Day 17 – Exploring Otavalo

Today was such a whirlwind! For a free day without classes, it definitely was not the most relaxing. Even so, it was probably my favorite day so far because we got to explore the vibrant city of Otavalo and the surrounding areas. After breakfast, most of us went to the famous Otavalo marketplace to purchase alpaca sweaters and various souvenirs. We got to practice our haggling skills and I’m proud to say that I got a $22 sweater down to $15! Even though we later learned that the goods in the market weren’t the best quality, it was still fun to traverse through the stalls and get the best deals. I’ve been to various markets all around the world and I have to say that I’ve never been so overwhelmed as I was today by all of the colors, smells, noises, and sheer amount of stalls that this market had. A lot of us ended up spending way more than we had anticipated here, but in my mind it was well worth it!

At 2 PM we had the option of traveling to the village of Peguche to see how the sweaters, blankets, scarves, and other weaved goods are made. On the way there, we made a spontaneous stop to see Peguche’s sacred waterfall. The view was enough to outweigh the mosquito bites and I’m so glad that we got a chance to see it.

Peguche Waterfall

Peguche Waterfall 

After some time at the waterfall, we drove to the weaving shop. When we walked inside and went down the stairs, a woman was kneeling on the floor with various stages of wool in front of her. She let us feel the difference between the soft baby alpaca wool and the rougher sheep’s wool, and she showed us how she spun the wool into a yarn. She even brought up some volunteers to help her out!

Amber spinning the wool like a champ!

Amber spinning wool like a champ!

The coolest part of her demonstration was how she dyed the wool. She only used natural products like spices or plants to change its color. The strangest natural dye was from a live insect that she picked right off of a cactus. She put the insect in Amy’s hand and when she squashed it, this red pigment came out of it. It kept turning colors when she mixed it with different things (bug juice + baking soda = purple. Who knew?) and we were all fascinated by what color it would turn next. After her demonstrations we got the chance to walk around the store and purchase some of her high quality crafts. You could tell that the quality in her shop was much higher than that of the markets, even though some of the sweaters looked exactly the same. I had to restrain myself from not purchasing everything in her store!

The weaving woman at her loom, showing us how scarves are made.

Weaving demonstration 

The next stop on our adventure was to Cotacachi, Ecuador’s famous leather capital. We only spent about an hour here, but it was still fun to go through all of the leather stores in search of unique purses, leather jackets, shoes, and anything else you could think of. Even though I had already purchased a leather purse back in Otavalo, I had to cave and buy another one in Cotacachi because they were so beautifully made and for $30, I’m wasn’t going to be that upset about it. At 6 PM we boarded the bus back to Otavalo.

We got back to the hotel around 6:30 and after some packing for the Galapagos and dinner, we headed out once more to the festivities in Juan Montalvo. I did not know what to expect, but the festival was unlike anything I’d ever seen. If you could imagine Mardi Gras meets South America, that would be the closest description I can think of. Edison Quishpe (from the Mishke Factory) was our gracious host for the evening and we were immediately welcomed into his factory with food and drink. In the street, people were dancing and singing and as soon as we stepped outside we were taken into a dance circle. People of all ages were taking part in the festivities, from grandparents to babies, and I was told that the parties go on till the early morning and last for thirteen days! Everyone was so warm and welcoming and we were invited into many people’s homes as a group to dance. It truly seemed like everyone was family. I’m so glad that we got a chance to go to the festival because otherwise we would not have gotten the chance to take part in this special cultural experience. We were all exhausted when we boarded the bus for the hotel around midnight, but it was such a great night that we didn’t care. I can’t believe how many things we packed into today, but I hope that we have many more days like this to come!