The town of Otavalo is best known (if you believe the guide books) for its craft market which hits its peak on Saturday mornings. It was Saturday and it’s on the top things to do in Ecuador in both of our guide books so we had to go. You can book a tour but we wanted a less tourist trip so we decided to take the local bus. We got directions in English from the local tourist office and off we went.
We started at the local bus station. We were told we needed to go to the end of the line which was a bus depot, Ofelia Station. From there we had to take another bus to the interprovincial bus station, Carcelen. It took us a little under an hour to get to Carcelen, the buses were crowded but the fare was 0.25 cents each. Local bus rides also include entertainment and snacks as vendors hop on the off the bus selling their wares and singers hop on, sing and ask for money as they go from the front of the bus to the back. There were lots of families on the bus and one little boy came up to me as we got off the bus and said “good afternoon” I replied with “buenos días ” he quite correctly pointed out it should be “buenas tardes “.
When we arrived at Carcelen we found the correct, rather long line for tickets to Otavalo and waited. When we arrived at the window we paid $2.00 each and got a ticket which looked like it had assigned seats for the bus. We were then faced with trying to find the right bus. Ecuadorian buses have cards in the window which say where they are going but they also tend to have names of places on them. A man came over with a sheet we were to sign. He looked at our tickets 8-41&42 and got us to sign a sheet for bus 8 we tried to sign on 41 and 42 but he pointed to 37&38.
The bus arrived and we got on not sure if we had been assigned seats and if yes which ones? The bus was pretty full and there were almost no seats left so we looked for any spot we could find and assumed the numbers on the tickets had no meaning. Harold actually found the only two together at the back so we sat there. About half way through the trip we discovered that they were 41&42 so what we thought was random was really quite logical! The bus ride was two hours long and we even got a movie! Pretty good deal $2.00 for the ride and the movie was free, United Airlines was charging $7.99 for the movies on the flight down! The bus was reasonably comfortable and the roads were in excellent condition.
We arrived in Otavalo and headed for the market which is truly huge. A lot of the vendors were selling similar stuff but there was still lots of really nice weaving, art, silver and knitting. We bought a hat for Harold, an alpaca sweater for me and some awesome hats for the kids. We bartered a little and generally paid about 20% less that original asking price for everything but even at the first price everything was a bargain.
The back end of the market included food vendors and stalls of fruit, vegetables and spices.
We took a chance and stopped by a lady stirring something that smelt good in a pan. For $1 each we got a bowl of new potatoes with spices and some sort of meat, with a topping of lettuce and fresh salsa. It was quite good.
After a few hours in the market we headed back to the bus station this time rather than getting tickets there were men yelling “Quito, Quito” and herding people onto buses. We got on a bus and I took advantage of the vendors and bought a gelato cone for .50 cents. It was great even though I think she told me the flavour was tomato.
We made it home by following our morning trail backwards. We had a little trouble finding the right bus at the terminal but a helpful stranger lead us to the right spot after we pointed at a map.
After our not overly successful attempts at shopping the previous day we managed to buy fresh tomatoes, onions and mangos on the way home. Dinner was much better than the pasta with ketchup from the night before.