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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Sunday, 14 August 2011

August 14th: Otavalo in Ecuador

On August 14th 1976 I was in Otavalo in Ecuador.  Otavalo was one of the most famous markets in South America.  The local Indians made a huge range of handicrafts which they sold in the market, especially on Saturdays.

A couple of days previously I had tried unsuccessfully to find a bus in Quito, so I took a city bus out to near the airport and started hitching.  I soon got a lift from a computer programmer with Texaco but he only took me a short way and then I found nothing more.  I had to move away from a Chilean who was full of dubious advice and after an hour or so in the cold air a bus approached and I took it.

The next day I went for a walk in the morning.   I followed the road to Cotacachi, sat on the bridge by the river in town, passed a handicrafts factory and sat a while by a truly pretty river outside the town, enjoying the greenness of it all, the eucalyptus and the thick grass, a white mountain and a blown out cone, lovely and peaceful.  Back in town in the afternoon, I met friends with a car and together we drove to San Antonio de Ibarra to look at woodcarvings, which I thought very poor.  We looked into a fine church in a long narrow cross shape and lively paintings.  I enjoyed the scenery too, rich, many villages, and clouds on the broad mountains.  We looked in on another largish town and saw briefly a colonial church during  a service.  We drove back past fires burning in evening light.

Plaza de Los Ponchos, 2003:  Picture by Richard Uzermans:  CC
For the day of the market I tried to be up early to visit before the buses started to bring the hordes in from Quito.  The vegetable market was in full swing and around the Plaza de Los Ponchos there were already crowds.  It was a colourful scene.  The Indian men wore three-quarter length baggy white trousers, white shirts and blue ponchos; the women wore white blouses, white skirts with blue wraps almost around and blue headdresses. 

The quality of the goods made was excellent, though clearly not authentic in any way.  The Otavalans had taken the decision to make a living out of handicrafts as well as agriculture, and different villages specialised in different crafts, rather as has happened in Bali.  I believe that collectively they decided to travel beyond the village to merchandise their products, across Ecuador, across South America and eventually across the world.  It is a common thing in European cities and villages to come across Indians selling handicrafts and playing music; most are from Otavalo and the men can usually be recognised by their uncut plaited hair.  A man I met last year at a fair in a small village in France lived now with his wife and children in Spain but travelled around the fairs and markets in France and Spain, getting all the goods from his family in San Antonio.

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