Ecuador: Isinlivi, Otavalo + Cotacachi

We sadly waved good-bye to the Galapagos Islands and flew back to Quito. After a quick night at our old hostel, we left first thing in the morning on a mission to visit our New Zealand friends Liz and Alex. Our journey to the Cotopaxi region south of Quito consisted of three bus rides totaling eight hours on mostly slow, windy roads up into the beautiful Andean countryside.

I mentioned in an earlier post how so much of our time spent in Ecuador could be summed up by relationships. True to point, our last week was all about spending time with friends we’d connected with earlier on our trip. The beauty of having a fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants schedule is that our plans are flexible enough so when friends invite us to come and visit them, it’s easy to say yes.

Isinlivi: Hostal Llullu Llama

We spent three days in Isinlivi, a small mountain village high up in the Andes, with Liz and Alex while they volunteered at the lovely eco-lodge Hostal Llullu Llama. Yes, that is the most excellent name ever, isn’t it?

We had good fun reconnecting with these two. We pulled them away from their volunteer duties long enough for us to go on a few hikes together (along with Balu, the hostal’s enormous St. Bernard) and relax in the on-site spa. They have been backpacking around South America for six months and we’ve been to many of the same places, so our stories are endless and quite entertaining. They are also traveling to Colombia next so we spent a good amount of time reading guide books and talking about the next leg of our journeys. We will definitely spend some time in Colombia together.

Literally in the middle of nowhere, Llulla Lama is a full-service hostal which means they offer a three-course dinner and a hearty breakfast because there aren’t any restaurants in the tiny village of Isinlivi. We really enjoyed the community aspect in that all the guests ate meals together, sharing travel stories while passing big bowls of delicious food. We gathered around the fireplace in the cool evenings, watched stars in the dark sky and really appreciated the beautiful Ecuadorian landscape.

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We left Llullu Llama early on a Friday morning to head north to Otavalo. Our first stop of the day was to visit the famed Quilotoa Lake. Situated at nearly 13,000 feet, the two mile wide crater lake is quite the sight to see…. even on a cloudy day. We were reminded of our beloved Crater Lake in Oregon, which we explored almost one year ago on our road trip across the US.

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Liz took this picture on a different day. Impressive!

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Otavalo: Market Day

Eight hours and several buses later, we arrived in Otavalo, north of Quito. A city of 90,000 with a large indigenous population, Otavalo is famed for its huge Saturday market. A third of the town actually transforms into stalls selling everything from hand-woven textiles, jewelry, musical instruments, leather goods, raw foods and imported items like clothing and shoes. Many of the stalls also sold pretty indigenous clothing like blouses, skirts and colorful hair ribbons. Of course there was a huge selection of food carts and fresh juices as well.

We started the day at 6:00 am by visiting the animal market where bulls, cows and pigs were being showcased and sold on a dirt-packed parking lot. There were smaller animals like guinea pigs (dinner, anyone?), chickens and goats for sale on many street corners. The hustle and bustle was entertaining and fun to observe. We were especially fascinated watching people line up to drink fresh goat milk that was milked to order, straight from teat to cup. Ummmm fresh!

We spent most of the day walking up and down the streets taking it all in. The market was, for the most part, clean and orderly. We had vendors say hello to us, but largely we were left alone which was a welcome change from the incessant hawkers common in many of the other markets. We had a wonderfully stimulating day and I now have a beautiful South American necklace (my only souvenir!) as a reminder of our 10 months down here.

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Cotacachi: Cowboy Festival 

Cotacacachi is only a 30 minute bus ride from Otavalo, which just might make that our shortest bus ride in South America! Our American friends Sandy and Tayo, whom we met on the Ecuadorian coast in Olón, were waiting for us with open arms at the bus terminal. It was so fun to see them again. I don’t think we stopped talking all day.

Sunday happened to be the Cowboy Festival, complete with a horse parade down main street and a (gentle) bull fight in the outdoor arena. It was fun to see the locals in all their cowboy splendor.

Tayo made us guacamole for dinner, and we all had a big laugh when Harry and Sandy went to the store to buy chips and inadvertently came home with a huge bag of cheese puffs. Who knew you could buy cheese puffs in Ecuador? They were good in that tasty-but-gross kind of way. Then the power went out, so we ended up eating cheese puffs and guacamole — an interesting and quite tasty combination — by candlelight. We discussed at length the political and social differences between Ecuador and the US. We truly enjoyed our 20 hours together! We were so appreciative of their hospitality, friendship and the endless hot water in the shower.

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Up Next: Colombia (Not Columbia) 

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