As soon as we crossed the border into Ecuador, we realized that overlanding in Ecuador would be much faster and easier. The roads are smooth, fast, and seem much less curvy. The roads’ life threatening thermometer has cooled off significantly. In remembering Marco’s 4 episodes of throwing up in the car, we’re hoping to be puke free from here on out.
Within an hour, we were pulled over by the Policia de Ecuador. Unlike the boisterous, pleasantly curious police in Colombia, these guys were all business. The 4 police officers approached the van and as the fist one made it to Darin’s window asking for “passaportes”, the second one was opening my door and helping himself to my door pocket’s contents. He picked up and inspected our first aid kit, hair ties, old wrappers, my glasses, etc…how rude! As I was biting my tongue, the third officer was knocking every few inches of the length of the passenger side. I couldn’t tell if he was trying to be intimidating, or if he was trying to find his inner percussionist. After wanting to know our occupation, our plan, and all the usual, the officer at my door nicely placed everything back where it came from and said “tank yo vary much!”.
The Northern central highlands are mostly farm country, with mountainous fields that look like quilts of greenery. Their patterns and beauty seem to have the power to grab ahold of our gaze and redefine it.
Our intention was to stop somewhere in the northern highlands but all we saw were farms and a few very strange highway side “resorts” with scary pools and waterslides that looked brittle. We felt like we needed to just drive further south than we’d planned on, but the driving is so easy here, we travelled in 2 hours what could have taken 2 days in Colombia.
We spent 5 days in the town of Otavalo at a hostel called Riviera-Sucre, which was basic and comfortable.
We spent our days walking down to the town’s food market, where we ate amazing meals for a dollar. We were so inspired by the freshness of the food, that we spent most of our time cooking meals that we couldn’t get out of our heads.
The market had the best grapes I’ve ever had, along with corn nuts that blew our minds, and things like the most beautiful bunches of spinach for $0.25. The meat vendors were plentiful, selling every part of the cow imaginable, sheep heads and whole roasted pigs garnished with tomatoes.
Darin had an inkling for a rib roast. Even after we figured out how to say it in spanish “rosti de costella”, the butchers had no idea what to make of this cut of meat. After many attempts to explain what we wanted, Darin ended up behind the counter, holding the giant piece of meat, and helping himself to the butcher’s saw while everyone stared open mouthed. As we walked away, Simon said “Daddy, you gotta admit, that was a bit ridiculous!”.
Darin carefully cooked his meal and we all hungrily and excitedly sat down to eat. The first bit of meat revealed something analogous to fresh leather. We all sat and chewed and chewed and chewed, and still we couldn’t swallow. We later found out that the beef in Ecuador has a reputation for being tough and not so good.
We spent one afternoon in Cotacachi, a small neighboring town, known for it’s incredibly inexpensive leather. We’re not really leather people but we did walk away with 4 custom fit belts. I haven’t owned a leather jacket since 7th grade and I never thought I’d own another one but MY GOSH, I’m so excited about the one I bought.
We drove 10 km east of Cotacachi to Volcan Cuicocha, where the volcano’s crater is drowned out by a beautiful lake. The dome sits in the middle of the lake, like an island.
The kids and I told stories and played for an hour while Darin ran back to Otavalo. A tour bus of South American tourists took turns getting their picture taken with Simon and Marco, saying things like “muy lindo, que bonito!”.
We’d been told that saturday is the happening day in Otavalo, with it’s world famous markets, apparently it wasn’t to be missed. We woke up early saturday morning and took a one dollar taxi ride to the animal market. Simon had heard about the animal market from a lady at lunch a few days prior, and he wasn’t gonna miss it. When we got there, we were surrounded by the local Otavalo people who were either selling or buying cows, chickens, pigs, guinea pigs (a frequent source of food, known as “cuy”), rabbits, chics, puppies, geese, ducks, cock fighting roosters, and kittens.
A few days prior, I’d given the kids $5.00 to spend on something at one of the markets. They’d perused and debated and considered many things, but had decided to wait and see. When we came across the baby chics at the animal market, Simon asked “cuanto cuestan?” and the man said 4 for a dollar. The boys, wide eyed and bursting at the seams, were immediately pulling out their money to buy a chick. When we told them no, they were dumbfounded. We moved on to the puppies, and when we were told they were $1.00 each, they were 100% ready to buy one. We left the market with Simon saying “great! this was my favorite thing on this trip and I can’t even get a souvenir!”.
The Artisan market was by far the best market we’ve ever been to. I don’t even feel any animosity at the fact that someone, a particular old woman comes to mind, who cut my purse with a box knife but was unable to unload any contents. I guess she wasn’t prepared for my lightning fast reflexes. The local craftsmanship is outstanding and incredibly low priced. We spent hours just weaving in and out of stalls, only to find more stalls that we couldn’t wrap our minds around. It’s a good thing we’re very limited on space, just saying.