otavalo market mayhem

otavalo market ecuadorJust across the border in Ecuador, and a short distance north of Quito, is a small town where the women are renowned for their remarkable weaving skills and vibrant textiles. Visit mid-week and you might think this to be a quiet village, but as Intrepid’s Summer Davis explains, come the weekend you’ll see the true colours of this Indian market town…

“Rowdy roosters ring in the sunrise as the faint sound of clanging metal and bustling vendors signals Saturday morning in Otavalo. Not yet six o’clock, early risers assure their tables will be set-up before the mayhem of marketing begins.

Like a flash flood, the biggest bazaar in the Andes fills the small town’s main streets and squares until it overflows with regional indigenous artisans and their handicrafts. Silky scarves, Panama hats, llama wool ponchos and everything in between drape and dangle from covered kiosks, blowing in the breeze to the reverberating tunes of a typical Andean pan pipe. The notes of El Condor Pasa hover above the square before soaring off into the clouds covering the nearby Cotacachi volcano.

A verdant quilt of patchwork, the mountainous countryside surrounding Otavalo lends its vibrant fruit to the town’s market today. This Saturday tradition seems as sacred as religion, its rituals occurring weekly, repeatedly folding and displaying, bargaining and bagging, packing and unpacking. Indigenous women brightly dressed in embroidered blouses and gold necklaces beckon buyers to bargain at their booths while traditional men wearing white-on-white and black hats saunter about the stalls in search of perfect purchases.

Down the street from the town hall, flowers and foodstuffs fill the covered meat market in a rousing rush of roses and victuals. Cheap chancho (roast pig) and luscious locro (local soup) are dished out to local diners and adventuresome tourists willing to eat amongst stacked chicken heads and pigs’ trotters.

As the sun sinks towards the emerald Vulcan Imbabura, the highland air cools significantly, signaling the end of events and the hurry to close up shop before dark. Final sales are hastily negotiated and products disappear rapidly into bags and boxes. Not yet six o’clock, both early-risen shoppers and vendors tally their wares tiredly after another twelve hours of this magical marketing mayhem!”

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* photo by Moira Schlossberger – Intrepid Photography Competition

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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