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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
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