Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Otavalo, Ecuador - Big Market and New Sights

We spent our first week in Ecuador hanging out at a great camp spot outside of the famous "market" town of Otavalo. At 9,400 ft above sea level, the camp spot (Rose Cottage) was nearly 1000 feet above the town. We had awesome views of the surrounding volcanos as well as the city. It also happened to be the place where our new friends, The Long Way South, were posted up for the week.

Strategically placed bench at Rose Cottage

Our happy hour view - the city of Otavalo with the moon rising over Mt. Imbabura 

Otavalo claims to host the largest market in all of South America. It's most famous for beautiful woven products including blankets, ponchos, sweaters, hats, gloves, etc. made from Alpaca wool (among other materials). Honestly, I doubt I'd be able to tell the difference in size between a market that is 5 vs 15 city blocks. After a while, it all starts to look the same.

Alpaca blankets in Otavalo

Scott browsing the market
We love markets, usually for the food aspect, but not so much for buying things we don't have room for. So, we didn't expect to spend a ton of time at the market. Much to our surprise, we walked to the market almost everyday for a week. Because it is so big, it's a buyers market and the prices are great. Before we knew it, we had purchased a hat, bag, 2 alpaca scarves, and 3 alpaca blankets (Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas Mom and Melissa). We were getting so wrapped up in the spirit of buying stuff, that I almost ended up with an alpaca sweater with alpaca figures on it. In retrospect, I'm kinda glad that didn't happen.

Scott's new scarf and man purse - seems he's into green lately

Plenty of fruits and veggies for cheap

Local musicians serenading the meat

On Saturdays, the market easily doubles in size and includes the "animal market". Rose Cottage offers free transportation into town on Saturdays, so we took them up on the offer. We didn't realize that we would be dropped off at the animal market first, which happens to be about a 1/2 mile from the main market. Being the (live) animal lover that I am, it wasn't a place I would have chosen to visit. The squeals of not-so-happy pigs and squawks of chickens was a bit overwhelming. The pigs definitely seemed to get the brunt of the abuse - kicks, punches, and dragging in the dirt. As we walked farther away from the squealing, we happened upon the small-animal area. Kittens had strings tied around their necks and were tethered to various cages. In the cages were chickens, ducks, puppies, guinea pigs, and rabbits. It was hard to distinguish between potential pets (any of them?) and someone's next meal. Before long, the little voice in my head was squealing louder than the pigs ... get me outta here! As a side note, this is all quite tame and arguably humane compared to what happens in the USA (Animal Cruelty Is the Price We Pay for Cheap Meat). Sorry for the following picture overload:

We saw many new food items in Otavalo. The first big surprise came at the grocery store when we encountered stacks of 30-lb bags of animal crackers. What does one do with a 30-lb bag of animal crackers? I'm not positive, but we think this might be a Christmas thing.

If these were available during my college days, it is all I would've eaten

Otavalo was the first place where we saw cockroaches for sale (for human consumption). In addition, we saw cow hoofs, pig (?) tongues/teeth, and entire pig skins (complete with little wiggly tail). Pass the rice and beans, please.

La cucaracha

Pig(?) tongue, teeth and snout

An entire pig skin fried up - if you look closely, you can spot the little tail
Apparently cow hooves make great soup (seriously)

Otavalo had a really nice town square with towering palms and views of volcanoes in the distance. We were pleasantly surprised by how much we liked the area. One of our favorite finds was Laguna Cuicocha, but I'll have to save that for the next blog post!

Traditional dress meets the digital age
Stormy day in the Otavalo town square


Cesar said...

Eat more plantains! Keep enjoying- Ecuador is definitely full of great stuff.

Amanda River Chick said...

Love this update!! Ecuador looks amazing, I want to visit myself soon. The animal market does sound disturbing! I'm glad you posted the link to the Rolling Stone article (I've stopped eating meat recently because of these issues...your entry just affirmed my decision). The alpaca blankets and scarves look amazing!! I especially love the man bag. :-)