Otavalo's Equator Lines & Volcano Lakes
Day 1: Morning | Stand in the Middle of the World & Gorge on Biszcochos in Cayambe
Otavalo, a two hour drive from the heart of Quito is known for it's incredible Saturday market and gorgeous crater lakes but first, a few stops to get to know the local sites and culture.
First up was the Quitsato Sundail in Cayambe (also called the Solar Clock). This is where northern and southern hemispheres meet, marking the equator line. The 52 meter sundial is a large stone mosaic pattern identifying hours of the day, as well as solstices and equinoxes, as the sun casts shadows from it's 10 meter pole in the center.
The sundial's purpose is based on scientific research relating to astronomy, history and geography and is self-managed and self-financed. After our guide explained the history of the site and it's relationship to the area we were free to roam the grounds. He mentioned something about it being in the wrong spot, a few hundred feet off but I missed the details.
Of course you have to straddle the two different hemispheres on your visit.
Our next stop was Cayambe. Cayambe is the only region in Ecuador where you can try special biscuits called biszcochos. Locals love to pass through and pick some up, so we did the same.
Biszcochos are baked in a brick fire oven and made continuously throughout the day. The workers moved so quickly I could barely keep up with each step. There was rolling, twisting, slicing and placing the dough on baking pans as quickly as possible.
After watching the prep and baking process we were able to sit down and place an order. For $4 you receive café con leche, juice, eggs, bacon, fresh mozzarella and 4 biszcochos with caramel. The biscuits didn't seem so special on their own but combine them with mozzarella and caramel and they're out of this world.
Interesting fact: Ecuador uses the American dollar as it's currency so no need to exchange your bills.
Day 2: Early Afternoon | Learn the Origins of the Panama Hat at Mira Lago & Shop at an Open Market
Just outside the busy city of Quito everything is green. Our tour stopped off at Mira Lago and learned about the Panama hat which contrary to belief has never been made in Panama. It originates in Ecuador where weavers use toquilla straw from palm trees on the Ecuadorian coast. What surprised me most were the levels of quality for the hats. Depending on difficulty of the weave, some were less than $10 and others were almost $100.
Live music was playing in the gift shop and outside there was a little boy taking photos with a llama for tips. Sad to say, we learned it's best not to tip for a photo because the parents will continue keeping kids home from school to earn money from tourists (he also looked miserable and when I asked him if he was okay, he said he was tired, bored and hungry).
Mira Lago sat off in the distance. Even with a freeway, the scenery dominated the view. And with that, it was back on the bus.
In the afternoon we reached the Otavalo Market and off we went to explore. They sold food (mostly fruits and spices), blankets, bags, clothing and trinkets of all kinds. What I remember most were the bright saturated colors. Everything exploded with color - my kind of place.
As I typically do, after a few loops around the market I had enough items to fill an entire suitcase. I found a beautiful poncho, blankets, scarves made of Alpaca and even a hammock. I couldn't resist buying everything. The prices were insane but don't forget to haggle.
Day 1: Late Afternoon | Catch Views at Cotacachi Volcano & Shop for Leather Goods in Cotacachi Town
In the Ecuadorian Andes lies a caldera and crater lake at the foot of Cotacachi Volcano called Lago Cuicocha. In the indigenous language, the name means guinea pig laguna.
Sidenote: guinea pig is a delicacy eaten once a year in Ecuador so I requested to try it at lunch but the restaurant was sold out. What a bummer.
In the middle of the crater are two little islands. A while back you were able to camp on the island that's brighter green but it caught fire, twice. The brighter green signifies the new vegetation growing.
On the way back toward Quito we stopped off at a little town known for it's leather goods, Cotacachi Town. Leather shops lined the streets and almost immediately I found a beautiful leather bag for $75. Back home it would've cost triple the price so with only 50 cents left in my pocket, I considered it a win.
Our guide, Omar, requested we try a famous ice cream sold in town. There's no milk, just fruit and ice. He told us a story about how years ago makers would travel up into the volcanoes to gather ice to make ice cream. These days, it's unnecessary but there's still one man running up the volcano to get ice for his cream.