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Shop til you Drop in Otavalo

A respite from Quito's dangerous ways

25 °C
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The Saturday after our first week of langauge school presented us with the oppertunity to practice our Spanish at the famous Ecuadorin market in Otavalo.

It was on this drive to Otavalo tha we witnessed our first sign of loco driving in South America. On the way up to a blind corner we witnessed a car overtaking a car overtaking a bus! Obviously the locals are used to this because the oncoming vehicles that rounded the corner quickly swerved to the side avoiding a head on collison by what looked like centimeters.

Our first stop on the way to the main artisan market was to the animal market, where the local people came down from the hills that surrounded Otavalo to sell and trade their excess animals. In no particular order we could have bought cows, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, roosters, baby chicks, ducks, baby ducklings, guinea pigs, cats, dogs in any number of states, alive, dead, unconcious, stunned, almost dead, almost suffocated... well you get the picture. We're pretty sure the RSPCA would have had a field day had this market occured in any of the countries that we all come from but we guess its just the norm in this part of the world. For the most part we could accept the conditions the animals were kept in at the market. however, watching a grown man taking a running kick at a pigs face just to show the little old lady wanting to buy it that the pig had a bit of spirit was just a step too far along with the caged kittens. There were so many kittens in the cage that they were stacked upon each other and had no room to move. We wouldnt be at all surprised if the ones on the bottom were dead.

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Rick, The English speaking, Spanish speaking Dutch guy who is currently working at the school ascertained that a cow would set us back $250US if we were interested in making a purchase, and thats before enerting into the bargining phase!

Moving on from the animal market we arrived at the Artisan Market in Otavalo town. As we started to wander up the side street towards the main centre of the market a couple of things became apparent, firstly we were going to spend money, secondly we could have spent a lot of money, thirdly we didn't have enough room in our bag to go crazy, fourthly that were going to have to find a post office to send home the few small things we were almost certainly going to buy and finally we should only visit markets when on holidays of less than a month!!

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The Otovalan Market is almost soley run by local countryside men and women who turn up week in week out in traditional dress. The girls typically wear a coulourful dress with blouse, gold coloured bead necklaces, a felt hat and their hair tied by by a colouful hand woven band. The gentlemen were in three quarter trousers, sandals, possibly a felt hat and their hair was tied back in a single plait.

The first thing we noticed about Otavalo is that we didn't feel in fear of our lives wandering in amongst the locals, this is something that Otavalo definitely had over Quito and the Mariscal. The markets were proven to be a prime photo taking opportunity as the colours of their wares were bright and colourful. Although every time I stopped to take a photo the store owner or worse the small child of the store owner would come over to try and sell me what ever it was I was taking a picture of. The phrase "solo mirando por favor" or I'm only looking thank you definitely came in handy.

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Giving a run down on the things that were available/we would of bought if we had the space included, Alpaca blankets, Alpaca ponchos, Alpaca scarfs, t-shirts with comments about boobies.....of the blue footed kind, colourful beanies, colouful beanies with in built scarfs, alpaca woolen gloves, HAMMOCKS!!!!, masks of ancient Incan gods, silver earings and broaches, pendants made of precious stone and silver, necklaces and earring galore, a chess set of Conquistadors vs the Incas and a Panama hat, although the Panama hat was actually first designed and made in Ecuador and should therefore be referred to as an Equadorian hat!

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We spent a total of 3 hours in the market and came out with our wallets still intact, barely. Meeting up with our fellow bargin hunters at 12:30 for lunch we found out that Richard, one of our fellow bargin hunters apparenty has a hard time saying no and not just because his Spanish is at the very beginner level. We thought we'd made a few too many purchases, We're suprised there was anything left at the market for us to buy after Richard had done the rounds. From what we can remember he left with a painting, an Alpaca sweater, a jewellery set including earrings, necklace and bracelet, another set of earrings and matching necklace and an obligatory panama hat for himself.

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Moving on from the market after lunch we visted a nearby waterfall with a sufficient spray back that even 10m away from from the actual fall we walked away with our bum and back of legs completely soaked, thank god for quick drying trousers!

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The drive back to Quito was less adventurous than the drive to Otavalo but we still thought the drivers were slightly loopy!

Posted by The VBs 18:02 Archived in Ecuador Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Spanglish, Goals and Knives in Quito

Destination 1 of our South American Journey

sunny 25 °C
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Quito is a city like no other. I say this with conviction because until now niether of us have ever felt such a sense of unease and dread when it came to wandering the streets of a foreign town. Arriving in to Quito 2 days before the start of our language school our first weekend was spent listening to other students from the school retelling either their own stories or stories of friends who either had the bags stolen out from underneath their own eyes or even worse being acosted in the street at night when walking home from a night of fun and fravolity at a near by club, being forced to hand over all of their money and bank cards. We were already on guard following our time in Cuba and this was not what we wanted to hear.

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However, the main point of visiting Quito was take a crash course in speaking the local lingo as well as a jumping off point for Galapagos, where I currently am writing this addition of the VB's Big Adventure. Hearing everyones stories we spent our two weeks in Quito living pretty sensibly. Our language classes ran 8:30-12:30, we then spent most of the first week looking for a last minute Galapagos deal. This left very little time for sight seeing and wandering around with a bag of valuable camera equipment, however given the cost of Galapagos trips, even at the heavily discounted price of last minute, and the limit to cash with draws we could make a day we did spend a few days ferrying large quantaties of cash between banks and our booking agent. Your probably wondering why we just didn't use a credit card and the answer is simple we didn't want to pay the additional 10% fee.

