Thursday, October 7, 2010

Otavalo & Mitad del Mundo - Ecuador

Two lovely day trips from Quito made for quite a nice weekend – Otavalo, an indigenous town in the Imbabura province, is known for its lively Saturday market. There is no shortage of handmade textiles, many of which are spun from wool. Colorful sweaters, bags, scarves, wall hangings, purses and hammocks dominate the entire town for the day, and the streets are packed with foreigners and Ecuadorians alike. The prices are competitive and low, I feel lucky I managed to escape with only purchasing a necklace, a pair of earrings and a scarf! There is also quite a large food market with everything from fruits and vegetables to bread and sweets to entire pigs laid out with their body parts being chopped off one by one as people pick what they fancy that meal.

Otavaleña women wear traditional clothing which includes intricately embroidered white blouses with lace sleeves and long black skirts and a series of beaded necklaces. The men wear bright white pants and ponchos, with their long hair pulled back in a ponytail if they have it. David, Deborah and I wandered up and down the streets for hours, stopping only for an almuerzo (set lunch, ranges in price from $1 – 2, but more about them later). A short, packed bus ride and we were at a waterfall outside of town, along with throngs of other people who needed a relief from the hectic market. Beautiful, nonetheless.

Sunday was the perfect day to visit the equator, Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) as it’s called here. Located in the Pichincha province, this line is the claim to fame for Ecuador, where you can stand with one foot in each hemisphere if you choose. There is an attractive monument and museum on the line which was believed to be the exact line of the equator before GPS came around, so with a friend from school in Quito (Ian) we hung out there for a bit before heading over to the true line, which is just 240 meters away. Not bad calculating considering the year of its discovery was 1743!

On the true line of the equator you pay $3 to get in the area and have a little group tour, which includes some fun tricks with the magnetic forces of the earth – balancing an egg on a nail, watching water funnel on either side of the line (opposite directions) and then go straight down when on the equatorial line itself, all sorts of interesting experiments. There is also some fascinating information about indigenous people of the region, including an exhibit of shrunken heads, a practice where severed heads were kept as trophies of war.

Before heading back to the city, Ian and I stopped for lunch – I stuck with the classic almuerzo, while he branched out to try something new. Turned out to be cow hoof soup. Whoops!


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