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The Northern Sierra

This past Saturday, I went on a day tour through the Northern Sierra above Quito. I had gone to Metropolitan Touring agency trying to get in on a tour to Otavalo, the big artesan market of Ecuador, but luckily for me the program called for stops in several other places as well.

The van picked me up at 8:15, and along with a Spanish couple and an Ecuadorian-Mexican couple, our tour guide and driver set off. We drove a short ways outside Quito where we stopped in our first town of Calderón. Calderón is famous for its masapán. These are small figurines, made out of a flour, glue, and water mixture, that are artfully shaped by craftsmen and then painted. They are particularly popular at holidays like Christmas. We stopped in a shop and saw one man deftly shaping small birds out of the masapán, and could see all the types of figures that he had made and was selling in the shop.

Continuing along the road we stopped at a mirador, a scenic overlook, and took a gander at all the volcanoes that surround the valley we were driving through.

From there we got back in the car and headed to a road stop near Cayambe, a town known for its bizcochos (a tasty kind of pastry) and queso de hoja (a mozarella-like cheese that comes wrapped in a large leaf). I tried the both of them together and they were pretty tasty. Also at the road stop was a small stand that sold various crafts of the kind sold at Otavalo. The family running the stand was all dressed in the traditional Otavaleño style, and I took a picture with their two daughters (and some pups that made their way in to the frame):

guaguas

Around the backside of the road stop were really great views of the Volcano Imbabura and a lake that sat next to it. Here I am, in front of the volcano:

imbabura

From there, we headed into Otavalo! The Saturday market occupied all of the Plaza de los Ponchos and spread out into the side streets. We had about an hour to weave through the tight aisles of stands, and I quickly burned my way through most of the cash I had at hand, buying alpaca blankets, silver & turquoise jewelry, painted wood crafts, gifts for friends and family, and more. Here is a shot of the market, from the side where lots of food is prepared and sold:

otavalo

After leaving Otavalo we stopped at a crater lake in front of Volcano Cotacachi. "According to local legend, Cotacachi is the area's symbolic mother, and Imbabura is the father standing watch." (From my Frommer's Ecuador guide book). Here is a picture of the volcanic crater lake, with Cotacachi to the upper right:

cotacachi

Here is the valley, which includes Otavalo and some of the other places in which we stopped,  on the other side, with Imbabura to the left:

valle

After this trip to the crater lake, we drove down into the actual city of Cotacachi itself and had lunch. The Ecuadorian-Mexican couple both ordered cuy (guinea pig), a traditional dish in some parts of Ecuador. I'd considered trying it while I am here, but after seeing their meals any desire to do has been lost. Served up on each plate was the ENTIRE guinea pig, whole. To the point that I could see its little nails and eyeball sockets. The Mexican wife was trying it for the first time, I think, and didn't like it. I am definitely not trying it now. Cotacachi is also a big center for leather goods in Ecuador, and while it simply can't compare to the stuff I saw in Argentina last year, it was cool to check out the shops and see what they had to offer. From there we set out back to Quito. See my next blog post for what I did Sunday!

Hi to the Scanellis, my family and friends, and everyone else reading back at home!

Catherine