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Today is a travel day–taxi and airplane–and so it was an unexpected surprise when we ventured upon a parade of horses in Cotacachi in the morning. There were over 100 horses divided into riding groups, many accompanied with rhythmic music. The braiding on the manes and tails of some of the horses was quite intricate; the saddle work on others quite handsome. The atmosphere was happy and fun.
Earlier in the morning, we walked through the Cotacachi Market and there was a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, straight from area gardens. The area between the Cotacachi and Imbabura Volcanoes is quite fertile, and farmland abounds. That may be one of the reasons Cotacachi feels so homelike to me. It is definitely a rural area in a paradise setting, with many natural wonders close by and close-knit communities of indigenous people who are tied together in their Christian faith. It was hard to say, “Good-bye.”
Our afternoon taxi ride to the Quito airport took us through mountain passes and was easy and efficient. We will soon board an airplane to our next destination, Cuenca, Ecuador. WEG
Otavalo is a small city about ten miles from Cotacachi, and Saturday is market day in Otavalo. Not any market, mind you, but the world’s largest indigenous market. Folks in native dress flood the city, bringing with them products of every kind. It was a fun and educational experience. We were especially drawn to the food section, where beautiful food products were displayed for sale–fruit, vegetable and meat. I told Kathy that if I lived here I would buy way more than needed, since it all looked so good! Berries in barrels, gizzards in grates, pork in pots, carrots in crates–you get the picture–in row after row after row. Nothing was left unsold. Right beside T-bone steaks were whole cow hearts. Chicken, when purchased, was put in a bag and chicken feet were thrown in for good measure. Potatoes with dirt attached, straight out of the garden, were in huge gunny sacks. We noticed many fruits of which we were not familiar, and we purchased some to take back to the hotel for an evening snack. Want pigs’ feet or cow feet–no problem. Green eggs or brown eggs or bird eggs–your choice. Hamburger was ground right in front of you. Each stall was active, people shelling corn, peas, beans; butchering meat products or scaling/filleting fish. Everything was orderly and nicely displayed. How I wanted to get some of the fresh ground spices, but we are early in our adventure, and I didn’t want the hastle of custom’s checks. All around the market rose the Andes mountains, and the air was cool and fresh.
I purposely did not eat much for breakfast, believing that the market would have food stalls. It did, and I had a hard time deciding which indigenous food to select. I saw a large steaming caldron filled with rice, noodles, potatoes, and vegetables. I decided that this was the one I wanted. The proprietor scooped the ingredients from the top down to the bottom of the cauldron, where it mixed with a seasoned broth, before plating it for me. What I didn’t know was that she was frying an egg which went on top of the concoction. It was a good concoction. Price–$1. The proprietor’s young daughter had fun watching the “gringo” try to eat her mother’s food.
We went to the indigenous clothing section and watched people knit, crochet, sew, and embroider wonderful clothing and shoes. Kathy, on my prompting, purchased two embroidered belts. They will look good on her beautiful self.
We took a taxi rather than the bus to and from the market. Easy peasy, although the taxi cost 10x’s more than the bus. The bus would have been 75 cents for two for the fifteen minute ride. You can do the math–cheap. Almost everything here is about 1/3 the cost of home.
Once back in Cotocachi, we noticed that the Kichwa people were thronging the cathredral. We learned that it was communion day for first time communicants. Beautiful. We then walked the streets and breathed in the fresh mountain air. Priceless! WEG
Bee Stings and Leather
Bees were flying all around the clinic, a simple structure on a hill in Cotacachi, Ecuador. Manuela, our hotel host, told Kathy about bee sting therapy and Kathy was intrigued. The bees were attracted to the flowers around the clinic and with the clinic’s door and windows open, they easily flew inside, just what the therapist intended. It wasn’t just the bee stingers that were important; it was the pollen on the stingers as well. Here is what happened as Kathy told me, “He (the therapist) took a tweezers and captured one of the bees. He took another tweezers and carefully used it to remove the bee stinger. I could see the pollen on the stinger as he removed it from the bee. He then took the stinger and inserted it into my neck. He did this over and over again. My neck and upper back were covered with bee stingers. There was a tingling sensation when the stingers were inserted, but nothing like a bee sting. The stingers remained; he did not remove them–that happened naturally as the day wore on.” I asked Kathy how she felt when it was over and she said, “Relaxed.”
I put my hand on Kathy’s neck as we walked later in the day, and my palm was like a pin cushion. Just kidding. The stingers were gone within an hour of the therapy session. We did go to the “leather street” in Cotacachi in the early afternoon. Cotacachi is the leather center of Ecuador for good reason. We first stopped for lunch and had a wonderful lake trout. I thought the guinea pig would have been too heavy a meal, so that will have to wait for later.
On visiting the leather shops, we were impressed with the high quality of the leather work. Kathy could not resist buying three items: a leather and crocheted shawl (the shop owner tailored it to fit on the spot–it was amazing to watch her skillful, quick hands crochet the needed adjustments); leather gloves; and a leather coat with a matching handmade leather scarf (once again, adjustments were made to fit Kathy’s petite size). I got a belt. Anyone else see any discrepancies here?