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The few times that we did head into the Mariscal, or as the locals call it, Gringoland, we were sensible and either caught a taxi the three blocks to our local families home or were with a large enough group to walk. I'm sure most of the non uniformed locals walking around at night time with batons and in one case a machete strapped to his leg were the private security guards we kept hearing about but you can never be too sure.

It took the first week to fully adjust to the slightly dodgey conditions that surrounded us and to realise that by taking precautions we could go out and have a good time without being yet another Gringo victim of Quito. We never took out more than $20 each. We typically drank in the afternoon leaving the Mariscal no later than 6pm and if we were out after sunset we always caught a taxi or travelled in a large group.

With the Monday of our second week being a public holiday we had hours to make up and therefore had class in the afternoon for 2 hours on Wednesday and Thursday. It was pretty evident to our teachers that our attention span for a new language did not stretch as far as 6 hours a day and we therefore spent these two days visiting the local fruit and vegtable market as well as Quito's major cathedral. To show our appreciation we shouted our teachers to 2 4 1 cocktails in the MAriscal afterwards. Its amazing how much better your Spanish gets after a couple of Mojitos!!

The market was certainly an experience as between us we were only able to name a handful of the fruit and vegtables that were on offer. Ecuador and I'm sure the rest of South America has some of the strangest looking fruit and veg we've ever seen!

The Cathedral was a totally different experience all together and fully made us appreacite the health and safety laws of our Western Countries. The cathedral is a little over 100 years old and is basically a get big religious jungle gym. We were able to go anywhere in this thing if there were stairs or a ladder. having walked up the stairs
to the clock tower we then proceeded to climb up the ladder to the bell tower and then another ladder to the level above before declining our tutors suggestion to climb up to the last and final level. This level was basically a mesh platform within the tower with access out to the gargoyles on the outside of the building. At this stage I'd like to point out that there were no safety bariers cross the point that you climbed out and a slip and fall would have you plumiting 100m to the ground. We are very quickly learning that the locals are a bit loco when it comes to putting themselves into dangerous situations.

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The Thursday night of our second week had an Argentinian team in town playing the local Quito team in the Sud American Cup, this is basically the equivalent of the European Champions League. One of our fellow students managed to organise tickets for the three of us the day before the game. This was something that we weren't really too sure about given the ill feeling we'd had in Quito over the last 13 days but we're glad we bit the bullet and chose to go because without a shadow of a doubt it was the highlight of our time in Quito.

We opted for the middle class seats which had us sitting with more affluent locals who had brought their young children to the game but at the same time we were close enough to the mad keen local supporters who filled area behind the goal that we really able to get involved with the crowd and feel the vibe. Just before half time the local team went down by 1 goal following a rather feable effort by the goal keeper. This however failed to dent the crowds spirits and following much cheering and singing the local team came back out to a standing ovation to start the second half. It was one of those games where the better team on the day just looked like they were going to be unlucky and never find the back of the net until a long cross to the back post found the head of a winger who comfortably headed past the goal keeper. I'm gald we had our water proof jackets with us because the crowd roared in delight and the beer everyone had been drinking few high in to the air and rained down on us as people clapped, hugged and waved their arms frantically!! This goal spuured the home team on and it wasn't long before Quito got a second and comfortably held on for a win booking themselves a place in the semi finals against River Plate from Montevideo in Urugay.

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It was during our taxi trip home from the game that we saw the guy in the Mariscal with the Machete strapped to his leg!

Our final day in Quito Hannah's recently new filling in her back wisdom tooth some how managed to fall out. Given that the original decay had been causing her problems for some time before she had it fixed Hannah had serious concerns that she would need to get it seen to sooner rather than later. A quick test of trying to swallow a mouthful of water quickly showed her concerns to be correct. The last thing you want to be doing at 6pm on your final Saturday evening in a thrid world country is to be looking for a dentist. However, with the help of the family we were staying with a dentist is indeed what we managed to find. The dentist originally wanted to pull the wisdom tooth out since it serves no purpose, but unfortunately due ou tor impending flght the next morning to the Galapagos this wasn't possible. The flying would have caused Hannah to lose a fair amount of blood and blood as we all know is pretty vital to living and it makes a mess. So the filling has been replaced and hopefully it'll last until Australia where she'll most likely have the tooth removed!

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To say thank you for taking Hannah and sorting out her tooth problem we spent our last night in Quito taking our host family out for dinner at Calle de Ronda, a street they recommended in the Old town. It was just our luck that it took until our last night to finally discover where the rue Quito lay. Calle de Ronda was this narrow cobblestoned road open only to pedestrains. The Casa's and Canteens all had Ecuadorian flags flying out the front and road was filled with happy, jovial, friendly locals talking in groups, walking hand in hand on romantic dates searching for either a place to drink or a place to eat. Many of them nursed cups of the local alcoholic fruit drink which we sampled after dinner. It is basically a hot fruit dirnk in a similar style to a fruity mulled wine. Rather than cooking the alocohol in with the sugary fruity goodness a shot of sugar cane spirit is poured into the cup prior to drinking. This ensures two things, firstly the alcohol doesn't burn off so the drink stays potent and secondly the alcohol is the first part of the drink down your throat as they don't seem to mix the drink before tipping it back!

4.5 hours later we were waking up to fly to the Galapagos!

Posted by The VBs 17:19 Archived in Ecuador Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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