I’ve been traveling for over a month now. This has required me to engage in rather un-exotic activities, such as doing laundry. Here in Ecuador, instead of going to a laundromat to wash your own clothes, it’s more common to drop off clothes to be laundered and folded for you (I don’t mind). Last week I was in Otavalo, a town 2 hours north of Quito that is even higher up in the Andes, and couldn’t postpone laundry any more. I was confronted with the laundry dilemma of wanting to washing everything I brought with me, which would have left me with nothing to wear in the meantime. So I came up with the idea of wearing my scarf as a skirt, which allowed me to wash (almost) all of my dirty clothes.
I dropped my laundry off at the leisurely hour of 10, when the only laundromat (connected to a bar) opens in Otavalo. (Actually, it opened closer to 10:15...) Then set out to explore more of Otavalo.
First I took a taxi about 3 miles out of town to a Condor Refuge, which is home to one Andean condor (it’s huge!), as well as many hawks and owls, who were not able to survive in the wild because of injuries or, in most cases, because they fell out of their nests as chicks.
I decided to walk back to Otavalo from the Condor Refuge because the road is downhill and it was raining gently. On the way I saw this man herding his sheep:
I also stopped at this tree, El Lechero, which is supposed to have healing powers (or so claims the local population):
After I visited the healing tree, the rain started to come down harder and it got quite a bit colder. There were few people, and no taxis, so I plodded along, back towards town, to pick up my laundry. I didn’t go far before a 9-year old boy on a bicycle named Yamki joined me. He accompanied me all the way back to Otavalo, which took about 45 minutes, and made it his personal mission to see that I got back safely.
At a fork in the road, he insisted we go right, not left, because there were ladrones ‘robbers’ to the left. At the next fork, he insisted we go left, not right, to avoid perros que muerden ‘dogs that bite’ on the right. I confess I didn’t fully believe believe these fairy tale-esque dangers. But further down the road we were actually charged by two large dogs barking aggressively with teeth bared. Yamki protected us by using his small bicycle as a shield and the dogs relaxed, allowing us to continue our trek back to Otavalo.
I didn’t question his decisions after that.
Yamki told me that he wants to work in the construction business when he grows up, which is his father’s profession. I personally think he would do quite well as a tour guide, or perhaps as a diplomat. In any case, he made my rainy laundry-day afternoon a lot more pleasant, and certainly a lot safer.
I arrived back at the laundromat around 5 pm. My laundry wasn’t finished yet (you’re getting a sense of “Ecuador time,” I hope), so I ordered a beer at the attached bar. (Brilliant business model, by the way.) A craft beer scene has started to pick up some momentum in Ecuador, so I was able to enjoy a nice porter with hint of fig.
Otavalo is a medium-sized town with a cute square, a large market and a thriving native/indigenous community, but what really inspired me to come here was its natural setting. Otavalo is surrounded by volcanoes and mountains with names like Imbabura and Cotocachi, crater lakes such as Lake Cuicocha (which in Kichwa means Guinea Pig Lake because of the two islands in the center that resemble guinea pigs), and waterfalls, and provided me with some of the most spectacular views I’ve had since the Galapagos.
Meeting people like Yamki (who’s name is also from the Kichwa language, by the way) was just an added bonus. But it’s a pretty big bonus, I’d say!
On Tuesday I left Otavalo for a 5-day stay in the remote cloud forest of Ecuador. It’s so remote that the closest town - Santa Rosa de Pucará - doesn’t show up on Google Maps. Neither do any of the nearby roads. But, of course, there’s internet (I’m blogging from the cloud forest right now!)