May 10th we visited both Otavalo and Cotacachi, cities located relatively close to Quito. It was another early start and finally all of our Galapagos group had arrived. Several of our group members had a delayed transfer in Houston the previous day due to poor weather in Dallas and finally arrived in Quito at our hotel at approximately 3 AM the morning of May 11th. I was very impressed that they made it to breakfast that morning and joined us on this tour!
After breakfast, we again boarded the bus with our guide and proceeded to Otavalo. Otavalo, capital of Otavalo Canton, is a largely indigenous town in the Imbabura Province of Ecuador. The town has about 90,000 inhabitants  and is surrounded by the peaks of Imbabura (4,630 metres (15,190 ft)), Cotacachi (4,995 metres (16,388 ft)), and Mojanda volcanoes. They are famous for weaving textiles, usually made of wool (that is sometimes as black as a raven), which are sold at the famous Saturday market. Although the largest market is on Saturday, there is a very wide range of wares available throughout the week in the Plaza de los Ponchos, and the many local shops. The shops sell textiles such as handmade blankets, tablecloths, and much more.The Otavalo market consists of ninety mushroom-shaped concrete umbrellas with benches. The market was designed and built-in 1970 by Dutch architect Tonny Zwollo. During the market’s peak, almost one-third of the town becomes full of stalls selling textiles, tagua nut jewelry, musical instruments, dream catchers, leather goods, fake shrunken heads, indigenous costumes, hand-painted platters and trays, purses, clothing, spices, raw foods and spools of wool. Prior to visiting the handicraft market, we also visited the animal market. This was an interesting experience. Let’s just say that the SPCA would have had a field day here with cramped enclosures, rough handling, all manner of animals for purchase and consumption and even rooster fights for “entertainment”. I am not sure what Richard’s kids made of it all. We then proceeded to the main market by foot and then split up to photograph and/or shop. The market was MUCH bigger than I remember it from 2008. I guess business has been good! Anna, Amy and I had lunch at a very Americanized restaurant and then met up with the others- with Anna and Amy’s shopping bags bulging and each of them possessing very satisfied smiles- at 1 PM on one corner of the market as the rain started to fall heavily. We got drenched on the short walk back to the bus and because of the weather had to delay our trip to Cotacachi by visiting a local weaver indoors for a demonstration of this ancient art and of course to shop!
We then proceeded on to Cotacachi. This city is located five miles northwest of the artisan city of Otavalo, about 3 miles west of the Pan-American Highway (Route 35). It lies in the valley between the volcanos of Imbabura and Cotacachi. There are two main entrances to the city, both off the Pan-American Highway. The first entrance feeds directly into the city’s main square, while the other turns into the famed Calle 10 de Agosto (locally known as Leather Street). Cotacachi boasts one of the highest concentrations of indigenous people in the country of Ecuador. Due to its location close to the metropolitan areas of Ibarra and Quito, as well as it’s proximity to the coastal province of Esmeraldas, it is also home to great diversity. Many mestizo people (coming from Quito) and many Afro-Ecuadorians (coming from Esmeraldas) live in and around the city. In recent years, the demographic has shifted to include many foreign retirees. On a recent census, the number of resident foreigners totaled more than 500. A definite option for retirement! Most of our group was interested in shopping for leather goods at great prices. I simply enjoyed walking around and looking for an actual cafe for an espresso! It was quite funny as I had developed this craving as soon as I got off the bus in Cotacachi (maybe it had been all of those early mornings) and spent the next ninety minutes searching for a place to get my fix. I had given up all hope and was heading back to the parked bus when I noticed a great little cafe and pastry shop literally 10 m from where the bus had dropped us off. Clearly, I needed that joe! I was joined by Darren and Pat, and eventually Janet, who all agreed they could make a great espresso!
It was a quiet and relaxing bus ride back to Quito as we got back about ninety minutes later than expected due to the earlier weather delay. It was time to re-pack (again) as we would depart for the “Enchanted Islands” early the next morning. It would be great to return to the Galapagos and share this with Anna who had never been there before. Sleep came easily.