Every one we encounter in Ecuador has a strong opinion about Otavalo. Otavalo is advertized as South America’s largest craft market. Opinions range from “don’t miss it” to “too commercial, too many tourists”.
We resolved the “too many tourists” issue by going on Monday, i.e. not on “market day” which is Saturday/Sunday and draws a large crowd. The first impression we get of Otavalo is that we are in a distinct culture. Otavalans mostly dress in traditional clothing — long black skirts, embroidered white tops, strings of gold necklaces and long black hair wrapped with fabric into poney tails or braids. The men. strikingly handsome with strong Inca features, copper colored skin, wear their long, thick black hair also in braids. Traditional dress for men is white pants and blue panchos, and of course the ubiquitous hat.
The actual market square is mostly ponchos, blankets and sweaters — not the kind of things that will be very useful to us in Nicaragua. We do find some very interesting jewelry made from Tagua, which is a large Tropical Forest nut that is very hard and lands itself to colorful beads.
The best part of Otavalo, however, for us, was not the market. It was the 3 year old Parque Condor, which is a rehab and education center that focuses on “raptors”, i.e. hawks, eagles, owls and condors. This “park” sits atop one of the many mountains with nothing else to disturb the view but other mountains. We were disappointed to see that the park was closed, on Monday. But, after pleading with the Quechua speaking attendant and explaining we will probably never come again and were leaving the next day, she kindly invited us in to take a stroll through the park. Fifteen species of raptors, in large bamboo aviaries, were simply awesome. We were not able to see the daily “flight” demonstrations, but were nonetheless happy to see animals that for the most part are on the verge of extinction. A couple of Condors, enormous beast of a bird that they are, mate for life and these two are very rare. There are only 40 condors left in the world!