Cotacachi & Otavalo, Ecuador

Our journey to Ecuador from Medellin, Colombia should have been fairly easy and straightforward; but if we’ve learned anything thus far, it is to expect the unexpected. After boarding our plane, we sat at the gate in Medellin for more than two hours while an ornery passenger made a scene (for reasons that are still unknown to us). We thought that airport security would swiftly move in and remove said passenger, but nope…two long hours of negotiations ensued before the crazy guy finally walked off the plane. There are times when we miss the United States’ efficient, solution-oriented systems: this was definitely one of those times.

We had an overnight in Quito, Ecuador’s capital, before continuing on our way to Cotacachi in the north. (We spent more time in Quito on the latter end of our trip, so I’ll share more about the city in a forthcoming post!)

The next day, we caught a bus to Cotacachi to meet Jeff’s family friend, John, who has a place there and was kind enough to let us stay with him. This was the first time on our trip we’d stayed with someone we know, and John’s generous hospitality (not to mention his incredible home) spoiled us rotten!

John’s digs in Cotacachi — no suffering here!

Though I had never met him before, I was particularly excited to meet John simply because he speaks English (I’m still working on transactional Spanish, so I’m not exactly having meaningful exchanges with many people in Latin America besides Jeff).

As we arrived on John’s doorstep, I whispered to Jeff, “I hope John is ready to chat!!” and I was only kind of kidding. Luckily for me/us, John turned out to be an excellent conversationalist and all-around awesome guy.

One night, after much prodding, we got John to play some guitar for us! He’s very good.

After we settled in, we hung out with John and learned a bit about what brought him to Ecuador: turns out, it’s a great place to retire. John is part of a community of American expats who live in Cotacachi; some live there year-round; others, like John, migrate seasonally. [“MORE English speakers in the immediate vicinity??!” I thought to myself. “Be cool…be cool…be cool.“]

That night, John invited us to join him at the Traveler’s & Sportsmen’s Bar in Cotacachi for some live music — specifically, a piano and violin duo. The music act was late getting in from Quito, so we ordered some dinner and drinks and hung out with some of John’s expat pals, all of whom were incredibly welcoming and easy to talk to. The pianist and violinist eventually showed up and — to my surprise — stopped all of our hearts with their BEAUTIFUL music. Here in this tiny, windowless bar in a small town in northern Ecuador, I heard some of the most stunning and skillfully executed music I’ve ever heard. [I wish I could share the videos I took, but WordPress wants me to upgrade my plan which ain’t gonna happen. Let me know if you’re interested; I’ll text them to you directly.]

The next day, Jeff and I set out to explore Cotacachi and the neighboring town, Otavalo. Cotacachi is known as Ecuador’s “leather capital” — there are countless stores and stalls with beautiful, high-quality leather items. It just so happened that my leather purse needed to be fixed (if you read my post about almost being robbed in Cartagena…that’s why) and I was able to get it all patched up for a mere $5 USD! Jeff also purchased a nice handmade leather wallet.

After doing a little shopping, we came upon a church service that had spilled out into one of the town’s squares. The high-energy service included live music, so we plopped down on a park bench to enjoy it for a while before moving on:

Passively observing a lively church service

We caught a quick cab over to the town of Otavalo, which is perhaps most famous for its massive artisan market in the Plaza de Ponchos. The Otavalo Market is actually the largest indigenous market in South America, and it reaches peak capacity on Saturdays. Though we missed the Saturday market, the Sunday event did not disappoint. Sidebar: I can’t stop buying alpaca things: figurines, blankets, keychains…someone help me!

One (tiny) corner of the massive Otavalo Market

After plundering the Otavalo Market for all things Alpaca-related (gloves, hats, magnets — seriously, I have a problem), Jeff and I heard some live music starting up. For the *third* time in less than 24 hours, we were in the right place at the right time: we got to enjoy some traditional Ecuadorian music and dancing. After clapping and loudly cheering at the end of a couple of songs, Jeff and I realized that Ecuadorians don’t really voice enthusiasm as — ahem, boisterously — we Americans do.

Live music in Otavalo

On our third day in the Cotacachi/Otavalo area, Jeff and I decided to check out Lake Cuicocha, a caldera at the foot of the Cotacachi volcano. The trek around the lake –reminiscent of Crater Lake in Oregon — is just over eight miles and therefore a perfect day hike.

It’s hard to put in words how incredible this particular hike was. Though you essentially hike the perimeter, seeing the lake from a slightly different angle every few minutes keeps things interesting. We made so many stops along the way to gawk at the scenery and/or take photos — the hike probably took us double the time it should have!

Jeff on the Lake Cuicocha hike (that orange half-zip has gotten a lot of use!)

On our third and final evening in Cotacachi, we went out to dinner with John and a buddy of his at a restaurant downtown (pretty much everything in Cotacachi, by the way, is within a 20-minute walk). Once again, we had a great time talking and hanging out with our American pals. We probably could have happily stayed with John in Cotacachi forever, but as the old adage goes: “guests and fish are good for three days” (or something like that).

We miss you already, John!

Next up: Ecuador’s Intag Valley! Jeff has promised to write the post on our time in Apuela, Ecuador, so feel free to pressure him to get his act together. In the meantime, check out the post on our scary zip line experience in Apuela. Until next time!

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