Our lunch was a treat beyond the excellent food. An Ecuadorian musician played a guitar and a rondador (a wind instrument that is chorded cane panpipes) at the same time. Wow! We are loving the Ecuadorian culture and its people. WEG
As I type Roman’, the owner of the El Roy Hotel where we are staying in Cotacachi, is serenading Kathy and me with Ecuadorian music while his wife, Manuela, harmonizes and serves us mojitos. It is a magical ending to an amazing day.
It started wonderfully with a breakfast prepared and served by Anita of the hotel staff, dressed in native costume. Roman’ came into the room and asked if we would like Manuela and him to take us on a tour of the area. “Sure!” We had no idea of the wonders the day would bring. Where, but where, would guests at a hotel receive such royal treatment?
We spent the day getting a cultural immersion. Everywhere we went, the beauty of the mountain setting around us set the tone. We visited the wood carving city of San Antonio and watched people at work in the shops. We saw the beautiful Laguna (Lake) Yahuarcocha surrounded by mountains. It is famous for the Formula One race held there, and we followed along the track. We watched ice cream making in a local shop and tasted the homemade treat. We had never seen ice cream made in a stainless steel pot lodged in ice as it was stirred by human hands with a huge spatula, the ice cream slowly being separated from the cream. Italian gelato, you have a rival. We drove through neighborhoods and cities to see how people lived, with wonderful commentary by our hosts. We toured a neighborhood where expats retiring to Cotacachi congregate and even walked through a beautiful home that was for sale. Everywhere the mountains loomed above. We visited one of the oldest restaurants in Ecuador. The grounds were fabulous. Our new friends, Roman’ and Manuela held their wedding dinner there. Along the way, we learned that Roman’ was a retired Ecuadorian army colonel and Manuela had been an Ecuadorian diplomat to Panama and was also a two term senator to the Ecuadorian Congress.
We felt truly honored and privileged to experience such a day. WEG
Today was an experiential travel day for us because you cannot fly from Quito to Cotacachi, Ecuador, and I had made no prior arrangements for the two plus hours of travel to reach Cotacachi from Quito. The folks at our Quito Hostal (hotel) were more than helpful. They made arrangements for the hotel taxi to take us to a bus station where we could buy tickets to Otavalo, which is a short distance from Cotacachi. Upon arriving in Otavalo, we could board another bus that would take us to Cotacachi, where our lodging for the next six nights was located.
We were impressed with our Quito hotel. It is family owned, and every employee is a family member. They were more than solicitous–we received first class treatment. The colonial home had been remodeled into a small hotel. Everything was modern and tastefully appointed, while retaining the charm of the original colonial home. I will nearly always choose this kind of establishment in an old town area over a modern chain hotel and rarely have I been disappointed.
The hotel taxi was cool–new, with embroidered headrests bearing the hotel name. The ride to the north bus terminal was about 30 minutes and the cost $10. The driver parked and took me to the ticket counter to make sure I purchased the correct ticket. He then took Kathy and me to the bus with our luggage and made sure it was safely packed and we were on the correct bus. Amazing! I gave him a generous tip, and he was overjoyed. The terminal was large, with buses coming in and out continually. Wonderful food stalls and shops lined the walkways. The bus was amazing. I admit, I haven’t been on a public bus in a while, but this bus had beautiful, comfortable seats; a built-in large screen TV showing American movies; a driver, accompanied by a “conductor” who received pre-paid tickets and/or cash for ticket purchases. Along the way, people would flag the bus, and it would make a quick rolling stop to pick them up, and then move on. Several times along the way, people in uniform would come on the bus selling drinks, ice cream, sandwiches, etc. The majestic scenery along the way was mesmerizing; the two hours passed quickly. Up and down the mountain side we traversed. Deep ravines with rushing water deep in the earth caught our attention, sometimes because the road ran right along side these deep cuts in the earth. All along the way the trees and flowers were in beautiful bloom.
We arrived in beautiful Otavalo, impressed with the cleanliness and well kept traditional Ecuadorian homes. Once off the bus, the conductor was waiting for us to give us our luggage, and he pointed me to the Cotacachi bus. We walked up, the luggage was secured below by the conductor, and as we stepped aboard, the bus was on its way. Did I tell you that our combined cost for the first bus tickets was $5.75 for the two-hour trip and our second tickets 75 cents for a thirty minute ride?
Cotacachi is a charming small city nestled, at 8,000 feet, between two volcanoes. It is one of Ecuador’s eternal spring cities. It is 75F by day and 55F at night year round. Palm trees grow in the city’s squares. The streets are pavered, not paved, and the sidewalks are bricked. Our hotel is wonderful–another family-owned establishment–and our lodging comfortable and roomy. The owner already took Kathy to tour the gardens, visible from our room. Many fruit trees, vegetables, and herbs will provide for our morning breakfasts. We ate at a nearby restaurant for dinner, and my T-bone with fried plantain, French fries, avocado and pickled salad was really delicious–all for $11.50. No wonder so many American and German expatriates retire here. WEG