Tag Archives: Otavalo

Getting physical: Cotocachi and the Cuicocha Laguna

Time to get those legs working again

Time to get those legs working again

After more than two weeks  in Quito, I was feeling a real need to get my legs moving and even a walk right across town to Parque La Carolina hadn’t given my muscles enough of a workout. A ramble around the crater lake of Cuicocha at the base of the inactive Cotocachi volcano seemed like a perfect opportunity to check my legs still worked. A bus and taxi ride later followed by an entrance fee to Cotacachi Cayapas National Park and we arrived at a ghost gathering of market stalls. Some travellers jumped onto the boat to take them around the lagoon but a couple of strong lads and myself headed off in search of the starting point for the five hour hike. Who needs a map?

The first hour or so was vicious with constant climbing and sections along the route which seemed to be purposely designed for respite. I quickly lost my breath on the steeper ascents, but rapidly regained normal breathing once I stopped momentarily. The lagoon sits at an altitude of 3,200 metres and we were getting a good height above it, although nowhere near the summit of Cotocachi itself. The sun was beating down and the air was thin, but the far reaching views across dry, craggy edges and across to the surrounding volcanoes were spectacular.

First resting point

First resting point

The next section of the walk took us around the back of the mountain along dug out pathways and away from the lagoon. Completely different in character, I loved this section because, despite not having the grand views, it provided such a contrast and you felt close to the plants and the rocks and the dirt. Finally winding around the right side of the mountain again, we picnicked above clouds as they wafted in towards and above the lagoon.

Lake Cuicocha, Ecuador

Lake Cuicocha, Ecuador

The final part was the most bizarre. In amongst trees and constant up and downhill scrambles, it was beautiful and brought more birdlife to our attention, but as we progressed it also brought us back to the reality of human life with the presence of fencing and horses andcows. By the time we got to the end of the pathway and had trudged along a dusty, dirt road for half an hour past local land workers walking in the opposite direction, we started to suspect that we had taken a wrong turn. But where? There had been no obvious split in the path. Maybe, after all, a map would have been useful. Arriving finally at a deserted restaurant, the owner offered to taxi us back to the bus and I got to sit up front and practise my Spanish a little with some small talk.

I still don’t know if we got lost. Another guy I talked to at the hostel did the same route. It just seems to be a most disappointing, strange ending to an otherwise stunning walk. The one thing it does provide though, I suppose, is a continuation of the diversity of landscapes and views. I would, however, love to know if there is another way.

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Tranquilo Otavalo

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.

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Heading to Otavalo

Following an emotional send off from my Quito mama, Luz, and her family, I taxied with some Israeli travellers to the North Bus terminal in Quito, a good half hour drive away ($10). A few buses looked ready to go and we were quickly ushered onto a fairly empty one with window decorations and a soothing Spanish soundtrack (granted, a little sickly).

The first part of the journey was punctuated with stops that brought more sellers on board than there were passengers – make your choice from juice in a bag, crisps, cola, oranges, even almuerzo (a set meal usually consisting of rice and meat). One guy came on to preach and seemed pretty aggro. I had little idea what he was on about, other than that he mentioned his family and his corazon (heart). When we collectively didn’t pay up, he got angry and called us putas (purposefully no translation provided here). Nice. The policeman who came on board shortly afterwards to escort a guy off of the bus warned us to be careful. I was glad to be getting away from Quito, from the constant awareness needed to keep yourself safe.

The bus hurtled on round corners at stupid speeds along the Pan-American Highway, stopping only momentarily at a road block where two cars looked seriously smashed up but where thankfully drivers and passengers seemed to be okay. Within two hours we were dropped off on the roadside on the outskirts of Otavalo (we had picked the wrong bus, but it only meant a five minute hike to the hostel).

Otavalo, on first impressions seems to be a fairly tranquil, normal town (although bigger than anticipated) with people going about their business. There is a hint at tourism with hostels scattered about the place but overall the shops are your regular shops (although a coffin store isn’t something I’m completely used to seeing on the high street). Arriving on a Thursday possibly presents a more real account of Otavalo with few tourists present but I suspect that the hostels will fill tomorrow for the famous Saturday markets.

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