Day 3 – 31.10.2009
Big day today. We woke up around 6 a.m. First thing was to pack everything quickly and to decide what bags we were going to leave in storage at the hostel for the 3 day trip to Otavalo (small mountain village some 3 hours away from Quito where we were going for the Day of the Dead celebrations).
Tudor was very nervous. He remembered last year’s episode in Addis Ababa when we were unable to board a bus because of the chaos at the bus station. I hope history doesn’t repeat itself.
We worried for nothing. It was crowded at the station, indeed, hundreds of people were traveling to Otavalo for the celebrations, but everything was well organized. It went smooth. Ok, I admit, we had a little help from a lady who was also waiting in line, and whose husband worked for a while in Romania. She said that our countries are much alike – mountains, valleys, seaside, delta, and that he loved it.
We paid $2 each for the tickets. We went on the platform and waited. Tudor was chit-chatting with the nice lady. I was looking around. Suddenly a weird looking guy approaches me. Funny face, big yellow teeth and a huge ring on his finger. I manage to keep up with the conversation, but not further than “Hola, I’m from Romania!” He asked. Then I told him I couldn’t speak Spanish, so I wouldn’t have to keep nodding and smiling.
The guy then turned his attention to Tudor: “How far is Romania? How many hours did we fly? How much was the ticket? Whaaat? How long are we in Ecuador? A month? Whoaa.. this means that you have about 10.000$ with you, no? Hotels.. food..”
So that’s what he was so curious about! But he was quite harmless. The nice lady put a stop to it: “I don’t think they have that much money, but it’s their business! They work for it!” Haha! I thought it was so cute! Like she was our mother!
It was a little over two hours to Otavalo, but the road was beautiful: the tight curves, steep valleys, and tall mountains were more than enough to keep me awake. Tudor’s head, on the other hand, kept dangling beside me in synch with the curves. He always falls asleep immediately in any car he is not driving.
We left Quito through the Panamericana highway. Which is more of a highway than any Romanian highway – for those who kept asking how developed Ecuador was.
On the way out of Quito, a lot of people were on the road selling stuff. Mostly they were selling chips, water and sodas, but this one guy topped them all out. He was selling inflatable penguins. He had like 15 of them laid on the tarmac taking up a whole lane. Who would buy that? And why? I understand food and drinks.. but inflatable penguins?
When we reached Otavalo (which is relatively small) we searched our guide book for directions to our Hotel. After a 20 minutes walk, we were there. It’s 14$ a night, without breakfast, but with private bathroom, hot water and wireless internet.
Too bad we’re 7 hours behind. By the time we sit down to write home, it’s 2 in the morning in Romania, and there’s no one to talk to in real time. Emails will do.
The house we’re staying in is old, massive, painted in blue and white, and the woman at the “front desk” told us that the owner built it himself along with his father. You can tell – there’s not a single straight wall in the whole thing. We dropped our backpacks and headed out towards the market.
There’s a market in Otavalo every day. But today, being Saturday, the market is huge. It is no longer confined to the center and it floods the adjacent streets. It seems the whole town is one big market. It is said to be one of the largest markets in South America. Might as well be.
In any case, you need a serious sense of direction not to get lost in the labyrinth of colorful stalls. You can find fabrics, jewelry, all sorts of souvenirs, rugs, clothes, leather goods, Panama hats (yes, they are actually from Ecuador!), fruits, vegetables, cereals, anything! All in a dazzling mixture of colors and smells! I love it! It’s made for girls, no doubt about it!
Anything you want to buy, you bargain. Having been in Cambodia and Ethiopia, you would think I have mastered this ability. I haven’t. I am just too embarrassed to do it! I leave this dirty work to Tudor. He does ok. If you don’t bargain, you will pay much more for everything. That’s a fact. If you can afford it, great! Everyone is happy.
Unlike other places, bargaining here is quite relaxing and no hassle at all. Today I gave it a shot.. and I kinda liked it!
At first Tudor was a bit shy about taking pictures.. but gradually relaxed and then he wouldn’t put down the camera. Nobody turned their back on us, nobody had a problem with it. That was refreshing!
I asked permission to take some pictures.. and they said “yes”!
For lunch we stopped at one of the market’s many food stalls. They are modest and have improvised tables with flowery rubber mats where you could mingle with the locals for a cheap meal. We ate what they were eating. Not much diversity in the menu: fish, llepingachos, rice, cabbage and a couple of cokes. Two dollars for everything.
It was very tasty and you could almost forget the fact that the dishes weren’t that clean, and a nice lady would hand-pick everything that went on your plate. But she put her heart into it.. so I guess it was ok. Besides, Tudor carries around with him what could only be described as a small pharmacy, for any ailment that could strike.
I found some interesting little figurines made of bread. Shaped as a child or a horse, I later found out that they offer those in the memory of the lost loved ones. It’s similar to our traditions.
The day passed by quite fast. After only 3 hours of roaming in the market, a cold, pouring rain started.
We are now sitting in a café having a hot milk and coffee and wishing it was warmer. I doubt it’s more than 13 degrees and, ironically, we left our rain covers in Quito. J
We also had a nice coca leaf tea. It tastes like green tea, only a little bitter. Too bad it’s illegal to bring this back home with us. It would have made a great gift.
“Dulce de Guayaba” is a traditional sweet that we really enjoyed. This one is not illegal anywhere.