Tradition is Alive and Dead in Otavalo

indigenous art Otavalo Ecuador

painted rock

After two days of solid buses, I couldn’t wait to get to Otavalo. After one of the easiest, quickest border crossings I’ve ever done, we hopped on another three-hour bus through the picturesque Andes, which are heavily farmed on this side of the border.

It was a gorgeous day, and I stayed entertained by the barren curves rolling in and out of view like beach break waves while we chatted with a couple of middle-aged Ecuadorian men squished in the back row of the bus with us.

It was a gorgeous day, that is, until the sky unleashed a torrential downpour five minutes before our bus arrived. We threw on our backpacks and scurried under the shelter of a crowded bus stop, watching despondently as taxi after taxi passed, either full or pretending not to see us. Another lady stranded by the rain informed us that taxis rarely stop in the rain, responding only to calls to the main office.

hotels in Otavalo Ecuador

courtyard in Hostal Doña Esther

Luckily, that proved not to be true, and after getting sprayed a couple of times by mack trucks and buses barreling through massive puddles on the road, one taxi bravely stopped for us. We plodded through traffic and arrived at the nicest place I’ve stayed at in South America, Hostal Doña Esther. This easily qualifies as one of the cutest boutique hotels in Otavalo, if not Ecuador.

Otavalo is a land of stark contrasts and things that make me go “huh?” It’s one of the most unique blends of old and new that I’ve ever seen. Otavalo is a primarily indigenous village, many of whose residents drive brand new cars. An old man in traditional garb sells Nikes with a reggaeton artist’s face plastered on the inside of his store. Students head to video tiendas after school, playing virtual war games on high-tech computers with plasma screens and impressive audio echoing the sounds of gunshots to passersby. Four-foot tall abuelas with 40-pound loads strapped to their backs hobble past local teens driving flashy cars, blasting sound systems worthy of the Dirty South (yes, that term does get capital letters… don’t hate).

Peguche Waterfall Otavalo Ecuador

Peguche Waterfall

Recovering from my initial confusion, I woke up uncharacteristically early and we made our way to the Peguche waterfall. An easy, 25 cent bus ride away, it is definitely worth the visit. We wandered aimlessly along the gushing river, enjoying the intensity of the sun. I wasn’t brave enough to get to close to the waterfall though, as it’s like sitting front row to see Shamu – don’t do it unless you want to get sprayed.

First impressions of Ecuador? It’s nothing like what I’ve been reading online. The people have been generally friendly and helpful, transport is extremely cheap, cevichocho is yummy, and… I think I’m gonna like it here =)