Today we took our first expedition outside the city limits of Quito. We were exposed to the Ecuadorian lifestyle in the more traditional town of Otavalo. Heading north out of the city this morning we passed through diverse landscapes. From the crowded streets full of commuters in Quito, we passed through small towns, then both arid and lush stretches of countryside. Since Quito is located in a valley surrounded by volcanic mountains, we had to drive along the roads that snake through the mountains. As the elevation fluctuated, so did the scenery. For sometime we drove past sandy, dried-out looking towns whose small cinder block buildings were flagged by cacti. The landscape evolved into green patches of sloping, aggregated land that appeared to extend out of the luscious volcanic slopes. We stopped at a scenic overlook to take photos in front of one of the worlds largest volcanos. Cotacachi stands 4,995 meters tall and overlooks a volcanic lake. During our photo shoot, we made friends with a local alpaca and llama.
Otavalo is a small city where various local indigenous peoples bring their handmade craft products to sell at the market. Otavalo is famous for its handmade crafts such as jewelry, bags, ponchos. The majority of the products are made of wool from alpacas. The biggest days for the market are Wednesday and Saturday's, as it was Wednesday we were in luck! I think we all got carried away with buying, bargaining and exploring the rows of stalls. We all ended up with some great souvenirs.
For lunch we stopped at a three hundred year old hacienda which has been converted into a restaurant and hotel. A three course meal overlooking a beautifully landscaped garden of exotic flowers. There were even a pair of peacocks that freely wander the grounds.
We ended the day at the equator, where we encountered a small tribute to place where the hemispheres divide. We all piled out of the bus for a photo opt as we spanned both sides of the equator.