VASE organized a trip for all of the volunteers to travel to Otavalo, which is a city about two hours north of Quito, high in the mountains. We all piled into a little 12 person van and headed for the hills, so to speak. Otavalo is well known for its giant indigenous market, which has just about every variety of Ecuadorian handicraft you can imagine. Stalls upon stalls of ponchos, hammocks, bracelets, art, blouses…. Every time I passed by a stall someone would pop out of the stacks of clothes saying “Hola, senorita, que quieres?” Now, these people are quite small and tend to blend in with the colorful materials, so I was just a little terrified to hear a disembodied voice asking me what I was looking for the first time.
After spending an hour bargaining and buying, we took a hike to this amazing waterfall just outside of town. We had been warned that the water was very, very cold, but being a stubborn group we all brought our bathing suits anyway. Good thing we did, because the Ecuadorian standard of frigid water is about as warm as the Atlantic in August. It felt like bathwater to me! We were pummeled by the waterfall for about half and hour, pausing to take a photo or two.
On the way back, we stopped at Cuicocha, which is a crater lake formed by the nearby Cotacachi volcano a few centuries ago. Our guide who brought us up to the viewing platform made us all close our eyes as he lead us to the railing. The sight I saw when I opened my eyes took my breath away. This stunning blue lake framed by mountains just made me fall in love with Ecuador even more. We hiked down to the lake to take a boat ride around the two smaller islands in the lake. Word is that they’re populated with a ton of guinea pigs, and that’s why they’re considered a delicacy here. I’m looking forward to trying some delicious cuy one of these days – they’re sold off the street on spits with the claws still on. YUM.
We were back by 8 o’clock, just in time to head over to my host grandparent’s house for dinner. Brendan and Olga (the other volunteers staying with my host family) and I were surprised to find a fancy meal when we got there – somehow it wasn’t communicated that it was a goodbye dinner for us. My host father, Omar, made a very sweet speech saying that we were considered a part of the family now and were always welcome back at the house. I was thrilled that I just understood it all! Grandpa Hector fed me glass after glass of wine, then insisted that we all try a shot of his favorite liqueur. Thanks, Gramps, but it was pretty awful. Later Omar showed us a few of the documentary projects that he and my host mother, Paola, had been working on in the past few months. They do a lot for the Ecuadorian Air Force, and Omar described for us what it was like to be filming while flying in these huge jets. It looked pretty crazy to me, and thanks to Hector’s bartending skills, watching the planes do flips made me nearly go cross-eyed. I’ll miss this family when I move to my project!