May 2, 2014 – May 5, 2014
After checking in to Ecuador, a simple matter of walking across the bridge in Ipiales, getting a quick stamp in our passports and a dismissive wave off from customs, we hopped in a taxi to the nearest bus station. Besides the fact that Ecuador uses American money, there is one immediately evident difference between the two countries, and no I’m not talking about their flag because they are almost the same, things are cheaper, a lot cheaper. A large meal can be had for a few dollars, a bus ride will cost you approximately $1.00 or less for each hour of travel, and lodging is almost half the cost of Colombia. For $2.00 each we hopped on the bus for the three hour ride to our first destination in Ecuador, the town of Otavalo.
Tall volcanic peaks rise up high above the city.
This small city sits in the shadow of several volcanoes, and is known for its massive Saturday market and its abundance of hiking and climbing in the surrounding mountains. Continuing our tradition of not making any kind of reservations we showed up at Hostal Chasqui and got a room, and enjoyed the view from our balcony of the city and the surrounding mountains. Throughout this trip we have found that available lodging is never a scarcity and not having any reservations or time schedules leaves us free to stay or go as we please. In fact having reservations has caused more headaches than not having any, because suddenly we would have to be somewhere at a certain time.
The next day was conveniently Saturday so we decided to get up early and check out the Saturday Market. There are actually two separate markets, the livestock market and regular market. The livestock market begins early in the morning at dawn and lasts until around 10am. It’s a muddy field of squealing pigs, bored cows, clucking chickens and nearly every other kind of livestock you can imagine. The animals are surrounded by boot wearing farmers loudly negotiating prices and the occasional tourist picking their way through the patches of mud and other foul things looking at the animals and taking pictures.
Otavalo livestock market
After tiptoeing through the livestock market we made our way to the massive street market in the city center. We had read that it was a large market but weren’t prepared for the nearly 30 blocks – by my estimate – of vendors stalls. Otavalo has a large indigenous population, that still observes traditional dress and customs and they come to the market en mas to sell their handicrafts. We walked for hours through the streets, closed off to traffic, perusing nearly everything you can imagine, clothes, Alpaca hair blankets, brightly colored fabrics, produce, meats, handcrafted jewelry and electronics, even fossils.
After walking the market place for a few hours searching for that illusive deal, we stopped by the section where street food vendors were grilling up, frying, boiling, and burning just about everything imaginable for hundreds of hungry customers.
We stopped at one place that looked popular, tables of patrons wolfed down steaming bowls of soup, then the bowls and spoons were given a quick dunk in a dubious bucket of water and wiped with a dirty rag before being returned to service again with another piping hot ladle of soup. So of course we tried some!
We walked around the city for hours and around every corner was blocks and blocks of even more things for sale. By the end of the day we had not been able to see everything there was to see. This market makes Pikes Place Market, the famous market back home in Seattle, look incredibly tiny.
We discovered the Otavalo cockfighting arena in the afternoon, it turns out that cockfighting is legal in Ecuador. We decided to duck in for a peek, we were the only foreigners surrounded by mostly Ecuadorian men, and chickens in the circular arena with one row of chairs, and four or five rows of bleachers. After observing the betting which precedes each fight, and a few fights, we were ready to take off. We had left our camera charging in the room, not expecting to do more than grab some food in town, so we have no pictures of the event.
After the mass of humanity and pushy sales pitches of the market place, we elected to spend the next couple days hiking through the surrounding mountains. We went first to Laguna Cuicocha, elevation 3,246m (10,650 ft), a crater lake left over from the volcano’s last eruption. A five hour hike and one hour rain storm later we made it all the way around the crater rim.
Fuya Fuya Volcano
Having liked the scenery outside of the city, the next day we moved to a hostel a few kilometers out of town up a dirt road into the foothills of the mountains. We also wanted to climb another volcano, Fuya Fuya. So after purchasing some lunch snacks in town, we paid a taxi to take us up the dirt road to the new hostel, wait while we checked in and dropped off our bags, then another 11 kilometers up a bumpy dirt and cobble stone road to the Lagunas de Mojanda. At 3727m or 12,230 ft the end of the road at the lagoon serves as the base for climbing Fuya Fuya. Total hire time for the taxi was one hour for $16.00. Our driver was excited to take us up the mountain as he said he had never been there before.
The actual trail was difficult to find, there is no clearly marked trail that we could find. There is however several small unmarked trails that wander about through the grass. You can see the main trail in the distance and we just had to push through the grass until we reached the trail.
Mt. Fuya Fuya, an inactive volcano which rises to a height of 4,286 m (14,062 ft), looms above another large water filled caldera created when a neighboring volcano tore itself apart in an ancient eruption, and offers great views in every direction.
At only around three hours round trip climbing Fuya Fuya, it turned out to be an easy fun hike, as long you’re comfortable with the altitude and have good weather, we recommend it.
After the hike we did not have a taxi, so we started the 11 kilometer walk back home.
There are many great hiking options in the Otavalo area, but pressed for time we had to move on. We felt Otavalo was a great introduction to what Ecuador has to offer.