This is a travel blog for desktop travelers and other ramblers who want to know the world just a little bit better.

Right now I am living in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala where I'll be settled for a while. Thanks for reading!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Otavalo - Market and More

Saturday is market day in Otavalo, and Saturday happens to be the day when we cross the border into Ecuador. Otavalo is three hours from the border with Colombia. Mika gets off the bus in Otavalo while I continue on two more hours to Quito to go to the dentist and meet up again with her on Wednesday.

According to the guidebook, Saturday in Otavalo is the largest artisan market in South America. It feels pretty big but not immense. Two main streets are closed to traffic and full of stalls selling mostly tourist goodies. Much of it is very repetitive. Every stall seems to sell the same bags, ponchos, sweaters and nick knacks. There are even more of the similar goods to be found at Otavalo's well-named Plaza de Ponchos and also many stores are open only on Saturdays selling more of the same. The amount of inventory available in Otavalo is incredible.

If you do not go on Saturday you can still get your shopping done. About half of the stalls at Poncho Plaza were open when we were there on a Thursday. I bought a hat and Mika a poncho. You need to be careful what you buy. Many sellers here will tell you that the stuff they are selling is 100% alpaca wool from Ecuador. However, we wandered into a wholesale store and the proprietor guaranteed us that nothing in Otavalo is 100% alpaca wool. Many of the sellers in Poncho Plaza buy from him to sell to us. I will tend to believe people down-selling their products. He also told us that the alpaca wool comes from Peru. Go figure!
Bags for sale
Hats for sale
Paintings for sale
Alpacas for sale
To be honest, I am not sure why this Saturday market in Otavalo has become such a big thing. Most if not all of the exact same artisan items are sold in Quito because the Quito sellers buy wholesale in Otavalo. And we found that the opening (pre-bargaining) prices are cheaper in Quito too.

If you are not into shopping does not mean that Otavalo needs to be avoided. Otavalo sits in the Andes mountains and is very rich in the Quechua indigenous culture. The men and boys have long braided ponytails majority of women and girls wear the traditional outfit of embroidered, white ruffled shirt with a blue or black skirt and colorful woven belt. Stores and stalls -- those not selling tourist schlock -- carry many of these items for the local consumer.
A stall selling shirts and belts

A store specializing in traditional clothing for local ladies
Men have braided ponytails

On Saturday late afternoon after browsing around the market we head towards the town square and happen upon an event with music and dancing celebrating the indigenous community.
 Young Dancers
Shamans watching over the ceremony
Baby on Board
The days I am in Quito at the dentist Mika explores the hills around Otavalo town. She encounters a public washing ritual for married couples.
A shaman and a leg washing
Meanwhile, I arrive from Quito and subsequently get ill the next day, Thursday, with 102 F (39 C) fever. On Friday our hostel owner, fearing I have H1N1 pushes me to the hospital asking Mika not to tell any other guests that I could have bird flu. I find out that I have a throat infection probably from the dentist visit, get an injection and feel better.

On Saturday, the big market day, there is also a very early morning animal market. For locals obviously. I have never heard of a tourist in the market for a sheep or piglet. I really wanted to go but still feeling ill could not muster myself out of bed at 6 AM. Mika makes it there.
Pigs for sale
Guinea pigs for sale.
They are famously eaten in the Ecuadorian Andes
Rambling Healthcare:

After seeing the doctor at the hospital she gives me a prescription for two items for my injection and medicine. I then must go to the hospital pharmacy to get the three items which are free. They are out of one of the items so I go to the pharmacy across the street and buy it for $1.50. So essentially, my visit to the emergency room, consultation with doctor, injection and medicine cost me exactly $1.50 - not including the dollar taxi ride each way. I am sure I do not need to tell anyone about the outrageous costs of healthcare in the US. But basically a simple bandage at an American hospital will cost more than $1.50.

Furthermore, later in Quito we go to the hospital to get yellow fever vacinations as a precaution for visiting the jungle. According to the website, a yellow fever vaccination will cost $149 at the travel clinic run by the San Francisco Dept. of Health and in Texas while at Baylor Travel Medicine it will cost at least $215. In Ecuador our vaccination is free. Free for all citizens, free for me and Mika on tourist visas, and probably free for illegal immigrants. Go figure!
You can't see me, but I am under the tent waiting for check-in

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