Hostal Chasqui in Otavalo, proved to be another lucky find on this journey, with Roberto (who can only be described as the world’s most likeable guy) running the place. A building of mass proportions, it appeared to be largely empty and for $9 I got my own room with balcony and bathroom. It wasn’t the cheapest option in Otavalo, and it didn’t include breakfast, but I was happy to have my individual space for the same price as sharing. Taking us up to the roof terrace, Roberto pointed out the town’s orientation, gave us advice on walks and markets and places to eat. Lunch, therefore, was in Taco Bell (not the Taco Bell, but a replica) for burritos, homemade guacamole and freshly squeezed pineapple juice, made in speedy time by cheerful Carlos.
Otavalo’s pavements are colourfully tiled and smell of freshly baked bread, thanks to there being a panadería on every corner. Plain bread and bread filled with cheese, dried fruit or gooey sweet stuff easily tempt you to part with $0.20 and provide great snacks for hikes out of the town.
Markets of various sorts occur on a daily basis but the famous ones – the ones that people travel to from far afield – are on a Saturday. The animal market is for early birds (sorry), finishing at 10am, but the textiles and main markets run until 5pm (although stallholders do start to pack up a bit earlier). With such a vast range of crafts and clothing available, I found it to be a bit disorientating and, not wanting to buy for the sake of buying, I nearly left empty handed. At the last moment, I spotted it: a stripy, gringa cardigan. I stayed away from the alpaca pattern but it has to be acknowledged that the top I purchased is distinctively gringo (and very cosy). Finally I felt initiated into the world of travelling.
Evenings in Otavalo were spent playing cards and smoking shisha (or nargila, as the Israelis insisted) in two laidback bars, Bohemios and Red Bar ( the latter didn’t have plastic mouth pieces so you shared spit with all the previous smokers – should I have had my Hep B jab after all?!). Both disgusting and curiously moreish (I’m craving it as a write) was the chocolate pizza at Bohemios – a typical base with mozzarella, drizzled in chocolate liquid and topped with a dusting of cocoa. The best part? The waitress finally cracked a smile when we ordered. Moving on and trying to win over the young, reggaeton dancing clientele of a truly local bar proved impossible, but the bartenders quickly had a smile for us, although one beer later was a good time to move on.
My memories of Otavalo, aside from the markets and an epic hike around Cuicocha Laguna, will be focused around the tranquillity of the place, and the rain that drizzled in a comforting manner and then pelted with such force that it drenched one in seconds. The hostel was an interesting, relaxed social hub and the random chats and beers shared with travellers from Holland, Australia, Austria, England and Israel (of course Israel… nearly every traveller I meet seems to be Israeli!) helped me to form some further ideas for the next step. Good times.