Friday morning I hit the road, albeit a bit late. The road between Cuenca and Quito has become all too familiar to me, so there was nothing all that exciting and new about it. I arrived in Quito just as it started to get dark. I decided to take a different route that would bypass the most congested area of Quito (as if there's a less congested area!!). It began to pour rain along with thunder and lightening bolts that appeared to be more vertical than horizontal. Traffic was slow on a 2-lane road. UGH.
I made a few mistakes on directions with one putting me smack dab in the middle of Quito's rush-hour traffic and a big soccer game that had just let out at the same time. OI VEY. I got out of that mess and back on track only to fall off the track again as I missed a sign (if there was one) at a roundabout that pointed my way to Otavalo. I asked someone in the car next to me at a stoplight and he told me to turnaround and go "DIRECTO!" (straight ahead).
Mind you, at this point I had already driven about 8 hours, through all kinds of zig-zaggy roads, construction zones, and whatnot. Now it was dark. The road was under construction for widening. Fresh blacktop, a winding road up and down and over hills....WITH NO LINES....in pitch black darkness!!! I couldn't tell WHERE I was supposed to drive. I tried to stay close to the car in front of me, but I think they were clueless, too. Otavalo is only about 90 kms (approx 55 miles) from Quito but it took over 2 hours to get there.
I got there...over 10 hours from the time I left Cuenca. I had an address for my hotel and knew it was within a few blocks of the big Saturday market, but I didn't know where THAT was, so I drove randomly around downtown. It was Friday night and very active with a lot of young people on the streets. When I didn't miraculously find my hotel, unlike most men, I asked a policeman for directions. It was just a few blocks away.
I checked in to the Hotel Acoma (I remember the name by either remembering 'glaucoma' or 'a coma'). The hotel was surprisingly nice and full of character. The night attendant informed me they didn't have my room but would give me a larger room that sleeps 6 for the same price as my original room. The 'NA' and the rest of the staff (of 3) ended up being some of the most charming and helpful hosts I've ever met. The room was immaculate ,complete with all white linens. Boy, THAT must be a challenge!!!
I found a cool pizza place with a very rustic wooden motif with a nice big fire in the fireplace. I had a personal pizza and a few beers and I was a happy camper.
The next day, Saturday, is THE big day for the market in Otavalo, a town of approximately 50,000. In the wee hours, hundreds of vendors descend on downtown and start setting up their booths and products. What I thought was simply in the 'market square' actually spilled out of the market square and stretched several blocks down closed streets. The market is well-known for its wide range of weavings, jewelry, clothes, wood and stone carvings, paintings, hats, and all kind of kitsch from pretty much any corner of Ecuador and neighboring Peru and Colombia.
The following day, I drove to Cotacachi which is only a few miles from Otavalo. Cotacachi is, supposedly, another favorite for expat retirees. It's a small town of only a few thousand and sits at the base of the huge 16,000+ foot volcano of the same name. In fact the town is flanked by two volcanos...the other one named Imbabura which reaches approximately 15,000 feet.
I remember seeing an episode on House Hunters International that featured a couple who bought a nice adobe house there. The architecture reminded me of Santa Fe, New Mexcio...which I love...the architecture, that is. Anyway, everything I found when googling Cotacachi seemed to portray the same image. They also boast their leather market and 'leather street' which is lined with shops featuring almost nothing else but leather products.
Welllllll....I couldn't find ANY housing development that resembled what I'd seen on TV and online. Believe me, I searched high and low, up, down, over, and around and backtracked just in case I missed something. NADA. Well, I DID see one or two houses. But, the overall feel and look of Cotacachi was a disappointment. ONE street was alive and it was the 'leather street' but go one block either side and 'zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz'. So, maybe those developments were out there somewhere, but if they are THAT hard to find and not representative of the town and surrounding area....then, I wasn't interested. Cotacachi was a 'bust'.
Next, I drove up to Lake Cuicocha, nestled in the flanks of the volcano Cotacachi. It's a deep volcanic crater that's 4km long and 3km wide. In the center of the lake are three domes of volcanic rock that form two islands covered with vegetation and separated by a water channel.
