Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Breaking my budget in Otavalo - my final days in Ecuador

Saturday November 5 - Tuesday November 8, 2011

Otavalo is about 2 hours north of Quito. And while their market is open 7 days a week, the Saturday market turns this small town into a big big deal. On Saturdays the Otavalo market is South America's largest indigenous market, and the crowds show up to demonstrate it.

I'd meant to visit Otavalo my first weekend in Ecuador, but through various misadventures I ended up waiting til my final weekend. Best idea ever! I broke my budget, shopping for all my nieces and nephews and for my siblings and for a few friends and for my parents (though dad's impossible to shop for and I couldn't find anything for him!). I only got a few things actually for me. Things I had in mind to get myself before even arriving Saturday afternoon.

Bargaining is the way to go when shopping at the market. Never accept and pay full price. Here is when even my limited Spanish came in perfectly well, because out of all the Spanish I remember I remember my numbers the best. Besides, I love a good bargaining session. Always have.

After breakfast I grabbed the buses that Laura taught me to make my way to Terminal Carcelen to head out to Otavalo. And unlike Wednesday, the bus station was empty and I got to experience Laura's description of people calling out locations and pulling you to exactly where you needed to be. I paid my $2 for the bus ticket, and then an additional 20 cents to go through the turnstile to the actual buses. That annoyed me, but I did it anyway. I didn't have to read the signs to find my bus because the driver and his sidekick are standing out calling "Otavalo! Otavalo!" and helping people up into the bus.

I managed to get the back back seat again, like I had coming back from Baños. I didn't worry about my bag or anything, because all I brought with me was my over the chest day bag. And that just sat happily in my lap. The day was warm and sunny, so I opened the window and was able to admire the scenery for the whole trip.



At one point a little girl sat down next to me, and we got to chatting. She and her little sister loved when I would say "Como se dice?" and point to something. I also shared a Reece's peanut butter cup with them (with their dad's permission) and WOW did their faces light up on that one! I shared one with him as well, and the joy was just awesome to see. Sorry about the terribly fuzzy photo. It's from not having my glasses. Everything is blurry, so I have no way of telling if a picture is clear or not! Oops. The family got off the bus before Otavalo, and I waved from my window. It was fun.



I really had no idea where I was going once I got to the town itself. So I just waited til we got to the bus terminal and after getting a general direction from a nice police officer from Germany (we chatted) I just walked to the market. He said I'd see it before I got there, and BOY was he right!!! Anybody who knows me knows that I have a fondness for bright colors. And this market was just a feast for my sensations.



The colors, the sounds of vendors calling out their wares and calling out "senorita, senorita" to get my attention. The food vendors with everything from a whole pig to cuy to various corn products to fruit to ice cream. I finally tried cuy, and it was wonderful. I felt like it tasted more like duck than anything else. It was more oily than chicken. I didn't eat the whole one, I just got a leg. But I am glad I did try it. I'm usually pretty good at trying new things, so this was definitely something I'll remember.



For the first few hours I just wandered the stalls. Touching the sweaters and blankets. Rubbing the alpaca against my cheek and reveling in the softness. The day got progressively warmer, so I'd stop every once in a while to pop into a shop for a bottle of water. The cold water never felt so good.



Once I got a sense of what I was looking for I made a mental list of what I wanted to find for each person on my list of who to buy presents for! And oh I had fun! For my sister Tracy's kids I made my offer to the first vendor and she wouldn't sell for that low. So I pretty much just said, "fine, I'll find a vendor who will" and I walked away. The second vendor also didn't want to sell that low, but she gave in as I was walking away. I learned early on that you figure out your price and eventually you'll find a vendor who will accept it. Bid lower than what you're willing to pay and if you're lucky you may even get a lower price, too!



I was wearing a long sleeve shirt under my blue dress, and it was getting pretty hot. So I pushed the sleeves up. Unfortunately, I hadn't put on sunblock, so now my lower arms are sunburned. Whoops! Three weeks I'd been in the Andes, I really should have known by then. Not badly sunburned, at least. I am getting quite tan, though!



Bit of trivia? Did you know that Panama Hats are made in Ecuador? They're called Panama Hats though because Panama is where they were popularized. I got one hat for myself to wear around the market (I plan to send it on to someone as a gift now that I'm home) and one hat for my brother Alex. He had told me he wants to pretend he's a Cuban gangster and specifically requested a hat. But you see, Alex has the most gigantic head of anyone I know. So when shopping for his hat I told the vendor "mi hermano tiene una cabeza grande" and she pulled out a hat. I tried it on and had to tell her, "Más grande." She laughed and pulled out an even bigger hat. I tried it on and felt like I was swimming in it! That ought to fit him! :) She let me choose the hat band for it. I hope Alex likes his hat when it eventually gets to him. *smiles*



I got so much stuff that I bought an extra bag just to store all my new purchases! And by that time I was completely exhausted and was starting to feel kind of sick from the sun and the heat, so I decided to just call it a day and find the hostel I was booked into for the night.

