Now that pandemic restrictions are lifted, Chantal and I are on the road again. This time, it was with our friends from Calgary, Dennis and Brenda Southgate. They were our neighbours at Mirador San Jose. They are also, it turns out, among the few people with whom we can travel, for up to several days at a time, and not want to hack to death with a blunt machete.
We decided on Otavalo because Dennis and Brenda had never been. Chantal and I visited often in the Before Times and were itching to return. We pulled the usual stops at Mitad del Mundo, Centro histórico de Quito, and El Panecillo. These were well-travelled destinations for the four of us. Little has changed. Dennis and Brenda introduced us to a café near Plaza de San Francisco that serves delightfully sweet and fluffy humitas.
Mercado Artesania Otavalo has become much kitschier than I remember. It’s mostly Jack Skellington ponchos, “traditional” Incan pot pipes, and other tacky knickknacks. The street food vendors are gone. Some serious craft workers still display their wares – Dennis and I bought beautiful woven jackets from a Quechua man and his son, who later agreed to pose for a photograph. The market has expanded down the side streets and alleyways that branch off Plaza de Ponchos. But it is touristy nonsense that draws the crowds today. If you’re on the hunt for something of genuine merit, the artisans at Quilotoa are probably a better bet.
The highlight of our trip was Hacienda El Porvenir, a centuries old farmhouse at the foot of a very active Cotopaxi volcano. We did not view Cotopaxi when we entered the national park; it was overcast, but the pyroclastic plains were something to behold.
We were the hacienda’s only guests, and we were treated to the finest hospitality Ecuador offers. We spent a very comfortable evening in front of a sputtering fire in the games room. (I say sputtering, because our Ecuadorian ranch hand attempted to ignite entire logs with a Bic lighter, rather than with kindling and chunks. An exasperated Dennis finally intervened.) Later we retired to our rooms, where the covers had been turned down and hot water bottles hidden between the sheets to warm our beds against the chill Sierran night. It was marvelous.
Next morning was bright and cold. I was still fuzzy from sleep, but Dennis noticed first: Cotopaxi in the distance, unobstructed and venting steam from its icy dome. We snapped plenty of pictures before breakfast and again as we left the national park.
An exit, I might add, that was drastically delayed because Chantal thought it would be fun to follow Google Maps to Machachi and the E35, and not to return the way we came. We wound up on a perilous goat trail and spent two hours driving past the same bemused Quechua farmer, until I turned us around and bounced back to Cotopaxi. Then it was furiously home, on some of the most treacherous switchbacks I have ever driven.
I received a speeding ticket in Santo Domingo, for doing 98 in a 90 zone: 135 dollars. Dennis is certain he got food poisoning at the KFC where we stopped for lunch.
Would we do it again? In a heartbeat! And, as it happens, also in two weeks – when my uncle Norm and his companion Pat visit from the States.
That will be a new adventure. I’m sure there will be photos.