We spent the week relaxing in the unique Ecuadorian town of Otavalo, famous for having one of the largest open air market in all of South America. Thanks to a collaboration with Otavalo community members and St. John's University/ College of St. Benedict, Cole had spent time in Otavalo once before, so he was able to navigate his way around the town as we spent time exploring Otavalo's markets, nature, cuisine, and even a traditional hospital for a good ol' fashioned Guinea Pig Cleansing... Yes, you heard that right--a Guinea Pig Cleansing.
In the morning, we only had about 30 kilometers to bike until we reached the town of Otavalo. "Adam, you won't believe it,' said Cole. 'At the hotel, they have the BEST cookie/ice-cream dessert that you'll ever eat." This proved to be more than enough motivation for us as we finally reached the city around noon. Cole had spent a week in Otavalo while he attended St. John's University, and we were going to stay at La Posada del Quinde, a magnificent hotel (and home of the 'BEST ever cookie/ice-cream dessert') because Cole knew the owner from his previous visit. Unfortunately, his memory regarding the layout of the town was a bit foggy and we spent about 45 minutes asking around for directions and being lost. Luckily, a couple of missionaries eventually approached us and pointed us in the right direction. We settled into our nice hotel rooms and then spent a few hours exploring the famous Otavalo market.
On a typical weekday, the market may seem small from the outside, but after exploring a few shops and tents, you may soon feel like you've gotten lost inside of a labyrinth full of beautiful clothing and jewelry. While the market is always pretty busy, the busiest (and perhaps most interesting) day at the market is on Saturday when the 'Animal Market' is also open. Even if you're not looking to buy an entire cow or a screaming little piglet, the animal market (open from 6am-10am on Saturdays) is definitely worth checking out. The food market is also another little gem in Otavalo, as its always full of locals looking to grab some cheap lunch. For some of you, eating at the local market may not be very appetizing (I've never seen so many pig heads and chicken feet on display...), but if you have a stomach that can handle it, the food is great and very cheap.
On Sunday, we spent time wandering the town and looking for a restaurant to watch the NFL Conference Playoffs. Luckily, we found one hotel with satellite TV and access to ESPN. We ordered a beer but we were told that the kitchen was closed on Sunday evenings. However, a few minutes later, the waitress told us that they’d open it up just for us. Feeling particularly homesick at this moment, we tried to remedy our sad emotions by ordering a cheeseburger. To our surprise, four other North Americans later entered the hotel in their search for the NFL games. They joined us for the evening and we were able to share many travel stories over a few beers. The football games ended up being amazing and this night of 'normalcy' felt great.
We spent the rest of the week exploring Otavalo, visiting the waterfall in town, and working on our website. At the end of the week, Cole convinced Adam to go to a 'Cuy (Guinea Pig) Cleansing' in a local clinic that specializes in traditional medicine (Cole had done this before on his last trip to Otavalo). We set up an appointment in the morning, paid $15 for the visit, and then proceeded to wait in the waiting room. From what we gathered about the practice, Cuy Cleansings are used as a form of preventative healthcare because a careful examination of a guinea pig body can shed light on health problems that a patient may be experiencing.
After a few minutes of waiting, an elderly Quechua woman led Adam into her office as she began opening a cardboard box with a live guinea pig inside of it. She directed Adam to take his shirt off as she held the guinea pig by the neck and began rubbing it down Adam's arms and stomach while quietly whispering Quechuan phrases. After about five minutes of this, the guinea pig stopped squirming; yet, we could still hear the sounds of its insides being jostled around as she continued to gently hit Adam's body with the now dead guinea pig. Eventually, she had us sit down as she took a knife to the guinea pig and began skinning it and removing it's insides. At this point, she had a different doctor come in to translate her Quechua to Spanish. The first thing she noticed was an irregular blood spot on the guinea pig’s neck. “Do you have neck problems?” she asked me. Well, she was right... after 60 days on the road, my neck was definitely the biggest problem that I'd been having. Other observances from the guinea pig: I had bad gas and there was a “fire” in my body. The remedy: a massage and drinking two bottles of coconut water for 3 days. Whether or not you believe in practices like these, it was an interesting experience to see inside of the world of traditional Quechua medicine.
We left Otavalo shortly after this but only managed to bike about 30 miles. Cole wasn't feeling well so we decided to stop for the day. The trip to Ecuador's capital, Quito, is a short one at about 90 kilometers (56 miles), but it proved to be very difficult for us. Quito is the world's tallest 'official' capital (La Paz, relegated to the term 'administrative capital', is actually higher) , and we were determined to bike all of the way up to its elevation of 2,800 meters (9,350 feet).
In addition to the gruesome ride itself, Cole still felt a little sick. Somehow, we biked on until we finally saw the city of Quito below after a 10-hour day on the bikes. Unfortunately, parts of the city itself aren't very bike friendly and we often had to lug our bikes up big cobblestone streets until we eventually made it to the Secret Garden Hostel and settled in. Exhausted, we ate dinner and then collapsed into our comfy beds for a good night's sleep. Unknowingly, we happened to be sharing a room with our new best friends, but more on that in the next blog post...