On Friday we went to Otavalo and Cotacachi (north of Quito) for a "rural experience" or Runa Tupari, which means encuentro con indigenas (encounter with the indigenous) in Quichua (the native language). The drive was quite short and pleasant as it only took just over 2 hours to get there. On the way we stopped en la Laguna de San Pablo to see a nice big lake.
We arrived in Otavalo and met with the Runa Tupari tour guides who took us all to different indigenous homes in different little pueblitos around Cotachachi. The pueblito where I stayed (and Alex too) was called La Calera. I was warmly met by Jorge, my 30 year old host dad for the weekend. Jorge took me on a house tour and showed me their chanchos (pigs), cuys (guinea pigs) and chickens. We then walked around the flower, fruit, and vegetable gardens, as well as their corn crops. They had quite a bit of land that stretched all the way back to where you could see a beautiful view of the valley, a river, and the local electric plant. I then met Alexandra, his wife, and Chichi, their 2 year old son, and ate great maiz soup, meat, rice and beans for lunch.
Alexandra then invited me to go to Otavalo to do some grocery shopping. We left after she changed into her traditional clothes which consist of un analo blanco (a white skirt) under un analo negro (a black skirt), una camisa bordada (a colorfully embroidered white shirt), un collar y aretes de mullos (a golden necklace and earrings), una cinta (am embroidered belt), la fachalina (like a shawl), y alpargates negros (black sandal-like shoes). As we walked down to Cotacachi I asked her why she changed her clothes (she had originally been wearing blue sweats). She told me that the women always wear their traditional clothes, but since she had been in the house doing shores, she changed into something more comfortable (and reasonably so as their clothes are really heavy, delicate, and super expensive -can cost up to $1000 for just one outfit, something which Jorge laughingly said keeps indigenous men from getting married). I also asked her why the men didn't wear the traditional clothing. She told me that it was probably because of the nature of their work and because they tend to travel so much. Men's traditional clothing consists of a white shirt and pants, a black sombrero and white alpargetes. I should also note that the men let their hair grow out and for me it was hard to distinguish, in the kids especially, who were boys and who were girls. Usually though, men wear their hair braided and the women wear their hair in a pony tail wrapped with long ribbon.
We went to Cotacachi with Nina, Jorge's 16 yr old niece, and her mom and they showed me around the plaza. Cotachai is mainly known for its leather products (appearantly you can buy a nice leather jacket for about 60 bucks); it's pretty small but a lot bigger than La Calera. There, we took a bus to Otavalo where we bought tons of vegetables for like 2 bucks. On the ride back to La Calera we took a bus with one of the most hilarious kids I've ever heard. He told us great jokes that had the entire bus cracking up, all the while trying to sell us some candy.
When I came home there were a lot of neighborhood kids hanging around the house. Turns out they were all Chichi's cousins that lived in the houses next to ours. Moncho, the 12 year old cousin, invited me to go take a walk around Calera. We walked around and he showed me the local school (for only 1st-4th grade) and the two volleyball and soccer fields where they like to play. When we got back his sister Panshis, who is 6, his brother Daqui, who is 3, and their other cousin, who is 10, invited me to play futbol with them. Even though I knew I am horrible at futbol I couldn't say no to their adorable faces. We ended up just kicking the ball around the gol and played with a girl who was introduced to me by Panchis as the best young female soccer player in La Calera. After they got tired, their other brother, Rumi (who is 9) wanted to know if we wanted to go on a walk with him (he was sent to go get some manteca - lard). We said yes, of course, and walked around La Calera once again, although through different streets. While the kids fought to hold my hand as we walked (que ternura) I was shown where their other aunts and uncles lived, as well as where the big soccer field was. Needless to say, it was a great night.
On Saturday morning I woke up early to go to the aminal market in Otavalo. We saw all kinds animals being sold including llamas going for about 80 bucks and sheep for 45. There were also chanchos, goats, cows and horses. It was quite an interesting experience. We then walked to el mercado artesanal (Artisan Market, which Otavalo is famously known for). They sell all kinds of great Ecuadorian textile products like shirts, blankets, shalls, sweaters and so much more. We did some shopping for like 4 hours then went to lunch with David, our 21 yr old Ruma Tupari guide for the day.
After lunch he took us to a house where a couple worked on weaving. They showed us the entire process, from spinning the cotton into yarn and then the actual weaving process. Sumak Mikui ("excellent taste") was our next stop. They make food products out of native crops, such as andean squash seeds, uvillas (dried gooseberries), mermelada de moras (blackberry marmalade), and ahi (pepper paste). David then took us to see a farm that had all kinds of plants. Because there wasn't so much to see as they were working on fixing up the place and Jessica was craving a beer, David took us back to Cotacachi and we each had a Pilsner.
That night I played with the kids again. This time they showed me how to play a version of hangman where you have to guess the word but instead of drawing the different parts of a man you cross off steps of a staircase and fall in a lake and die if you don't guess the right letters/word in time. Because the smaller kids didn't really know how to spell words, we proceeded to play about 654 games of matching Winnie the Pooh cards. Although this was fun, I was kind of relieved to hear that David had come so that I could ask him some questions about being indigenous (for my ethnicity project) and then hang out.
Saturday night was awful because I didn't get enough sleep. Even though I was extremely tired after having hung out with David til pretty late I couldn't go to sleep because there was a graduation party close by with really loud music that went on until about 5 in the morning. To top it off, it wasn't great that I had to be ready at 8:30 on Sunday for our visit to la Laguna de Quicocha. The lake is on a crater and has three little islands in the middle of it. It was cool to take a little boat ride around the islands and see the volcanic bubbles that came up to the surface. It was also fun to hike around the top of the mountains and see the great view from above.
The trip was a great experience and I'm pretty sure I'm going to go back to visit.