Saturday morning in Otavalo, the downtown is flooded with locals and tourists alike. People from all over Ecuador and the world come here on Saturdays to buy souvenirs in the famous market. Starting with the nucleus in the Plaza de los Ponchos, the market sprawls down several blocks in the city of Otavalo. Some of the locals I know here like to boast that it`s the biggest and most diverse open-air market in all of South America. Though I don`t know if that statement is true, there sure are many things that make it seem so. All kinds of goods are sold here, ranging from: handicrafts, weavings, hats, wood carvings, leather products, clothing, jewelry, and “genuine” Nikes. Everywhere I turned, I would see and hear vendors shouting prices, customers haggling vendors for lower prices, or naïve ones paying overprice for their desired items. Sometimes, I felt overwhelmed being in this chaos – being pushed around by waves of people, seeing tons of bright colored weavings, and hearing garbled shouts all over the place. But if one were to be here, they could see that the city thrives from all this despite the craziness.
I ended up in the Plaza de los Ponchos, looking at booths with woven goods. They all were beautifully made, each one with unique patterns and designs. This sparked my curiosity in finding out where these came from. I saw two vendors sitting by their booth, so I asked them this question. They told me that all handicrafts are made locally from different towns. One town they mentioned was Peguche, where woven goods and Andean instruments are made. They told me it was close by, so I asked them how I can get there. I was told to follow the abandoned railroad tracks on the south east end of town.
I followed their directions and found the tracks. They led me through what must´ve been an hour and fifteen minutes of walking through urban neighborhoods, a rural countryside, and eventually, a cobble stone road. I reached the town and stopped by a nearby hostel for a map and directions. I was given a poorly drawn map, which quickly got me lost for awhile.
But I found the location later when I spotted and followed the church in the main plaza. There, I found two stores where they make woven goods. The first place I went to was José Cotacachi. There were many different types of goods, like rugs, table cloths, sweaters, and bags. I also saw the machinery used to make these things.
The next store I went to was El Gran Condor, where they had more variety of goods and saw demonstrations of fabrics being made from several different types of machinery.
My general observation from these two stores was that everything here is much more expensive than those items in the markets. I could get most of these at half their price in the Otavalo market.
I went to one more store a couple of blocks down the street. It’s called Ñanda Mañachi. They are known for making Andean instruments. It was an interesting shop – they had rows of different types of bamboo wind instruments, maracas, rain sticks, ocarinas, and charangos (small Andean 12 string guitar, body is made from an armadillo shell). The lady that worked there gave a couple of demonstrations of the wind instruments. The music was enjoyable to listen to – the Andean melody had a haunting, yet appealing sound to it. I thanked her afterwards, and then left, trying to find the bus terminal that would take me back home.
With that annoying map, I ended up getting lost and somehow on the Pan American highway. Luckily, there were several buses heading to Otavalo so I ran after one and caught it, then arrived at the terminal, and made a transfer back home. Overall, it was a good, but tiring day. It fascinated me to see how these artisan crafts were made because often times, we don`t ever see how the products we buy in the U.S. are made. It also made me feel good that the souvenirs I bought in the market supported the local economy. Just seeing the origins and history of these products added much more significance to my purchases too. And of course, I was also glad that I got home so I could shower, sleep and let my sore muscles rest.