(Guest Post by Erika Anton about a weekend at the famous Otavalo Saturday Market)
For anyone who has not made this connection, people like going out of town on the weekends if possible. It is no exception for Quiteños, so plan on spending some time in lines and on buses if you ever leave Friday night to make the trip up to the giant, famous Saturday market in Otavalo. I was grateful to be with Nicole so at least one of us knew where we were going/what we were doing.
When we arrived at Carcelen, one of the northern bus terminals in Quito, there were two main lines of people extending from the ticket counter at one end of the terminal out the front gates. We ended up waiting in line for about an hour for tickets, but we also made an English speaking friend from Germany who was meeting his friends up in Otavalo for the celebrations. We may have helped him cut in line.
The two hour night bus ride had a movie playing very loudly in Spanish, which Nicole and I were not interested in. If you want to sleep on the bus on evening trips, I suggest bringing some music to listen to or an awesome set of ear plugs. I had both, but if you make friends at the bus station or have a travel partner in crime, the time you spend on the bus flies by.
Food was the first order of business after arriving in Otavalo. We were in good company because our new friend knew of a place, Buena Vista overlooking Plaza de los Ponchos. Nothing satisfies hunger like delicious, reasonably priced food!
Instead of combining a travel day and late night, Nicole and I parted ways with our new friends and ventured to our hostel to rest up for an early morning. Before scampering off to bed, I noticed a woman with a University of North Carolina Geology t-shirt. I could not resist finding out her story, so we ended up chatting it up with her and found out she was doing volcano research. There are a lot of exciting things happening in Ecuador. Besides the late night return of people to their beds on a Friday night and a snoring neighbor that sounded like he was in the bed with me, the rest of the night was relaxing and restful.
Saturday morning, Nicole and I woke up at seven a.m., which is not the easiest thing for us late risers, and headed off to the animal market. The animal market starts at six a.m., so by the time we got there it was in full swing. Local sellers were walking around with live hens in hand and llamas tethered. More vendors were set up in tents along the outskirts, selling desayunos (breakfast), llapingachos, roasted pig and guinea pig and were calling out to passers-by. Cartons of baby chickens, baby ducks, puppies, kittens, guinea pigs and piglets were peeping, squeaking, barking and meowing. Tourists were a plenty, taking pictures and observing the bartering and negotiating that goes on at the market. People who had finished shopping were walking back to town with squeaking, squirming bags slung over their shoulders. Nicole and I managed to make it back for breakfast at the hostel with just slight bruising and poop slicked shoes from an encounter with an aggressive cow. Mild adventure!
After breakfast we headed to the center of the market. It amazed me to see the transformation of the open, empty Plaza de los Ponchos from the night before to this packed plaza of stalls, people and market goods. Walking through the narrow aisles with vendors shouting at you to buy hammocks or shirts or shawls was overwhelming at first, but after a while it just becomes part of the market.
Most of the souvenir items I had my eye on were not one of a kind, but that was alright because the items were not my reason for going to the market. The best part about the market is searching around for the best quote and then talking the price down. Or better yet, getting another item on the table (possibly the item that you actually want) thrown into the deal. The one thing I do regret not buying at the market was a beanie smurf hat, but there is always next Saturday…