Left Quito this morning to a nearby town called Otavalo.
Otavalo is famed for its Saturday handicrafts market, but the stalls are there (in Plaza de los Ponchos) on other days as well, but apparently they have the most number of stalls on Saturdays (I will verify that soon). Already, earlier at the Tianguez shop in Quito, I had a preview of what fabulous crafts Ecuador are known for. So far I have been exercising my shopping restraint on this trip, in preparation for Otavalo.
Anyway, a little bit about taking the bus from Quito: again the guidebook was outdated as I am told by the hostal owner’s son that Cumanda terminal is no longer there. Luckily I asked! He suggested Flota Imbabura which is closer, or Terminal Norte which is further away (the hostal is in the south of Quito). After getting to Flota Imbabura at around 1030am, I’m told that the next bus is at 3pm! Asked further, and found out there’s only 2 buses a day (7am and 3pm).
I wasn’t going to wait. Hopped on to another taxi to get me to Terminal Norte. The taxi uncle looked like Gandhi and we had a nice chat at first, until I realised the meter was not on. Asked him to turn it on but he said something about it being broken, and suggested $5 for the ride. At first I thought that was very expensive, since this is not my first time taking a taxi in Quito. But he said that the terminal was further than the airport. I actually had no idea where the terminal was, and insisted on only $3 and after some haggling, he said $4 but I kept quiet. After a long silence, we exchanged small talk again, and I realised that the journey was really long, and Terminal Norte was even further up north than Terminal Ofelia! Felt a bit bad about haggling, but stuck with what he had offered to lower to in the end.
Anyway the point is this: the place to take a bus from Quito to Otavalo is Terminal Norte, at least at the time of writing, because my guess is, like buses in some parts of Malaysia and Thailand, while buses are reliable, information changes from time to time and sometimes even locals don’t know about them.
The terminal looks brand new. But I didn’t even have to go in because there was a bus outside the terminal that was going to Ibarra (which is further up north from Otavalo) and the conductor was shouting for passengers to board the bus. Again, this is just like Malaysia – there is a new functional building in place but not being fully utilised!
The bus fare to Otavalo is only $2. It is not much more economical to do the route I did (i.e. taxi then bus) because, all in all I spent $6 to reach Otavalo when there are chartered vans going to Otavalo for $8.50. But the chartered vans leave at very specific times, which were too early for someone who likes to sleep in. Or maybe there is a shuttle bus to Terminal Norte from Flota Imbabura that I should have asked about. Anyway, I will find out on my return trip to Quito.
On the bus, nothing unusual happened. The bus looks pretty new too, with comfy cushioned seats. Street vendors hopped on and off the bus, but there was one Afro vendor who was particularly impressive: instead of just peddling his wares, he started with an introduction of himself, and something else I couldn’t make out, but he’s clearly a talker. Then it turns out he was running a quiz and giving out free prizes for people who answered correctly. Soon, he got people including children and elderlies on the bus to raise their hands or shout for answers. He’s quite the entertainer too, sending people into fits of laughter! Of course, the end purpose was to sell his wares and very successfully he did.
All this happened while the bus climbed up and down the mountains, with views of small houses, rivers and a big lake nestled in the valleys. So many big vehicles ply through the route, the Pan Americana expressway, and the road condition is very good. In fact, so good that from Terminal Norte to Otavalo, it only took 1.5 hours.
As the bus doesn’t end in Otavalo, I was dropped off by the roadside and directed to walk in a certain direction. I was the only one who got off at Otavalo. Later on, I realised that I was dropped off at the southern end of the town, whereas the bus terminal (if the bus terminates at Otavalo) is in the northern end. But it doesn’t really matter as the town is small enough to walk through, and my hostal is right smacked in the middle of town.
The hostal is quaint and lovely with a courtyard and a rooftop sun area. After putting down my things, went to an eatery that I had eye-balled earlier and had a most cholesterol-laden lunch: ordered the churrasco, which is a typical Ecuadorian dish and in this particular restaurant, that comes with steak, 2 eggs sunny side up, a quarter of avocado, tomato and rice AND a side of fries (I was not expecting the fries, but I noticed other people’s dishes also had fries even though they ordered different dishes) and all this for $2.50. That’s it, am skipping dinner tonight. The rice was so yummy on its own. This is just like eating nasi lemak with an extra egg, avocado and steak, not that I am a steak person. Tried a bit of the fries too, and this is the real stuff, not the fast food kind. I saw people ordering a stew dish that comes with popcorn. Mental note to have lunch there again and try the stew or whatever it is.
After lunch, took a taxi up to Peguche waterfall. There is a nice word in Spanish for waterfall: cascada. The Peguche waterfall has a spiritual meaning for the local indigenous people but I forgot what it was. Had a nice stroll in the forested area, walking like a snail so as not to strain the ankle. There’s a nice camping ground with local school children participating in some telematch games. No wonder so far I feel a sense of affinity in Ecuador… so much reminds me of growing up in Malaysia!
While the waterfall is nothing to shout about, the forested area provides a cool respite from the midday sun. And it provides something else to do (one can also hike around the area) apart from just shopping while in Otavalo.
As I exited the forest area, I was wondering whether the condor park was within walking distance (read somewhere that says it is 30 minutes by trek but didn’t want to risk the ankle). Asked an Ecuadorian couple which way to go but they said they don’t think it’s walkable and that it’s best to take bus or taxi.
Still of two minds whether to walk back to town or go somewhere else. Then saw a sign that leads to San Pablo lake, but was wondering whether it is within walking distance. Saw two pocket-sized (yes VERY petite) indigenous abuelas (grannies) sitting by the roadside chatting. So far I have not been shy about stopping to ask for directions, but I was wondering whether they might be offended by me speaking to them in Spanish (I was supposed to compile a list of vocabulary in Kuichua, but procrastination got hold of me). I tried anyway, and I was greeted by the warmest smile from one of them, who replied in Spanish. Apparently the lake is not near and the best is to return to town and take a bus from there, and if I wait there with them, there will be a bus coming soon that returns to town. And sure enough, a bus came along soon, and I bidded farewell to the abuela.
Back in town, I was distracted by the shops, and inevitably gravitated towards Plaza de Ponchos. People were already about to pack up their wares, but there was still a lot to see. In any event, I was planning to come back tomorrow and the day after. The indigenous people manning the stalls were wearing their own costumes with the requisite jewelry befitting of their status. Apparently the market has been a tradition since pre-Incan days, although I’m sure they didn’t sell woolly caps with Nike ticks back then. A lot of young girls were helping out their parents (incidentally, have seen many working children before coming to this market).
If you are a woman who likes to browse or shop or both, you should allocate maximum time to this market.
Soon the skies darken and it started to rain. Stocked up on drinking water and then headed back to the hostal.