… To buy a fat pig?
There are such markets in every Ecuadorean town, small or large, but it is Otavalo in particular that draws the tourists. This is due in part to its size. It has to be one of the largest markets not just in Ecuador but possibly in South America, at least on a Saturday, the principal market day. Then not only the central Plaza de Ponchos is jammed with those selling and those buying, but also the surrounding streets. The other factor in its popularity is its location, an easy day trip, from Quito.
The people of Otavalo and the surrounding area, known as Otavaleña, have been making textiles for centuries. As tourism to Ecuador has grown, their goods have become well-known and popular, and the market has grown because of this, and also because the local people have spotted a good opportunity and made the most of it! They are recognised as the most prosperous indigenous group in Ecuador, and perhaps in all Latin America.
The textiles are mainly of the practical variety, such as blankets, thick jumpers, ponchos, scarves, hats and so on, rather than the purely decorative wall-hangings that you see in other cultures. But it is not only textiles that you will find for sale here. We saw pictures; musical instruments (mainly the ubiquitous pan-pipes, but also drums and other percussion instruments); hats; jewellery; wood-carvings and tagua nut carvings; leather handbags and larger woven bags; hammocks and cushions and more.
On one side of the square I spotted a few stalls selling simple meals such as roast pork, corn and soups. But otherwise the emphasis in this part of town is very much on handicrafts.
Of course the sellers are hoping that you will buy, but we didn’t experience too much pressure. However when I stopped to look at a stall for any length of time I would raise their hopes and there would be a rapid explanation of the goods and how wonderful they were!
For the most part we were happy to wander up and down, soaking up the atmosphere and taking lots of photos. A few people were happy to pose, especially those stall-holders hoping we might make a purchase, but they tended to do so quite stiffly. The result was a less than natural look with no sense of the bustle and activity of the market. So mainly I used my zoom lens to grab candid shots as I find these more natural and wanted to capture the activity as much as the individuals.
Traditional Otavaleña dress
As I wandered around the market stalls taking my photos I began to realise that all the women were dressed in a similar style, rather different from the indigenous people I had seen in Quito. This is the traditional dress of the Otavaleña. It consists of white blouses, with coloured embroidery (usually of flowers) and flared lace sleeves, worn with black or dark skirts. They wear their hair long, but instead of plaiting it, as the women of Quito do, most tie it back with coloured braid in a loose ponytail. They usually have many strings of gold beads around their necks, and strings of coral beads around their wrists. Many of the older ones fold a cloth over their heads, known as a fachalina.
The men traditionally wear white trousers, cut off just below the knee, with dark blue ponchos and felt hats. Their hair too is worn long. We saw relatively few men in this costume compared to the number of women wearing the traditional dress. However, many had the long hair and felt hat, albeit often combined with modern jeans and t-shirts.
In need of refreshment and a sit-down after an hour or so of wandering around the market, we looked for somewhere where we might also get a view of the action. We found it at the Buena Vista café, which lived up to its name. We climbed the stairs to the first-floor room which was quite cosy with lots of wood, a small library of travel guides to browse, and bright cushions on the chairs. We secured a table near the window and ordered our fresh juices. By that point in our trip we had realised that no other cold drink came close to these for taste and refreshment in Ecuador! As we drank we were able to step out onto the tiny balcony. From there we could take some photos of the market from above and all the activity going on beneath us. A great place to finish our walk around the market.
It’s been a short one but I hope Jo will accept this as a Monday Walk!
Having resisted temptation all morning I fell at the last hurdle! We’d finished our walk and arrived a few minutes early at the pick-up point for our return to the city. We were easy prey therefore for a couple of sellers operating on the streets outside the market! Although attracted by the colourful scarves I’d seen on many stalls I hadn’t planned on buying one, as I had a pile already at home. But one older lady who approached us had a good selection. They were so bright and cheerful, and she was so interesting (showing us photos of her home near Lago San Pablo), that I cracked and bought one. And I have to say that I have worn it regularly every winter since. It retains its bright colours even twelve years later and is often admired by friends and colleagues, so it has more than justified the impulse purchase!
I visited Ecuador in 2012