After spending a few nights in Quito I was thrilled to be spending a day zooming around the Andes with Paula and her husband Jon. We hopped in a van in the early morning and were soon bolting outside of the city and zig zagging our way up and down the dry desert of the Andean mountain range.
Our first stop was La Mitad del Mundo “The Equator Line” where we stood on a massive sun-dial made of a rock. mosaic We were given a delightful educational briefing on the historical and scientific significance of the area which focused mostly on the cosmos (and a fantastic constellation map that they have developed). It was rather fun to hop up and down along the equator line whilst trying to “feel centered.”
Next stop was the pastoral town of Cayambe which sort of reminded me of Switzerland. Fields filled with cows, across a mountainous backdrop. Cayambe is known as a dairy town (and our guide informed us that Nestle has a facility here). Every shop on the street sells the local snack, bizcochos, a biscotti style pastry enjoyed dipped in dulce de leche and accompanied by a cup of coffee and fresh farmers cheese. Just down the road was a beautiful look out point of a snow capped mountain and lake below (everyone sells Panama hats here)!
We were very lucky to be making our trip to Otavalo (the countries largest and oldest indigenous market) on a Saturday as it is the busiest day of the week for vendors to sell everything from handicrafts to live pigs (insert oink oink here). I had been to many Andean markets in my previous travels to South America so the visit wasn’t groundbreaking but certainly nostalgic. My fondest memory of the market was Paula’s search for two Alpaca blankets. We bartered with several vendors and once we found a woman who would sell her two for a great price we couldn’t find her again. It was like finding a needle in a haystack. We were lost in a maze of Andean textiles.
From Otavalo we drove to the neighbouring village of Cotacachi, famous for its leather goods. We stopped off at a local restaurant for lunch. I immediately ordered a large bottle of Pilsner and we all snacked on the basket of savory treats at the table (popcorn, plantain chips and corn). Our guide insisted we order a bowl of the local specialty soup which featured cream, cheese and avocado (a delight). I ordered a plate of fried chicken with chips and a salad. Jon ordered crispy beef (the dish I ordered at Cafe Vista Hermosa) which was served with a similar onion salsa and boiled corn. After lunch we briefly walked about town popping into what seemed like hundreds of store fronts that sold everything from boots to belts made of leather. I quickly rushed into the tiny village square cathedral before we jumped back in our van bound for Quito.