As you head north on the Pan-American highway from Quito towards the Ecuador-Colombia border, you pass through the town of Otavalo. This pleasant highland town is famous for its Thursday market (which we missed), but the center square is full of indigenous vendors almost every day. We arrived in town on the eve of Inti Raymi - a combination Catholic Corpus Cristi and Inca Solstice celebration marked by singing, dancing, and ritual purification that is celebrated throughout the Andean highlands of South America. (In fact, Annie and I enjoyed Inti Raymi celebrations when we were in Cusco, Peru in 2014) While searching for a place to grab lunch at 2:00 we we're treated to an impromptu parade featuring women wearing tradition dresses and men dressed in strange two faced masks.
We camped at a hostel outside of town and on our first day in town, we made our way to a 'suburb' village called Peguche which since Pre-Incan times been known for their skill as weavers. Since the Spanish Conquest they were held in a state of quasi-legal servitude and it was only in the 1960's that they totally freed themselves from the vestiges of the encomienda system! Today they manufacture a variety of textiles for themeselves and the entire village echoes with the 'k-chunk, k-chunk' of countless shuttles passing back in forth in community owned textile mills. We, however, were interested in their traditional handmade weavings. After admiring countless tapestries in a variety of styles we selected two - a long geometric wall hanging and a M.C. Escher-esque bird design. The birds were originally intended as a rug, but once we made our desire to hang it on the wall clear, the shop owner quickly whipped together handmade tassels and wove a dowel into the top so we could hang it from the wall.
We spent most of our time in Otavalo exploring the surrounding countryside - high rolling, unbelievable verdant mountains dotted with distant volcanos peeking between omnipresent clouds. We took a taxi to Laguna Cuicocha aka the 'Guinea Pig' Lake. Similar to Quilotoa, the lake occupies an ancient collapsed caldera. However, in Laguna Cuicocha a period of later volcanic activity produced two islands in the center of the lake. From the visitor's center we took a caldera rim trail which slowly brought us around the lake while affording gorgeous views of the lake and surrounding countryside. Truthfully, this was one of our favorite hikes, and days, in Ecuador.
On our way back to town after our hike, we stopped at the community of Cotacatchi. This is a village devoted entirely to leather working. After a little encouragement from Annie, I found an awesome leather jacket. (I am impatiently waiting for the weather to turn so that I have an excuse to wear it). When we got back to our hostel, Inti Raymi was in full swing and all night we were woken several times in the night by firecrackers and revelers singing and dancing in freewheeling circles.
"As part of the celebrations, lively music accompanies dancers who are led by the Aya Uma – a mythological character believed to be the spirit of the mountain. A respected member of the community will play the part of the Aya Uma, by wearing a mask with two faces (representing day and night), and with twelve horns (representing the twelve months of the year). Stamping their feet to encourage Mother Earth to be rejuvenated for the new agricultural cycle, the dancers go around in circles which represents the two equinoxes and two solstices that take place annually. Musicians in the center of the circling dancers play music which represents the life-giving power of the sun, while the fruit carried by performers is an offering made to Mother Earth in gratitude for the harvest. " (ecuador.com).
And that is very much what we witnessed :)