Tuesday 14th November 2011

Last post from Quito, plus the colourful Otavalo market

My time in Ecuador is sadly drawing to a close, and I have to leave tomorrow for my flight back to Guatemala, where the volcanoes, and perhaps even the elusive butterfly Drucina championi, await me.

On Saturday, I headed out on a morning bus with my German friend Verena and her couch-surfing hostess Margarita, for the two-hour journey northwards to Otavalo, a prosperous town known from far and wide for its woven fabric handicrafts. The journey itself was not particularly enjoyable due to the extremely noisy, violent film that was put on as we left, and which ended just as we drew into Otavalo, with the volume at full blast and the speakers right behind our heads, even though we sat at the back of the bus AND requested for the volume to be turned down. These movies are an unwelcome development since I was last here, and once they are on, you cannot avoid them.

Margarita and Verena preparing to board the bus

Anyway, we wound our way down through the dry gorges north of Quito, before climbing into the more humid, and more fertile Cayambe region (the volcano Cayambe’s head was hidden, but you could just make out the bottom of the snow where the mountain disappeared into cloud). This area has now become a vast nursery, complete with numerous greenhouses, for a new but already highly important industry for Ecuador, cut flowers, mainly for the European market. Apparently there is serious contamination of the watercourses in this region due to the high concentrations of pesticides that are used to keep insect damage to a minimum, and even the health of humans living in the area has been adversely affected.

Our route took us past the Lago de San Pablo, a freshwater lake at the foot of the towering bulk of the dormant volcano behind. My friend Czech Conroy and I had birdwatched here back in 1983, and then hiked over the hill into Otavalo, on the outskirts of which I was bitten by a dog, so I had slightly unpleasant memories of this place!

This time hiking was not on the agenda, and we got off the bus and walked into town, aiming for the square in which the main market is situated. To cut a long story short, although I normally loathe shopping of all kinds, we had a lot of fun walking around this amazing place, and I was able to find some reasonably priced gifts…in fact, even more than reasonably priced, thanks to the incredible negotiating skills of Margarita, who excelled herself in beating the prices down, using a combination of sarcasm, wit, ridicule and her very sweet looks, fluttering her eyelids at exactly the right moment so that the salesmen melted in front of her!!! Even the ladies succumbed to her charms as well!!

The colourful market, even for those not interested in shopping, such as myself, is really very worth seeing, and the Otavaleños’ remarkable handiwork is really a joy to behold. Some other objects, including a roasted pig’s head, were perhaps not for the faint hearted, but we thoroughly enjoyed our visit nonetheless, and finally returned to Quito, our cheeks aching from all the laughter we had shared during this day.

The colourful market of Otavalo

Verena and Margarita taking a break from shopping

Self, Margarita and Verena admiring some romantic graffiti in Otavalo

Yesterday, my wonderful hosts Gleny, her mother Elena, boyfriend Fernando and another friend, Yolanda, took me up to the Parque Metropolitano, a large area of eucalyptus plantation and grassland overlooking the northern half of the city of Quito on the one side, and with a magnificent view across the valley on the other, rising finally to the snow-capped volcano of Antisana, which was just showing through the clouds.

The valley from the Parque Metropolitano

Here we walked for a couple of hours in the blazing sunshine (not something I have seen a lot of during the past couple of weeks here), and I was able to add a few butterflies to my very short Ecuadorian list for this visit. We finally returned to Elena’s apartment for a Chinese takeaway lunch. I should like to take this opportunity to thank these very special friends of mine, whom I have known for 28 years, and who really feel like my Ecuadorian family, for all they have done to make me feel so welcome during my stay here.

Self, Elena and Gleny unravelling a scarf!

Gleny, Fernando, Yoli and Elena

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