Otavalo is a small town in Ecuador about two hours north of Quito. It is most known for its Mercado Artesanal, a huge market where indigenous people come to sell their hand made goods. It is touted as touristy in the guidebooks, but we only ran across a handful of other tourists outside of the Market.
The town itself is an interesting mix of old and new. The indigenous population dress very traditionally. The women wear long skirts, white blouses with wide sleeves and ornate embroidery. Those with infants wrap them in a white blanket and wear them tied onto their backs. Both men and women wear their hair in a long braid or ponytail. Amidst the traditional Otavalenas, there are modern adults and teenagers running around in (likely fake) Hollister and Abercrombie hoodies. It is a very strange sight.
Otavalo is the first place so far that we have really liked. We weren't huge fans of Colombia... the parts we visited were dirty, polluted, expensive, and I felt like I had to clutch onto my purse for dear life. When we stepped off the bus to Otavalo, Daniel and I both breathed a sigh of relief. The pace of life is slower here, and the people are generally very nice. The babies (OMG THE BABIES) are the cutest human beings I have ever laid eyes on. Seriously, if I could take one home with me, I would. We knew that we would like it here right away.
The town is small enough that after a few days, even I (the most directionally challenged person in the world), was able to find my way around. There is a nice square in the middle of town where people hang out and walk around. It had Daniel's heart when he saw the "wifi zona" sign at the entrance. There is also a fruit market every day where we have enjoyed browsing the stalls and people watching. Our hostel overlooks the artisan market, which is bustling from the time we wake up in the morning until they shut down for dinner around seven.
Once the market closes down for the day, several food stalls are set up in the square. Local families come in herds to eat dinner together. The local women sell food and serve it in a plastic bag. It is amazing. Daniel's favorite is the meat on a stick (you can either eat it off the stick or they will put it in a bag for you). It has chicken, beef, chorizo, and some other unidentifiable meat. My favorites are the grilled corn with cheese and the grilled chicken and potatoes. For some reason, none of the guide books mention anything about this, but it appears to happen every day. We just happened to stumble across it on our way back to the hostel one night. Prices range from $0.75 to $1.75, and you will leave full and happy.
On the subject of food, we've taken a liking to the "almuerzo" (set lunch) in Ecuador. Basically, you go into a hole in the wall restaurant and they will serve you an appetizer, main course, and dessert for ridiculously cheap (usually around $2). There is no ordering; whatever they make that day is what you will get. It's a good way to try new things, and since we haven't learned Spanish yet, we usually have no idea what we are ordering anyway. There are been a few hits and a few misses, but I recommend it. Also on the food topic, Daniel has updated our ice cream count. I prefer to stick my head in the sand than admit how much ice cream I actually eat. It has been 100% delicious, though!