The Rose Cottage got nice reviews, and was supposed to be very pretty and quiet. About a mile and a half outside of town. Normally I have no problem walking that, but I didn't have a map with me and wasn't sure where I was going. So just walked for a ways to get away from the market and then grabbed a taxi. The driver, Carlos, was super nice and I got to practice my Spanish even more. I have had awesome luck during my entire trip with nice drivers.

Got to the hostel and found out that I was the ONLY person checked in for the night. And everything is pretty spread out, so once I got shown to my dorm cottage I got to feeling pretty isolated. I had spent so much time at the Secret Garden in Quito that I was used to a jovial, social environment. And while yes, it was nice to relax and get away from people after the insanity of the market, I really missed having people to talk to "at home" afterward.

I napped a bit, ate dinner at the hostel (alone, not a one of the staff knew any English, so I couldn't even converse with them), and wrote in my journal before calling it a very early night.

Woke up early Sunday to pouring rain and waited a bit, hoping it would clear up but no dice. So rather than get myself and all my new belongings wet while exploring the town and surrounding area I decided to just head back to Quito. Had to wake someone up in order to check out (it was 8am by this point) and call me a taxi to head to the bus station.

I lightly dozed for most of the drive. Then again managed to navigate the buses to get back to the area where my hostel was located. I normally would have grabbed a taxi, particularly since I was carrying so much stuff. But I just spent too much money at the market and was trying to not spend more money than I had. And 25 cents for a bus is much better than around $10 for a cab.

It was when I got closer to the area of my hostel when I noticed someone pretty sketching looking lurking in front of me. I'd caught him glancing back at me once or twice, so was on my guard. He was wearing a big coat and his hands were in his pockets, one of which seemed to have something heavier in it than just a hand.

He wasn't walking at a normal pace, either. And since I'd gotten to know this area pretty well by know, I knew there was a hidden corner exactly where he was more or less lurking. So I stopped and ducked into a little shop right where I was at to buy a bottle of water. And when I poked my head out, the dude was just standing there on the sidewalk like he was waiting for me.

So I stepped out in front of the door to the stop and just stood there. Stared defiantly at the sketchy guy and was all "I am not moving from this stop until you move." He finally did move, but I kept a good distance between us until we reached a nice open plaza for me to wait him out some more. There were clumps of people scattered around, though it wasn't crowded. And again sketchy guy and I had a face off. He finally made to cross the street (it's actually a three street intersection), and once he did I continued on my way.

I turned onto the street my hostel was on and was heading up the big hill when something told me to look behind me. My paranoia was again on target, because the sketchy dude was following me up the fucking hill! Luckily, there are always a bunch of cabs out front and the drivers are super nice. So I crossed the street to them and was ringing the doorbell of the hostel to be let in when sketchy dude drew even with me and passed by on the other side.

I have no idea if my suspicions of this dude were correct or not, but I am glad I let my instincts tell me how to handle things. Too many people I've met this trip had been robbed (one person at gunpoint, even!). Somebody was telling me that he was with a group of 11 people hanging out one day and asked for a show of hands for how many people had been robbed in Quito. 9 people raised their hands.

I am aware that I had great luck while in Quito, not having had a single truly bad experience here. I am even more aware of this luck based on my experience with that sketchy dude. But it's also made me aware that I do have good instincts and made me glad that I know what to do when my instincts tell me something isn't right. It also taught me to say "fuck money. Pay for a damn cab next time!"

I spent the rest of the day and all day Monday just hanging out with folk in the hostel. I was definitely feeling off, and didn't want to get sick. Had a music exchange with a few people before I left, and now have a ton new music for my collection. A lot of German stuff I've never heard of before. Nina just tossed a bunch of stuff my direction and I will sort through it when I've got time. Leigh works at the hostel and plays his music all the time. So he and I had already mostly figured out which of his stuff I wanted to snag.

My flight home was due to leave at 6am Tuesday, which meant I needed to head out at 3am. Rather than book a room for the night, Edgar the night security guy let me crash on a couch in the computer room. Edgar liked me. :) A bunch of people thought he was mean, but he was always super nice to me, and was so funny because he doesn't speak a lick of English. He even brought me a blanket when he came in and saw me stretched out when he arrived! :) Awww.

Flights home were uneventful. I got some lunch in Houston and grumbled about the cost. I am really going to miss how cheap everything is!!! At least until my next trip, where things are even cheaper than in Ecuador! But again... more on that plan later.

I still have a bunch to write about. Thoughts about traveling while bipolar. Thoughts about traveling as an overweight woman. And musings on travel in general. So expect more here, as always!

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