Patrick Stroud ’14 – In the balmy morning light and the congested Saturday traffic of Quito, a small posse of our group began our day-long sojourn to Otavalo. Located near the volcano Imbabura (of which the city´s province is named), Otavalo is a large market destination with close ties to the Quichua-speaking people of the Andean sierra, one of Ecuador´s many climate zones.
Patrick Stroud ’14 – After an hour-and-a-half van ride dotted with road construction, bizcocho stops, a radio selection consisting of hair metal and the theme from Charlie´s Angels, and beautiful vistas of the Andes, we arrives on the outskirts of Otavalo.
Our small band detoured from the city´s main attraction, its outdoor market, by visiting La Cascada de Peguche, a protected forest complete with its own waterfall, and a volcanic crater-turned-lake known as Laguna Luicocha. Amid the beautiful scenery, boat tours, lunch, and gringos paying money to take pictures with Andean children and their livestock, we ended up with quite a collection of experiences before even arriving at the main course.
Otavalo´s market is massive, spanning multiple blocks and streets complete with smoke-filled, noisy, cramped aisles of andinos and mestizos selling shirts, hats, rugs, leather goods, figurines, incense holders, instruments, and many other wares. Like most cultures that aren´t used to big-box capitalism, haggling is accepted and encouraged in this environment, with particularly shrewd buyers often halving the original price of a given product. As the afternoon came to a close, my bargaining ways won me a patterned backpack, a cloth bracelet, a knitted wool hat, and a pair of striped linen pants—all for around $17. My hobby as an actor contributed to my ability to make deals, and I became the honorary haggler for the more timid members of our posse.
As the sun reared up once more towards its burial ground, and as we slowly nodded off to the van´s radio playing more 80s hits on the ride back to Quito, we shared a general sentiment of a Saturday well spent and spent well. Sheer profit margins guarantee Otavalo´s continued existence barring some tectonic disaster. In the end, we know that stands, food carts, buyers, sellers, and tourists will continue wandering within view of the broken-hearted volcano for years to come.