As a rule I plan my travel very thoroughly, and know exactly where I want to go & what we are doing. That didn’t happen today. We had booked a bus trip to some markets in a nearby town which Jess & Chris recommended. I assumed we would just be driven to the markets & collected, but it turned out to be that and so much more.
Our guide for the day was our old friend Oscar who accompanied us to the Cloud Forest yesterday. He was eager to show us much more of the area than just a market, and we had a wonderful day. Around half the group have already left Ecuador, so there were only 7 of us on the bus (plus Oscar and Marcelo the driver). We were collected at 8.30 and headed out of Quito.
Quito is situated in the Andes Mountains. It is a very hilly city, and surrounded by towering peaks, some snow covered. Driving through the surrounding countryside was just lovely, with mountain vistas, small villages, and cultivated fields. The mountains are permanently covered in clouds, but it was a clear day with blue skies, and quite warm, which was a bonus.
The first port of call was “La Mitad del Mundo” – the middle of the earth, which is a sundial marking the site of the equator. It was fun to stand with one foot in the northern hemisphere and one in the southern, and there was a surprisingly interesting presentation about the solar clock, the equator, pre-Incan archaeological sites and how we draw the map of the world the wrong way.
Nearby, in a small town called Cayambe, Oscar took us to a little bakery where they make the local speciality, Biscochos, a crumbly pastry/biscuit and a cheese called Queso de Hoja, which was a little like fresh mozzarella. Of course we all had to taste the product – both were quite delicious.
We stopped at a little view point to admire the snow capped mountains and the lake beneath. It was a lovely view, even if the lookout was somewhat touristy – there was a young boy in traditional dress posing with a llama and an alpaca for photos, the look somewhat spoiled by the fact that he was eating his lunch out of a styrofoam bowl. When we left there we were accompanied by a young native Ecuadorean woman called Christina who demonstrated the national dress and sang a couple of songs in the native tongue. She also had some shawls she happened to be selling, but since they were pretty and very inexpensive we all bought a few.
Eventually we reached Otavalo, the site of the market. On Saturdays it is a bustling farmers market, but the rest of the week they sell local handicrafts – alpaca wool jumpers and ponchos, rugs, jewellery, carvings, musical instruments and more. We had an enjoyable wander and bought a few things, but didn’t get too carried away. There was a bit of the usual hard sell, but we didn’t find it too intimidating. We probably paid more than we needed to for what we did buy, but it was all very cheap.
By now it was 1.30 and time for lunch. Oscar promised to take us to a little place he knew – it turned out to be a hacienda, a lovely old ranch house set in beautiful gardens. We were welcomed by a mariachi band, and had a great meal in very elegant surrounds. Unexpected but delightful.
The drive back to Quito was quite long but very scenic. I think most of us slept part of the way, but we all enjoyed the scenery of the Andes and were glad of the opportunity to see a bit more of the areas than we had expected. A great way to spend our last day in Ecuador.
We got back to the hotel in time to say goodbye to Chris & Jess. They did such a great job in organising and running this trip, teaching us photography skills, being unfailingly cheerful & helpful. It was a privilege to travel with them!
By dinner time there were 6 of us left, and we met in the hotel restaurant for a light meal and a last catch up. It’s a funny thing, travelling for 2 weeks with a group of strangers who quickly become friends. It was a really good group, with people of different backgrounds, ages and careers, but with a common interest in travel, photography and wildlife, and we all got along famously.