Time flies by and standing here at the border we have a month of Colombian beauty stored in our memory and a bright Ecuadorian future in front of us. The border crossing is easy and fast at both sides and very tourist friendly at the Ecuadorian side. At the border control we find an improvised tourist office with in formation and maps from the whole country.
Here we take, together with the German girls, a taxi for 3,5$(per ride) to the bus station of Tulcan and together we take the bus to Quito. They get off at Ibarra and we get off at Cotacachi (2418MASL) where we are hosted by Holger, a friend of a very good friend of me. Holger guides as a bit around in Cotacachi and invites us on ‘humitas’. This Native American dish from pre-Hispanic times is in Ecuador prepared with fresh ground corn with onions, eggs and spices that vary from region to region, and also by each family’s tradition. The dough is wrapped in a corn husk, but is steamed rather than baked, toasted or boiled. Ecuadorian humitas may, not in our case, also contain cheese. This dish is so traditional in Ecuador that they have developed special pots just for cooking humitas. Ecuadorian humitas can be salty or sweet. In general: very tasteful and savoury. We talk a bit about everything at the humitas diner. We make the plans for tomorrow and go to bed early to have a good night rest.
The day in Cotacachi starts early so after a fast breakfast we are ready for the road. Together with the wife of Holger we go her work: The natural reserve of Cuicocha, containing the Cotacachi volcano. At 3100m altitude there is a path of 14km long marked at the very edge of the crater. It is the first time on our trip we feel the altitude affecting our physical conditions, this is a friendly welcome from the 7000km long Andes mountain range.
Ascending the ‘Las Orquideas’ trail for about 350m does force our hearts beat to go faster and the respiration get tougher. We make several stops to enjoy the view, popping out of the morning mist, and to recuperate from the physical effort. The day awakes when greyish mountain shades turn into every colour nature contains and while we walk high above the side of the lake, the many different birdsongs around us seems to receive us happily in their splendid habitat.
At noon (because 14km walking takes a while at these heights) we hitchhike back to the village. A truck brings us to the central place just in front of the local ‘comedor’, a roof covered terrace with several daily menus to choose out. Different chefs shouting their best dishes at sharp prices make it difficult to choose. And the worst part of it is that we are not familiar yet with the names of the dishes neither with the Ecuadorian way of cooking. So we chose what sounds the best… and get: first some Indiana Jones soup (mine of blended liver and Giorgia apparently had chosen the lung soup) and then a first class rice with chicken (we are lucky here that it isn’t the legs or head) for 1,75$ each.
Cotacachi is small but cosy. This city even holds UNESCO medal for being free of illiteracy. In 2000 the entire canton was declared the first ecological county of South America. So nice to spend a day of wondering around and for those who like shopping, it is the place to buy leather goods. Handbags, jackets, leather pants, bracelets or ever just the leather itself are exposed in vitrines in a range of colours. We enjoy the village and go late home and are already asleep before our host arrives at home. Again an early day in north Ecuador as today we go to the market in San Luis de Otavalo at 2250MASL(or simply Otavalo), the largest indigenous craft market of Ecuador (of whole South America some say). From every corner from the country sellers come to the ‘Plaza de Ponchos’ or ‘Plaza Centenerio’ to sell their colourful merchandise.
We can find literally everything here. Bracelets, earrings or necklaces and other ornaments, food, drinks, snacks and even a kind of caramelized bug, there are all kind of first hand or second hand typical handwoven clothes, toys, garden tools, kitchen electronics, alternative medications and even enchantment powders, car replacements and tires… you name it and if you look long enough you‘ll find it. It is an everyday happening but Saturday is the day to be and Sophia and Lara where thinking the same obviously as we come across with them in one of the many streets full of stands. We have a nice lunch together and split up again for the shopping. We have a hard time bargaining prices for the many presents we buy for our families but finally as the time passes by the prices get a bit lower and closer to our budget. So after a day of discussing prices at the local and touristic market at the same time, we sit satisfied in the bus back to Cotacachi.
A first positive impresion… so pleased with our new destination, we pack our backpacks to continue the trip to Quito, capital of the republic.
- If possible, try to combine your visit to Cotacachi at the annual fiesta of San Juan, San Pedro and San Pablo, also known as ‘Inti Raymi’, or the “Sun Festival” in Kichwa, in late June. Definitely worthy we think as there are many different ceremonies and a parade that sometimes degenerates into a rock-throwing expression of hostility between members of the indigenous Kichwa tribe and the mestizo majority population that co-exist uneventfully throughout the rest of the year. The ritual is a temporary enactment of social upheaval via the symbolic storming of the city, remembering ancient rivalries.
- There are many trails to discover and there are no entrance fees
- To and from Cotacachi everything is easy to plan as busses are regular and just cost 1$ for each hour of bus drive.