Otavalo and Mindo, Ecuador

Quito had been another whistle stop trip where we managed to see many sights in a short space of time. Ecuador being such a small country in South America and our goal to reach Mexico by May 1st meant that we were whizzing by and not wasting any time. We took a bus to Otavalo; a town north of Quito and famous for its huge weekend market. As we walked through the streets looking for a place to stay we saw that a parade was going on. Children dressed in bright sparkly costumes danced in formation behind cars blaring super loud dance music. It reminded me of Glastonbury Carnival. Spectators shot foam at each other from cans costing $1, inevitably some foam came our way. We found a hotel and Carl checked in, the hotel owner explained that the price was per person not per room which meant that it worked out to be too expensive for us. Slightly disappointed we walked along to the next block and found somewhere else. It was in no way up to the standard of Carl's hotel, the room we were assigned was up some dirty stairs to the top floor. The bed took up practically the whole room and was dingy to say the least. The shared bathroom was just along the hall and looked like a shower in a shed with a door that didn't lock and bits of wood and metal sheeting to cover holes in the roof. The upside was that it was dirt cheap allowing us more spending money for market day. We found a Mexican restaurant for dinner and then made a mad dash for our hotels afterwards as there was a huge downpour and thunderstorm. 

 Spices and Flowers at Otovalo Market, Ecuador

Spices and Flowers at Otovalo Market, Ecuador

 Fabrics and Fashion at Otovalo Market, Ecuador

Fabrics and Fashion at Otovalo Market, Ecuador

The next morning we ventured out for market day. The streets had been shut off to cars and stalls were gradually being put up row by row. Everything was being sold, from spices and vegetables to textiles and antiques. The market was a maze of tables and tarpaulin, we wandered down each aisle until we felt we'd seen everything on offer. I ended up spending around $40 on souvenirs for loved ones and myself. The most interesting stall was owned by a gentleman wearing rainbow coloured clothes and two sets of glasses, he looked like a wacky scientist. He had with him an array of coins from all different countries and he'd painstakingly cut out with a tiny saw parts of the coin to reveal the coins pretty image. Craig found an Argentinian coin displaying the sun, the artist had cut out around the suns rays creating a beautifully intricate effect. The market was fun and lively and a great place to finally buy some bits and pieces after months of only buying the bare essentials.

 Snack Stop at the BBQ Corn Stand, Ecuador

Snack Stop at the BBQ Corn Stand, Ecuador

The next day Craig and I would be moving onto Mindo while Carl would stay behind in Otavalo and then travel directly to Colombia. Before separating we decided to take a taxi to a lake that Craig had read about. After paying the $25 taxi fare we realised that we'd pointed to the wrong lake on a map, the lake we ended up at was pretty mediocre and it was a bit of a miserable day to boot. We chalked it up to our bad luck in Ecuador.

Once back in Otavalo we said goodbye to Carl and boarded our bus to Mindo. I was excited to get to Mindo, a town in the cloud forest sounded magical and intriguing to me. Our bus was stuck in traffic as a car had veered off the road and off a cliff, a sobering reminder of how dangerous South American roads can be. We were dropped on a main road an hours walk from Mindo itself with no taxis in sight. Annoyed we started to walk muttering how difficult our travels had been in Ecuador compared to everywhere else. We managed to flag down a car which turned out to be a taxi and we paid a few dollars to be taken to the bottom of the hill. The town was bustling. An American man introduced himself and led us to his tour office where his glamorous girlfriend called hotels and hostels searching for a room for the night. I couldn't understand how every room in the town had been booked and started to feel irritated that the only places available were well over our budget. I couldn't be sure if we were being taken for a ride or not. With our only other option to catch an evening bus back to Otavalo a good few hours away we decided to accept an expensive room in a home stay. A lady walked down to collect us and led us to her place, it turned out that she was a masseuse that rents her spare rooms out to tourists. She showed us to our characterful room and then walked us around her garden. Pointing to various plants she explained which gave her fruit and which she'd inherited when she moved in. Hummingbirds hovered magically in the air, zooming from one nectar rich flower to the next. We learned that it was a national holiday which is why the town was so busy and felt foolish for not arranging accommodation in advance. After a mediocre dinner we retreated to our room early to watch some True Detective to cheer ourselves up from another challenging day.

 Ending Up at the Wrong Place, Ecuador

Ending Up at the Wrong Place, Ecuador

 The Cable Car in Mindo, Ecuador

The Cable Car in Mindo, Ecuador

We woke the next day and decided to pack our bags to leave in the afternoon. The $20 fee for the room was too expensive and we didn't feel like staying for another night. We watched hummingbirds in the morning and then walked into town to get breakfast at a tiny sandwich shop housed inside a quaint shack. The owner was super friendly and the food cheap and delicious. We caught a taxi to the open air cable car so that we could at least see the cloud forest that we'd endured all this trouble to see. There was a huge queue as the cable car can fit just six people at a time and we found ourselves waiting in line for over an hour. Once in the cable car we whizzed over the tree tops to the other side of the valley, we could see dense forest all around and cloud covering the tips of trees in the distance. At the other side we walked down a steep slope to a waterfall. It started to rain causing the path to turn into a slippery muddy mess, we decided after seeing a few cascades to return to the cable car befriending a stray dog on the way. It felt great that despite the steep uphill walk I was able to trudge on without stopping, a reminder since the Santa Cruz trek to appreciate when I can walk without difficulty. Luckily we didn't have to wait too long for a return ride on the cable car, we stood up which made the experience slightly scarier but fun and caught a taxi back to the town. After another stop at the sandwich shop to refuel we returned to the garden and relaxed in hammocks while we waited for our 6pm coach. We left the hummingbird garden and bought ourselves some barbecued banana and corn before boarding our bus. Thanks to more holiday traffic the journey was delayed and once we got back to Quito it was a late and wet evening. There were no taxis anywhere around and so we had to go looking for one in a part of the city that we weren't familiar with. Eventually we flagged one down but he didn't have a clue where our pre booked hotel was and despite seeing its position on a map we couldn't see it in real life either. Tired and frustrated we checked into a random hotel on the main road, yet again cursing our bad luck.

 Flora at the Cloud Forest, Ecuador

Flora at the Cloud Forest, Ecuador

 Flora at the Cloud Forest, Ecuador

Flora at the Cloud Forest, Ecuador

The next day was the last day of February and our last day in Ecuador. I mentally totted up all the negative experiences we'd had and felt relieved to leave the country, hoping that Colombia would offer us a fresh start and some better luck. In fairness the hotel we'd been forced to stay in was ok and actually cheaper than the one we'd booked. We popped down the road for a local breakfast and were approached by a local man and his daughter. On hearing our British accents he asked if we'd like to stay with his family to befriend his daughter and help her learn English. We were quite sad that we had to turn him down, our strict time limits meant that we hadn't the time to spare. Perhaps it would have made for a positive experience to end Ecuador with, the friendly chat alone was welcome.

We hailed a taxi, boarded a bus for a five hour journey, caught another taxi to the Colombian border, received our exit and entry stamps and then caught another taxi to our first Colombian hotel named randomly 'Hotel Las Vegas' in Ipiales. Finally, we had arrived in our last country in South America after six months of travel. 

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