Widgets My Favorite Town in Ecuador (August 20-22, 2010) - A Round-the-World Travel Blog: Devil May Care

My Favorite Town in Ecuador (August 20-22, 2010)

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Before we went to Ecuador, I had never heard of Otavalo. But once there, it and Banos were the two day-trips that everyone suggested. Otavalo, aside from having its own share of tourists, is about as different from Banos as two Ecuadorian towns can be. Banos's tourist appeal is based on outdoor activities and nightlife; it's essentially divorced from the particularities of the people and their culture.

In contrast, the big draw in Otavalo is a weekly market populated largely by people from outlying towns and villages, many of them wearing traditional garb. This consists of bowler-esque hats, embroidered blouses and long black skirts with white or colored underskirts on the women; lengthy braids (allegedly signifying virility) and pajama-like pants on the men. It's no once-a-week costume for the tourists, either, as we saw several people dressed this way going about their business in town on days before the market took place. Many of the products at the market are produced nearby. Tony acquired a jaunty Panama hat that came with its own box in which to be rolled up, and I got a dark red llama wool poncho that occasionally needs to be petted back down when the long strands of wool get ruffled.


We also got a view of some non-traditional youth. In Quito we'd seen very few teenagers who were simply relaxing in their own milieu, rather than working or heading to and from school. Another interesting feature of the pizza shop, aside from its bizarre Che Guevara theming, was its apparent role as an after-school hangout. The place was empty when we arrived, but it quickly filled with adolescents and teenagers who were dressed like American kids. It had been so long since I'd seen American teenagers that I managed to be a little shocked by one girl in a tube top who had tucked her MP3 player between her breasts.

Also startling was another place where we dined called Cafe Arte & Tarot. The food was French bistro, while the decor was French Dada. One tiny table and two chairs were set in a window niche halfway up the stairs, where even if you could fit two children into the seating, they'd be in constant danger of tumbling down the stairs. On the second level, where we sat, one of the larger tables had several normal chairs pulled up to it, as well as a toilet with its lid down and covered with a cushion.


Although Tony found the locks on their doors exasperatingly useless, we did otherwise like our hostel, Dona Esther. The hot water was bountiful and the shower spacious, while the restaurant attached to the hostel has friendly servers and good food. The town is apparently significant enough that it hosted a rock concert while we were there, which lasted for several hours and got a great turnout of locals. If you have extra money, take the rooftop room for the privacy and great view over the town.


Of the places we visited, Otavalo gave me the greatest sense of being among Ecuadoreans and not just other tourists and people in the service industry. It accomplishes this in large part by being a major market town, thus drawing people in whom I otherwise wouldn't have encountered unless I stayed in a rural area -- where running water, whether hot or cold, is sometimes in short supply. On meeting a couple of older Americans in Peru who were going to visit Ecuador, in part to consider whether they would like to spend their winters there, I highly recommended that they check out Otavalo. It's essentially quiet and comfortable but with enough activity going on to prevent boredom: perfect for retired people. (What this says about my own tastes, let's not discuss.)


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