Market Day in Otavalo

I am not much of a shopper. I don’t enjoy malls or trying on clothes or searching for the perfect gift. Additionally, I’m not good at spending money on myself. My first reaction is always, “I don’t need this.” And though that’s probably true most of the time, the truth is I live a comfortable existence where I have the freedom to occasionally buy something that I simply want, not need.

I’m also immensely practical—to a fault in fact. How will I get that home? Does it match my couch? Where would I put it? Would I have to dust it? All these questions and more go through my head, with the end result being that I hardly ever buy whatever it is I’m looking at. Most of the time this is fine, but occasionaly I regret my decision, and wish I had “splurged.”

On this trip, we have bought very few things so far, and for the most part it’s not been because I’ve been overly practical (though if I go back to Pucon, I’m buying the Don Quixote metalwork piece, to hell with how I’d get it home); we simply haven’t found too many things that we like. I admit that we don’t spend all that much time looking; very rarely do we go into stores, but we do usually check out the markets. And though market shopping is the one type of shopping I do enjoy—Eastern Market just might be my favorite place in D.C.—I’ve been disappointed time and again in the markets we’ve found in Central and South America. In general, I find that the goods are generic; what I see in Nicaragua, I see in Chile, I see in Peru, etc. Again and again I see woolen socks with llamas on them, the immensely ugly drawstring pants Jeff and I have taken to calling “hippie pants,” wooden flutes, paintings of geometrically shaped indigenous people, and a slew of other items that I’m not entirely convinced aren’t made in China and then shipped here to be sold as “authentic” South American items.

But yesterday, we traveled north from Quito to the city of Otavalo to visit their famed Saturday market. The market is huge—in a few hours, we covered at most half of it. People in indigenous dress mix with people in modern clothing, buying and selling.

Hats, which nearly everyone seems to wear here, deck both heads and booths.

Entire families perform musical interludes in hopes of making a few bucks.

Nearby shops open up their doors and hope market goers wander in. Tiny restaurants roast entire pigs and then carve plates of food straight from the pig (why don’t we ever take pictures of the good stuff!?). It’s a feast for all the senses.

As for the goods on offer, a fair amount of what we saw was similar to what we’d seen elsewhere—there must be a lot of people buying this stuff, I’m just not sure who—but we also found quite a bit of stuff that we hadn’t seen before. And for once, we actually bought a few things. It was fun. We looked, we compared, we bargained, we bought. As for the worrying about how to get it home later, well, we’re saving that for later. Right now we’re holed up at our friends’ home, conveniently ignoring the fact that one day soon everything has to go back into our backpacks and onto our backs.

One Reply to “Market Day in Otavalo”

  1. Markets are great, aren’t they? Well, good markets. I went to a mall a few months back, the first time in a very long time. I was stunned at how sterile it was, how boring. There was no vibrancy, no fun, like you get in a good market.

    Man, I need to find a market!

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