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Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Old World Pleasures of Otavalo

Otavalo is a town famous, both for its weaving and other crafts, and for the variety of Andean Native American peoples for which the town is a local centre.

These peoples have fared far better than many other ethnic groups in Ecuador combining their skills with a sense of cultural affirmation so that they are supposed to be one of the most well appointed ethnic communities in Ecuador.

This cultural strength according to Denis the proprietor of the Rincon del Viajero where wee have been staying also say this results in Otavalo being one of the safest places in Ecuador, not least because anyone who rips off or injures one of the tribal people is likely to find themselves facing a code of silent vigilante justice in which they may simply be eliminated.

Most of the women and many of the men pride themselves in wearing clothing signifying their tribal identity. Thus you can see in the town women wearing a variety of 'national dress' a few with top hats, others with black towel scarves or bright blue ones. They also wear white blouses embroidered with flowers , a woven hair ribbon and a skirt belt.

Otavlo is famous for its Saturday craft market but the town is much quieter and more pleasant on the days just after the market has been finished. By late mid week the hostels rapidly fill up with gringos waiting for Saturday's event. But there is a 'poncho market' selling all the variety of tourist crafts every day of the week, and strangely among the bizarre variety of wrist bands, ponchos, Panama hats blankets and jewelry, none of the stalls have any of the raditional belts or hair ties and really only cheap junk for the gringo tourists to buy to say they got it in Otavalo.

Otavalo gave me my first chance to get out of the hotel and have some exercise and to try to get my pinned hip working and the blood flowing. I discovered on the internet that although it looks like a solid engineering reconstruction of the thight joint screwed right through into the ball joint, actually it is a sliding construction that is designed to impact the two bone faces together in parallel when you walk on it with about 25% of your body weight. This ensures bones are able and encouraged to actually knit together again through the forces and electric feilds generated by light walking in crutches.

The first day I managed to very slowly do a 15 block tour of the town taking asome photos and watching the people, but it was excruciatingly slow for Christine. I have mastered the angels to heaven devils to hell rule about stairs (good foot first going up bad first going down with the crutches on the lower step at each stage).

The second day we changed my dressings (none of the pharmacias had any useful dressing not even packets of band aids). By the third day I suddenly learned a new way f walking which is 1-2 good-(bad+crutches) rather than the unstable 1 3 2 walking putting the crutches down before the bad foot. Suddenly I am able to walk nearly as fast as Christine. There is a supermarket called Aki a few blocks further out from the Rincon but its not a regular supermarket and most people seem to shop at the traditional government run fruit and grocery market called Commisariat or Copacabana. This means that many normal supermarket items are completely unavailable in Otavalo.

The third day we finally tried to go out and get some form of good quality traditional textile for Christine's collection. We had seen a woven skirt belt for $85 in a shop bu t there seemed to be nothing at all in the poncho market.

Eventually we saw a fine skirt band poling out from one of the women sellers skirts as she sat and asked her where we could find them. There than ensued a long tortuous bargaining session in which she gradually came down from $100 gradually to $60 but then after we had hobbled back to the hostel turned out to be $70. We nearly gave up but we could be leaving the next day so we decided to get it so we at least had something.

Then they made us wait 10 minutes while they went to get a coloured woven hair tie but we insisted in the blue shaded belt and finally departed on good terms taking a photo of her and her esposo together. She rally liked her belt and it matched her blue embroidered blouse so even if it was overpriced it is a kind of treasure and the only thing we have bought.

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