Blame it on the Cuy... Otavalo and Cotacachi

Trip Start Aug 26, 2009
Trip End Aug 26, 2010

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Local community homestay

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I'm sorry to report that there has been further incidence of vomitting... and Iīve had to crack open the first aid kit...

It all started with a trip to Otavalo on the weekend. Otavalo is well known for its Saturday artesan markets. There is a strong indigenous Quechua community in the area and they maintain many of their traditional customs and dress. The women wear these layered skirts, beautiful blouses with embroidery and bell sleeves, long black hair (either in two braids or a long low pony tail wrapped in a weaved cloth) and sometimes bolero hats. The men all have long hair which is likewise in a long low ponytail. And so, many bring their traditional crafts to the town of Otavalo for selling at the markets. The markets run every day however on Saturday they shut down the entire main centre of town - all the roads for about 3-4 blocks in every direction and its a very big affair.

If I could back track once more, although Otavalo is probably only 100kms away from Quito the trip there was long and tiresome, for some reason we had to take 4 buses, it seems you can only catch a bus to Otavalo from the North Bus Interchange... and we arrived initially at the animal market just out of town after 3.5 hours on the bus. The animal market opens at 3am, so by 10.30am most of the animals were sold, and if you could imagine something similar to a petting zoo - imagine my excitement to see this after so long on the bus :(!!

It was hot, incredibly windy and really dusty which didnīt help my temperament. The landscape currently looks semi-arid - they are waiting desperately forsome rain season, which my guess is this wonīt be until a few more months??

Anyway, after a quick non-visit to the animal market we walked into town to where the real market was taking place and refreshed ourselves with some coconut juice from one of the street vendors while having a bit of a browse. Iīve never drunk coconut juice straight from the fruit before... it was a real novelty! One of the girls I was travelling with bought herself a bolero hat which I thought looked wicked - I thought they looked a bit daggy on the locals and not really at all practical because the brim is too narrow, but out of the traditional context and on the right person I think it looks pretty cool... I'm thinking Iīm probably culturally insensitive for thinking this? LOL

Lunch was in a local Ecuadorian restaurant where we joined a party of three in the 'private dining room' (a semi attached, covered courtyard against the side of the restaurant with a TV playing bad Ecua. music). The guys had settled in for the afteroon in preparation for the Colombia v Ecuador World Cup qualifier and as they had already had a few bevvies, entertained us with a lively debate about the cultural differences in equality in Ecuador versus the USA... it was entertaining to listen to at the very least and I am happy to say that I could understand approximatly half of the conversation.

After lunch and another bus, we walked around a nearby lake - Lago San Pablo and went to visit Peguche waterfall. They were somewhat interesting tourist attractions but I have nothing more to say about these.

We caught the end of the soccer (Ecuador lost) in a food shop in a village near the waterfall, along with half a dozen park rangers and a collection of locals and tourists, before getting another couple of buses to get to a nearby village of Cotacachi where we were transported in the back of a pickup truck 10 minutes or so out of town to stay with a local family. The pickup truck was definitely one of the highlights of the day - very authentic. It was night time by then and this area is right on the equator and so is supposed to be one of the few places in the world where you can see both the Big Dipper and the Southern Cross constellations in the night sky at the same time. I of course had no problem finding the Southern Cross... however my American counterparts didnīt hold up their end of the bargain and could not locate the Big Dipper. I blame it on their education system (:-P)

The family we were staying with, even though we were in the middle of nowhere, had sort of a hostel - they had three rooms at the side of their house, and a back room where they served us food. And bathrooms with the best showers ever - the best Iīve had for 2 weeks anyway as I could actually acquire both hot water and enough water to wash with at the same time! Dinner was a feast of traditional foods straight from the backyard (not the Cuy yet) and afterwards two local men came by to show us a traditional celebratory dance - done at weddings, fiestas, all types of celebrations etc... they both took turns playing the harmonica and flute while we all ran around in a circle around the outside of them. Every so often one of them would yell ĻFe-cha, Fe-chaĻ and we would turn around and run in a circle in the other direction. I realise this doesnīt sound like much, but I can tell you it gets very dizzy after about 5 minutes, add some local alcohol to it and the fact that apparently they do this for hours on end, going from house to house and I guess there would be something entertaining about it.

Sunday saw a very early rise... we were woken by the sound of the chopping of wood from about 5am in the morning. Since we were up anyway we got up to watch the sun rise and I had a bit of a nosey around the familyīs massive garden - it was at least 1 acre full of fruit trees like lemons, oranges, mandarins, wildberries, tamarinds, and also corn, potatoes and barley. It didnīt take too long for me to find the cute little guinea pigs that were soon to become our lunch... they had about 4 or 5 in the hutches at this time, black and brown ones. I got the impression they eat them occassionally.

After breakfast one of the dancing guys came to show us some traditional Quechua crafts, how they spin wool from alpacas and then how they do the traditional weaving. Also how they get a kind of straw from a plant similar to aloe vera. The straw is sort of like a mane and is very flexible and very strong. They make many things with it, the only thing I could understand was shoes. Very hard labour though and very time consuming, I certainly didnīt see any of these shoes at the markets yesterday.

Afterwards was another hike for a couple of hours straight up hill to see the crater Lake Cuicachi. The lake was pretty, we went out on a boat ride on it... again nothing much more to say. The best part of this experience was actually the punch you got for free when you got back from the boatride because it was a little chilly out on the water. It was sort of a berry fruit punch served in tiny styrafoam cups not much bigger than a shot glass... but they also give you a bottle of Ouzo (or some other local alcohol) and you are free to add as much as you want to spice up your drink. I thought this was great!

On return from the lake it was time for the Cuy (the guinea pig)... it was another feast prepared from all the fresh food - soup with quinoa and potato, fresh salad, a few different types of beans, corn and the cuy.  They had roasted it and cut it into tiny little quarters for us to share, it looked quite cute but I thought it tasted gross. A bit like dark chicken meat but a much sweeter flavour, a bit of a taste like a wild animal, Iīm going to say rabbit even though I canīt remember that flavour since it was a long time ago that I ate that. Strangely it was also much saltier because they had roasted it in this spice mix. I could only manage a morsel but as soon as I ate it I regretted it. And I regretted it the next day too... although as Christine has pointed out, who joined me this week BTW, it was probably much more likely to have been the salad that was responsible. I feel better directing my anger at the small, strange animal that in my mind is better as a pet.

Until next time, Vanessa

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