Otavalo Saturday Market

I’ve been writing about our adventures in Ecuador for the last three weeks. Yet, I feel compelled to write one last post to complete the series. Our trip was rather short, but each of its  segments was so distinct from the other, and they were all so interesting and fun, that I just couldn’t fit them all into one post.

When we planned our trip and read the guide books, I noticed a mention of the Otavalo Saturday Market, which the books described as the biggest handicraft market in South America. Well, there was no way I was going to miss that! And so we made sure to leave time for Market Day.

The morning after our stay at Maquipucuna Cloud Forest, a Friday,  we headed about two hours north of Quito to the area of San Pablo Lake. We stopped for a quick visit to Cotacachi, a small town filled with leathercraft artisans, where we walked (in my case, limped) up and down the main street, admiring beautiful hand-made leather goods in  local stores. From there we headed to Condor Park, where we saw an impressive bird show, and then drove to where we were to stay for the night, a traditional country hacienda in one of the little towns near the lake.

I didn’t expect much of the hacienda, which I imagined to be a rustic, simple country lodge. When we arrived to find a gorgeous, meticulously-decorated Spanish colonial estate, my jaw literally dropped. Hacienda Cusin was the country estate of a powerful Spanish family for over three hundred and fifty years. The family sold it in the 1970’s. In the 1990’s an English teacher bought the by-then dilapidated structure, and renovated it. He has been running it as a hotel ever since. The original building is now one part of a rather large complex. The rest include several buildings of different sizes scattered among amazingly-spectacular gardens. Even the new buildings look very authentic, and could easily be mistaken for hundreds-of-years-old structures. Had I not read the detailed history brochure, I would not have known the difference!

This is the original building, the oldest part of the complex:

And this is the area near our room, which was actually a new-ish structure, yet looked really old nonetheless:

There was much attention to detail throughout the compound, both inside and out. This, for example, is a decoration to an outside wall, one of many:

And this is the main sitting room, one of several common areas:

This gate to one of the gardens reminded me of The Secret Garden. When I crossed it, I wasn’t disappointed! The other side was the closest thing I’ve seen to the Garden of Eden (hint: it was a fruit and vegetable garden, complete with a couple of grazing alpacas…):

I was deeply saddened that we only had one night to enjoy this magnificent place. And Oh, did I wish I could bring my bags there for a little photo-shoot! This could have been an amazing background for Any Texture products!

The next morning, Saturday, I took a huge dose of ibuprofen to calm my back pain, and we headed off to Otavalo. We first went to the animal market, where locals buy and sell livestock. We arrived around 9:00 am, by which time most of the action was over.  It was a bit disappointing, though my kids marveled at the concept of being able to buy a live animal at a market:

They felt so bad for these sheep, that I’m pretty sure we would have had a problem had we been a little closer to home…

The crafts market, however, was everything I had hoped it would be! Otavalo Market is a big maze of stalls carrying loads of products of all kinds, mostly for tourists. A local guide told us that everything was hand made by local tribes people living in the mountains. I really wanted to believe that (a part of me, though, suspected some items might have arrived from China). Still, it was fun to see the incredible burst of color, life and creativity.

This is what the market looked like:

And here are close-ups of some of the stalls. There were so many different crafts that it was quite overwhelming. There were stalls with paintings, some on  wood:

Stalls with jewelry, in this case all made out of tagua nuts, which I love:

Stalls with different kinds of masks:

And lots and lots of various  kinds of textiles:

Raw wool and woolen products were prolific.

Among the latter I especially enjoyed the many carpets, both wall and floor carpets, all hand woven. Just looking at them made me drool:

Needless to say, we loaded up on gifts, and didn’t dodge the occasional impulse-purchase. I am now the proud owner of a gorgeous hand-woven woollen carpet, which I have absolutely no place to put…

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