After that, in an attempt to explore, I picked a road and followed it. It was one of those roads made out of firmly packed, fist-size rock as the roadbed. It was rattling my car (and my nerves) but I figured it would come to an end soon. Not so. There's a point which you decide to keep going because to turn around means enduring what you just endured and maybe, just maybe, it will come to an end soon anyway. So, I kept going. I finally figured out the faster I drove, the smoother.....wait.....the less rattly it was because my tires would fly over the tops of the rocks versus my suspension dropping into every crag if I drove slower. If there was anything lose on my car, it's probably gone now.
I was headed for Ibarra, a city of about 150,000 inhabitants. Finally, this rickety road spilled into a small village. I asked a security guard the way to Ibarra. He told me to go down 1 block and turn left and follow it. Okie Dokie!!! Wellllllll.....it was more rickety road that, at times, narrowed down to one lane as I went down, down, down into a huge ravine and up, up, up the other side. At points, the road was nothing more than dirt with a LOT of dust. I thought it seemed like a very crude road given the fact it was the only route from this village to a large city and I questioned the validity of the route. But, I soon encountered a BUS headed the same way, so I figured I must be on the right track and not headed for the city dump somewhere in oblivion. I swear, busses go EVERYWHERE in Ecuador. Long story short, I finally spilled into Ibarra and explored a bit there.
I decided to depart Otavalo early in the morning on Monday so I could avoid some of the traffic and also allow me time for a quick side-trip to the Equator (no, not Ecuador...read it again) otherwise known as Mitad del Mundo (middle of the world) just outside Quito. Even though breakfast normally doesn't start until 8am at the hotel, the NA happily prepared my eggs, bread, coffee, and juice at 7am just for lil ol' me.
I arrived at Mitad del Mundo right at opening time at 9am. The sun was out and beating down hard. It felt hot already. I did the requisite straddle of the line splitting the earth in two and took photos to substantiate the fact one of my feet was in the northern hemisphere and my other foot in the southern.
Maybe that's why I began to feel woozie. My brain was doing the same thing to me that occured at the Miami airport a few weeks before. My eyes couldn't focus on multiple things without electronic-like flashes wiggin me out. I quickly grabbed some juice, water, and candy bar and headed for the AC of my car and gulped them down.
After awhile, I was back to normal and hit the road again. This time, there were no mistakes on my drive back as I whizzed past Quito in onward to Cuenca. A few stops on the way back to eat, stretch my legs, and give my eyes and brain a rest and I made it home before it was dark.
4 days, 1300 kms (780 miles). Lots of photos of which "only" 40+ made the cut for this blog. ENJOY!!!
|Find that little line in the upper third of the photo....that's the highway I traveled.|
|Otavalo with a volcano as its backdrop.|
|Hotel Acoma in Otavalo|
|The vendors used these crude carts made out of welded re-bar, to move their products from their trucks to the location of their stall in the market.|
|Colorful yarn!! (Pherecia & Chris...calm down!!)|
|Area rugs/wall hangings.|
|Artistic touch to downtown streetlamps.|
|Artistic touch to downtown streetlamps.|
|Ice cream cart....25 cents.|
|Geetars. Actually, they're about ukelele size.|
|I always think it's funny/odd to see technology and indigenous at the same time. She is shielding her head from the intense sun.|
|Nice landscape treatment in Otavalo park.|
|Entertainment in front of the church where a wedding was about to commence.|
|Hope they don't mind me snapping a photo of the wedding procession (bride in front...the one in white).|
|Mural in the Otavalo church.|
|Otavalo farmers market.|
|Artistic touch to downtown streetlamps.|
|Artistic touch to a ceiling fixture.|
|Inside Ibarra church.|
|Ibarra. In the middle of a roundabout.|
|Just your everyday view of a volcano while driving down a street in Ibarra.|
|Resort on the shores of Lake San Pablo outside Otavalo.|
|Chandelier inside restaurant on Lake San Pablo.|
|A crater on the flanks of volcano Cotacachi formed Lake Cuicocha.|
|Another church in Ibarra.|
|Interior of that church....oddly modern.|
|This is not a wide street. I drove out onto the runway of the (inactive) Ibarra airport and took this shot down the centerline looking directly at volcano Imbabura.|
|Mitad del Mundo...the Equator|
|Thems my feet.|
|Me and my shadow straddling the middle of the Earth.|
|How artistic of me!!|