The shrill tremolo of the bus drivers assistant as he hung out of the door soliciting passengers. Our fellow travelers were a mixture of mestizos, indigenous people and tourists. Saturday is market day and the magnetic draw of Otavalo, the biggest and probably most commercial market in Ecuador brings traders from far and wide. As we trundled through the barrios of Quito dodging cars and buses we picked up an assortment of people all bound for Otavalo.
To make up for the slow progress through Quito was more than made up for when we hit the Pan American Highway. Any vehicle traveling less than 60 mph was fair game for our fearless driver. Oncoming traffic and bends in the road were little distraction for the man on a mission. The combination of intricate curtain trimmings and frame to frame transfers meant that we got to see little of the countryside; probably just as well because Sarah was cutting off supply of blood to my hand.
Otavalo is much as I imagined Ecuador to be. The streets arranged in neat criss-cross patterns around large market squares and a Plaza Major were teeming with indigenous families. The ladies adorned in fantastic puff skirts and embroidered white cotton blouses, all topped off with a felt trilby. Many of the ladies were heavily burdened with shopping, goods for sale or young children tightly bound in large swathes of blue cloth. Most of the market stalls were firmly aimed at the gringo market. However, one section of the market gave us a feel for what a true country market would be like. Several rows of stalls, overseen by mostly elderly indigenous ladies, sold fruit, vegetables and the staple crops of maize and quinoa. Next to these rows were food stalls selling fried plantain, potatoes and whole fish.
This morning we head off to Baños a small town at the foot of the Tunguruhua volcano. The guide books suggest that it is an Ecuadorian mecca for outdoor activities: rafting, hiking, quad biking an downhill mountain biking.
Did I say biking? Well we almost managed a week sticking to Sarah's no bikes rule...