Otavalo, Chickens, and the Effects of High Altitude

I arrived in Quito, Ecuador on a Friday night, and after spending the night at the Secret Garden hostel (recommended by two travel bloggers, Bacon Is Magic and Two Backpackers) I went searching for a bus to Otavalo to see the famous market. It doesn’t appear that the bus drivers keep track of how many passengers get on the bus, and they definitely don’t care if people end up standing for a good portion of the two hour journey. I actually ended up sitting in the seat next to the driver, which was clearly for the other employee who was collecting everyone’s money or tickets. It seemed a bit odd and even a little awkward at first, but I soon realized I had the best seat in the house. I had front row viewing of all the beautiful scenery we passed on the way to Otavalo, and I felt alive just being in a foreign country again. The driver even told me which way to go to get to my hostel when we arrived. 

After I put my bag in my room, I had to force myself back out the door to go explore the market. I was struggling because I already had a headache from the high altitude.  Quito and the surrounding areas are at about 2800 meters, which is almost twice as high as Denver, so it took almost no time for my brain to scream at me from lack of oxygen. But I did make it to the market, and it is as huge and impressive as I’ve heard. I wandered around for a few hours admiring the handmade scarves, sweaters and ponchos while laughing at the number of stalls selling bras and thong underwear and the man walking around trying to sell 10 pencils for a dollar. I finally got to the food stalls, and everything smelled really good, even if looking at chicken feet isn’t quite so appetizing. I ended up eating lunch (chicken and rice, mandatory for that part of the world apparently) with three girls from the US.

Re-energized and ready to consider shopping again, it starting pouring. I decided to just make my way back to my hostel. I don’t really travel to shop anyway, and I just couldn’t motivate myself to make any purchases no matter how nice and inexpensive everything was. I didn’t take any pictures at the market because it was so crowded, but I did get a picture of a gorgeous old church a few blocks from my hostel.

Otavalo, Ecuador
church in Otavalo

At dinner, after I ordered my food, the server brought me over a shot glass of something warm, which I think was tea because it did not smell or taste like alcohol, and a bowl of popcorn. This really confused me, was the popcorn in place of the bread basket we’re used to getting in the States? In any case, I was hungry and it was sitting in front of me so I ate it. I slept for many hours that night since the altitude also made me tired, and at least I woke up headache-free the next day.

After checking out, I grabbed a $1 taxi (all taxis within the city of Otavalo are $1, don’t let any drivers tell you otherwise) and got on the return bus back to Quito. I didn’t have a front seat view this time, but I did catch occasional glimpses of the very creepy, very bad movie about aliens taking over the world. Maybe 20 minutes into the journey, I heard crowing. Confused, I looked around to see if I could figure out what was going on. No one else flinched, so eventually I just ignored it and continued to listen to my ipod. A few minutes before the final stop at the Quito north bus terminal, a man got up from the row in front of me to exit the bus. He had two little slightly moving bags on the floor and a rooster in his arms. I can only imagine there were chickens in those bags as well. I guess even on the “nice” long distance buses in Latin America, people are still allowed to bring chickens along with them.

Despite high altitude induced exhaustion and headache, I enjoyed my time in Otavalo and the bus trips to and from. I will remember for future trips to high altitude locations to give myself at least a day to just relax before doing anything even as simple as walking through a market for a few hours. At least that’s what I say now, I don’t like to feel like I’ve wasted a day, so we’ll see if I actually follow my own advice!