Off to Otavalo

Posted by nancymueller
Posted on August 27, 2011
18 Comments
Tagged in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Our eyes meet.

We don’t speak each other’s language, but that doesn’t prevent us from connecting.

Her glance moves from my face to the camera hanging around my neck. “Go ahead,” she seems to say. “Go ahead.” “Can I take your picture? You want me to to take your picture?” I ask. “Yes, go ahead.” So I do. I wait for the pitch to purchase one of her creations, but it never comes. She simply smiles and goes back to her handicraft.

If you think Rumpelstiltskin was special for his ability to spin straw into gold, just wait until you meet the artisans of Otavalo Market.

The market merchants spin and weave their dreams into woven shawls, scarves and bags saturated in the most brilliant blues, riveting reds, deep forest greens and harvest moon yellows imaginable. For a Seattlelite like me used to living in a landscape painted in a palate of grays, the intensity of colors here is almost blinding.

As I turn the corner, I come across artisans selling stone tortoises, wood carvings, embroidered dresses, silver jewelry, tapestries

and colorful hammocks – the quintessential symbol for rest and relaxation. The only thing missing in this photo is me rocking in one, which come to think of it, would be a smart marketing strategy for the merchants. Who could resist the urge to bring one home after watching someone napping in one?

Otavalo, about a two-hour drive north of Quito, is well worth a visit, just to admire the color and craftsmanship of the merchandise alone. But I intend to do more than that. It’s time to do some serious damage – shopping!

While it’s possible to find the merchandise at other locations throughout Ecuador, you will find the best bargains at Otavalo, plus have the fun of talking with the artisans about their trade.

Before arriving, Giovanna explained that merchants expect buyers to bargain. Common practice is to offer just above half of the price, and ultimately try for seventy percent of the asking price. I decide to give it a try.

A merchant calls out to me in much better English than my Spanish as I walk by: “Look. Only $20. for this scarf. Good color for you.” When I smile and start to move on, the game begins. “How much you want to pay for this?” We bargain in a spirit of fun, and I leave with several treasures to take home.

Happy siestas, Wanderboomers!

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18 responses to “Off to Otavalo”

  1. Heidi says:

    Very nice photos – love the colors! Never been to Ecuador, but I think I’ll add it to my list.

  2. You cannot help but be struck by the bright and cheery colors of Ecuador and it makes you wonder about the psychology of them — does it mean the people too are cheery and happy? I was not there long enough to know, but the people in general certainly seemed friendly.

    • Nancy Mueller says:

      Hmm . . . That’s such a good question. I wasn’t there long enough to know either, but like you, I found the people I met to be friendly and open.

  3. Carolyn says:

    Is it too late to ask you to pick me up one of those rainbow hammocks?I purchased one at a market in Yucatan many years ago. Very comfy and beautiful,but long gone.

    • Nancy Mueller says:

      I know what you mean, Carolyn. The hammocks are so beautiful! When I stayed with friends in Brazil, they had a hammock hanging in their living room. When they wanted to take a snooze or watch TV, they just unhooked one side from the wall and strung it to another hook across the room. I’m sure you could order one on-line. Thanks for visiting my blog!

  4. Red Nomad OZ says:

    Gorgeous colours – particularly those wonderful tapestries!! And fascinating – because it’s so different from my experiences downunder here in Australia!!

    Have a great day!!

    • Nancy Mueller says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed this feast of colors. I have two more continents to go – Antarctica and Australia. Looking forward to reading about your experiences Down Under!

  5. Boyd Lemon says:

    Beautiful pics. All of South America is bursting with color!

    • Nancy Mueller says:

      Glad you like the photos, Boyd! I’ve only traveled to Brazil and Ecuador in South America – so far – but I love the intensity of color that I’ve seen ~

  6. These are beautiful!
    The colors are vibrant, they make me feel happy.

    • Nancy Mueller says:

      That’s it exactly, Marcia! The vibrant colors made me feel happy, too. It’s nice to know the photos did the same for you ~

  7. Julie Farrar says:

    After reading this series, I definitely have to put Ecuador on my travel list. Time to start working on my Spanish.

  8. Nancy MacMillan says:

    Ecuador . . . how lovely! Your first scene with the woman, the eyes and an unspoken language. The vibrant colors of the market place. Love your blogs.

  9. Jenny Cater says:

    Back in 1985 the place to shop was Otavalo Market and the peoples were all very happy. But how different the tapestries and crafts – I still have my woven wall hangings, and pottery – its seems they are now much more vibrant, colourful and more detailed. In there own way the Ecuadorians are perhaps keeping up with global demand.

    • Nancy Mueller says:

      Interesting you should say so, Jenny. My guide explained that the Otalavenos, the indigenous people who live in the Otavalo Valley, are good traders who travel everywhere to sell their textiles and weavings. It used to be that they didn’t need visas, but that changed when they began to travel globally selling their merchandise. Now as a group, they travel less to do so because of their ability to sell over the Internet. I’m curious to see the difference in their merchandise from the time you visited in 1985 to the present. Thanks for sharing your memories!

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