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August 29, 2010 / Jim Fenton

Day 10: Otavalo and vicinity

This is part of a series about our vacation to the Galápagos Islands and mainland Ecuador. To see the first article in the series, click here.

August 15, 2010

When we booked this trip, we thought it would be a shame to come all this distance and not see some of the human culture as well as the animals. For our first full day in Quito, we arranged for an all-day “Otavalo cultural experience” tour. Joining us on the trip were three members of another family from the cruise. Our very knowledgeable tour leader was named Antonio.

Otavalo is about 2 hours north of Quito on the Pan-American Highway. We quickly realized how rugged the Andes Mountains are around Quito. The road is well-built and wide enough, but the hills are steep. From Quito’s 9500 foot elevation, we descended down deep ravines and up hills, down to 6700 feet and up to 10200 feet, with many more twists and turns than are visible on most maps.

On the way to Otavalo, Antonio gave us a bit of a history lesson. Since early in 2000, Ecuador has used the US Dollar as its currency, a painful change in terms of loss of savings for virtually everyone. However, it has been a very positive change in stabilizing the economy by ending a period of hyperinflation and improving confidence in the economy.

Equatorial Monument

Equatorial Monument

Our first stop was at the equatorial monument. Since I was watching the GPS, I knew that we had crossed the equator and back once already, due to the switchbacks in the road. The monument we visited is actually about .111 minute (about 678 feet) south of the actual equator indicated in my GPS (I tried both the WGS84 datum and Bogota map datum with similar results). This is probably due to a survey error, although Antonio pointed out that the earth’s wobble may account for a change in position. Antonio doesn’t like the other visitor center closer to the actual equator because there are some exhibits on Coriolis effects that he believes are rigged. He described them, and he’s probably right about that.

We continued to a small town that is noted for small pastries. We tried some, and they melt in your mouth. Seems like they have a lot of shortening.

Otavalo Market

Otavalo Market

We arrived at the Otavalo market about 10:30 am, and spent an hour shopping and buying a few small things. It is local custom to bargain a bit when buying something, but i almost felt guilty about that because even the asking prices were so reasonable. I ended up getting a couple of souvenir t-shirts for $4.75 each, an embroidered blouse for Celeste for $9.50, and so forth. The busy day at the market is Saturday, and it was a little quiet on Sunday morning although business picked up as we were leaving.

José at his loom in Peguche

José at his loom in Peguche

From Otavalo we went to the small village of Peguche to visit José Cotacachi, a local artisan weaver. He demonstrated his loom and his assistant showed us the pigment cochineal, which is an insect that when crushed yields a strong red pigment that can be modified by the addition of an acid, a base, or sulfur powder. Kenna found a wonderful shawl there which we purchased, much higher in quality than anything you find in the public market.

We then took some back roads to Cusin, a hacienda where we had a wonderful lunch of Andean food. There were several local specialities whose names I unfortunately don’t remember that were very good.

On the way back, we stopped by another small village, Calderón, where they make small figurines out of pastry which they lacquer to stabilize it. The work they do is much more detailed than one would expect would be possible with pastry dough.

As we returned to Quito, we experienced one of the afternoon showers common in the region. We ended the day with a very favorable impression of Ecuador and its people, who were very friendly and kind to us.


Leave a Comment
  1. Barry Leiba / Aug 30 2010 8:08 pm

    My sense is that any attempt to demonstrate Coriolis-effect differences in the hemispheres, especially so close to the equator, have to either fail or be rigged. Still, I’d be interested in what the descriptions were that Antonio gave.

    • Jim Fenton / Aug 30 2010 8:59 pm

      Kenna helped me to remember the description: The experiment was supposed to show water spiraling in different directions on different sides of the equator as it drained from a pan. But the pans that were draining were rectangular, and the point at which water was being added was different enough relative to the pans (or perhaps there was one pan being moved; we didn’t see it) to account for the difference in direction of the exit water.


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