Our last guided excursion was today and happily today was going to be the shortest amount of time in the car. We left the apartment around 8:00 am and headed north out of town. Our first stop was at Mitad del Mundo. We have been some places this year that are really interesting that I would not have ever thought I would see. There is something special to me about actually being able to touch the equator. I always liked science classes, especially those topics that help describe the natural world. When I was in seventh grade, I made a model of the earth and moon. It had a crank that you could turn to watch the moon go around and around. On the earth I only labeled three things: the North Pole, the South Pole and of course, the Equator.
Mitad del Mundo is a private equatorial location on the side of the road. There you will find a very large sundial and a docent who will not only describe it to you, but also relay how the pre-Inca civilizations were able to locate the equator and prime meridians on a variety of mountain tops where there are ruins. He also gives spiels about how the origin of the word “north” comes from a word meaning “left” and how modern maps should be redrawn with a vertical equator to reflect the natural world. Really, really fun experience. It is a cool feeling to stand with a foot in each hemisphere. We took some pictures and then moved on toward Otavalo.
Our next stop was at a multipurpose tourist trap. There was as deli, photogenic llamas and alpacas along with children in traditional clothing. You could also take a panoramic photo from a suggested location and if you felt like spending money on useless things, there was always the gift shop where everything was labeled “authentic.” I did not enjoy the place at all accept for the bathroom and the live music.
I have heard that as men age they produce less testosterone and begin to produce more estrogen. I have always had a full spectrum of emotion and have been fortunate enough that most of my tears have been from joy. My sister and I saw Le Miserables in London when I was a Junior in High School and even though I did not understand the plot that well, we were both in tears at the end. More recently, I have had trouble holding back tears over much simpler performances. Inside the tourist trap was a middle aged indigenous Ecuadorian man and four of his children playing beautiful folk music. People reacted to the music differently. Some were tapping their feet, some were dancing, and some where staring. I was frozen, short of breath and could feel tears welling up from deep inside. I love any kind of folk music, love families and have more estrogen than I used to. I walked away with 3 CDs and had to give the father an awkward bow and the sincerest look of admiration I could muster. I didn’t notice anyone else having to do this.
We left the trap de touristas and, because it was Saturday, were able to stop at the Otavalo animal market which was winding down. Animal rights activists may have taken offense at the way many of the animals were handled, transported or stored. At this market the treatment of future dinner meat was a bit shocking, but probably no worse than what occurs in more developed countries. Eating animals is eating animals after all. There were hogs protesting the lead of their new owners, there were Guinea pigs crammed into cages and there were cattle of different ages being discussed. Chickens had it the worst. There were hens in bags, hens tied individually and handled by the legs, along with multi-hen bundles all tied together. There were also chicks in boxes and cock-fighting roosters leashed up to little stakes in the ground. Tough to be a chicken there and none of this made me cry.
Next we ventured to the historic Otavalo Poncho Market which normally fills an entire square, but because it was Saturday the surrounding streets were full of vendors as well. Talk about variety! Grant made the comment that if you could find a place to sleep, you could live there. Prepared food, crafts, spices and textiles were among the most popular items on the market.
The last photo is of a super sweet woman who sold me some yarn for my mother. I was able to communicate that it was a gift and asked her if I could take a photo. She reached under her layer of clothing to produce a set of teeth that she wanted to put in first. We held hands before departing and I was glad to have a moment to connect with this wonderful woman.
We had about two hours at the market which was enough to take in the scale and get a sense of the variety of things there. This is the one place on all of our travels that inspired me to shop a little. Even Grant was inspired to find some do-dads for his friend Sarah and Ashley found a carved and painted gourd illustrating many of the facets of the Inca beliefs.
Our itinerary had us going to another volcanic lake, but it was not supposed to be as nice as Quilitoa, so we asked the guide if there were any options. He mentioned a music shop full of homemade instruments that we could visit. The host of this shop carved a wooden flute right before our eyes in about 5 minutes. He then proceeded to play a number of instruments from the area describing their origin. Being musically kind-of able, I found this interesting and the kids were intrigued by it all also. Mostly, I was admiring how this man could play such a variety of things so well and was mulling over if I could ever do that. I thought about my sister, Robin, who can play just about anything, jumping in and forming a duet with this fellow. We all got the humbling experience to sample the instruments to see what sounds we could make.
Then the grand finale. Suddenly there were other people on the scene, coming from different directions with guitars and percussion instruments. We were treated to another family musical performance of Andean folk music. This time it was the collection of three generations. The shop owner played a natural material base drum and a set of Ecuadorian pipes while his descendants played rhythm and lead guitars. They began their single song set with instruments and then solid vocals from the four of them followed by flute solos. Again, I was struggling to hold back the tears as I am even now writing this. I don’t know what it is, but I’ll have to make some effort to figure out what is going on inside me. Music, family, folk music, community, ancient culture, estrogen? We left with three more CDs and a hand-made Bolivian flute. Over the days we spent in and around Quito my impressions changed dramatically for the better and this day really sealed the deal.