group we only caught as they were ending their performance. They had black shirt with silver snowflakes. The streets were strung from side to side with little multicolor Christmas lights, making for a homey atmosphere.

Back on the town square, the church was all it up and Christmas lights were artfully strewn across the park and streets. It is like something from an old time movie. I am excited to be here.
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