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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
After a lot of activity over the past several days, Kathy and I decided to have a chill out day and leisurely explore Cotacachi, our home for six days. We walked down quiet streets and visited the area historical museum. It explored the development of two important aspects of life in this part of Ecuador–leather goods and music. Very well done. Flowers and trees are blooming, and we enjoyed the simple beauty of God’s creation.
Our lunch was magnifico! Kathy had a quinoa soup–super foods are grown here and the area is a Mecca for health-seeking folks–remember Kathy’s bee sting/pollen therapy from a past post–that’s just one of many different kinds of health clinics here. By the way, Kathy tried to get me to go for the bee sting thing today. Didn’t happen. I told her that I already “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee,” to quote boxer Ali. My lunch was an appetizer–avocado stuffed with shrimp in a lime cream vinaigrette and topped with pickled green and red onions. Best such appetizer I have ever eaten.
On our ramble through the city, we ran into an American (U.S.) expatriate, and she invited us to see her condominium nearby. We went and were absolutely impressed with the compound and the condominiums–beautiful and with sweeping views of the volcanoes. Our visit was great as she recounted the joys of living here and told us of how one is able to accommodate to a new culture. We found out that one of the units with straight-on views of 15,200 foot Volcan Imbabura was for sale. Tempted–yes! Permanent move–no!
I noticed that when we were on the “leather street,” filled with shops selling hand made leather products, as well as other clothing, shoes, and purses, that Kathy had noticed an Ecuadorian shawl in a window. Not a spender, especially on self, she walked on by. Later, I convinced her to buy several leather clothing items and that took some convincing. We walked by the “shawl in the window” as we meandered the street, and sure enough, in she went, and it fit perfectly, and so home it goes. I know her well and was certain that before we left Cotacachi, she would have it, because, although she spends little, when she sees something she really likes…WEG
Guinea Pig Lake
Laguna Cuicocha is a two mile wide, deep blue, 656 feet deep crater lake at 10,650 feet elevation and at the base of the 16,220 foot Volcan Cotacachi. With very steep cliffs surrounding the lake, three small islands in the center and the volcano towering overhead, the scene is impressive. The fresh cool air was refreshing as we took a boat tour of the lake. Along the way, the boat stopped so that we could see the bubbles in the water, signifying that gas was seeping through from the magma below. The volcano is dormant (not extinct) and has been for centuries.
While at the Laguna, we ate lunch in a restaurant with expansive views of the lake. On the menu was cuy, or guinea pig. I took the plunge. It arrived baked, with head and feet attached. I didn’t hesitate but took a bite immediately. The skin was crunchy and the taste was close to pork butt, but it still had a unique flavor all its own. It was good! Guinea pigs in the mountains are not your caged hamster variety. The indigenous Indians raise them because they thrive in the high altitude, require little food, reproduce rapidly, contain high protein value, and they taste good. I am now a fan. The name of Laguna Cuicocha in the Kichwa (native Indian) language translates to “Lake of Guinea Pigs” to honor the place of the guinea pig in the Indian culture.
We took a twenty minute taxi ride to the Laguna. The total round trip cost was ten dollars. When we arrived, we told the cab driver when to pick us up. He was prompt in his return after we had spent three hours at/on the lake. I love how this culture operates. You can drive by a small grocery and shout out the product you need; someone will promptly bring out the item(s) you requested and take payment, and you then drive on. Trucks laden with necessary commodities that everyone uses, such as propane, drive the streets, each commodity truck with a distinct melodious tune. When one hears the tune of the commodity they need, they go to the street and flag down the truck. Simple.
Anita, the attendant at Hotel El Roy, is a native Indian and dresses each day in beautiful native clothing. We found out that she hand makes her exquisite clothing with decorative stitching, embroidery, and lace work, and her hair is in an intricately braided pony-tail. Such beauty! Many of the people in Cotacachi wear traditional clothing and that gives an authenticity to this charming city nestled between two volcanoes. 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