Thursday, July 23, 2009


A long overdue post on our final destination in Ecuador. Returning to Quito from the Galapagos Islands we had just two nights left of our holiday before returning home. As we'd already seen the capital city when we arrived, we looked for somewhere interesting and easy to visit for an overnight stop. In the end we opted for Otavalo, a medium sized town just a couple of hours north of Quito and just on the other side of the Equator.

Arrival in Otavalo wasn't any more promising than our journey to Ingapirca had been. Getting off the bus on the edge of town just after nightfall, we soon realised that there was no electricity at all. So we set off down dark streets in the rain looking for a hotel. Fortunately it's not that big a town. Later that night the light came back on and the restaurants and bars could blow out their candles. The town has plenty of facilities for visitors for its size and seems to have made a success of selling itself to visitors to Ecuador. It's a pleasant town with a strong indigenous feel, and whilst it isn't an essential place to visit the proximity to Quito makes it easy to include.

Otavalo is famous amongst travellers for its Saturday market, although there seems to be a market operating here every day. We weren't there on a Saturday and we didn't find a lot we wanted to buy, but that's mostly because we have already been in other places selling very similar Andean handicrafts. Having more or less seen the town the next morning, we decided to walk a few kilometres into the surrounding hills to visit a sanctuary for birds of prey and in the process to get the view of Otavalo from above.

On our way back to town from the sanctuary we went to visit the symbolic tree of Otavalo. El Lechero doesn't look anything particularly special, although it is one of the few trees we saw in the country that wasn't a eucaliptus or a pine. As we got nearer to it, about 200 school children started coming down the hill towards us. I know there was a lot of them because I ended up having to shake hands with every single one, and close to the end of the line I slipped into routine politician mode, saying "Hello, I'm the president - vote for me". Eventually we reached the tree. The most impressive thing about it is the view you get of the surrounding mountains and countryside.

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