The main plaza full of vendors
Coming in from Colombia, Otavalo was certainly a big change. The look of the people was vastly different, as there are loads of indigenous people living in the area, and they have a very unique look to them. To begin with they are very short, some barely even four feet tall and many of them are always hunched over carrying something on their backs, be it a baby wrapped up in a sheet, or large sacks of wool goods or other crafts. And they all look so old, like little gnarled bundles of durable humanity, covered in wrinkles forged over the years. Arriving there on Tuesday night allowed for plenty of time to check out the town in the gaps between the ever popular Saturday market, renowned to be one of the best in South America. These weekdays revealed the real Otavalo, the one less tarnished by rampant tourism.
The livestock market
During the week, two components of the Saturday market still operate, though to a lesser extent. The artisans bring their goods to the main plaza and there is still a produce and food market, daily. To me the selection seemed similar for many items, but some were only found on Saturdays. There is a large selection of wool goods, made from alpaca, as well as colorful hats, rugs, trinkets and other things. I bought a few things and during the week it was a very relaxed atmosphere, which was nice. On Friday when I walked through the artisan market toward the end of the day, I talked to one of the women selling things and we had this exchange, translated from Spanish:Look at this scarf
It´s very nice but I´m going to come back tomorrowIt will be more expensive tomorrow
Why will it be more expensive tomorrow?Because tomorrow there will be many tourists
But I am a touristYes but today is not tomorrow
Very clever I thought, but I still didn´t buy the scarf, I had already bought some anyways.
The winner of strange fruit of the day award
But she was right, all the vendors did raise their prices on Saturday, although there was plenty of room for bargaining, especially since there were so many stalls selling similar things.
The produce market was a whole other matter. There were stalls with all sorts of fruits and vegetables along the one entranceway to the market, there were a few strange fruits including this long thin green fruit, that I had never seen before. The name started with a G, but I couldn´t really understand how the guy was pronouncing it. I had to ask him how you eat it, and so he got out his knife and showed us, to some laughter from the few locals standing around. You have to split open on the narrow side and then there are these series of fleshy white pods that surround a black pit, a pretty mild tasting fruit, but quite good, and the unopened fruit can double as a weapon too.
Another amazing part of this market was the large number of different soups that were being made. One woman was making this massive pot of soup, that was big enough for me to fit inside, I asked her if I could try some and she pulled out the large ladle and gave me a spoon. It tasted good so I ordered a bowl, it was a type of chicken soup and was pretty tasty, although there were definitely a few chicken hearts floating around in my soup. I had another soup that was real cheesy with potatoes and some finely diced pieces of chicken heart, liver, stomach, and intestines. The most outstanding feature of the market was meat section. Probably one of the more nauseating things I´ve seen. There tables with freshly decapitated goat heads, skinned pig heads, and just large bins of organs: intestines, livers, stomach linings, kidneys; you name it, it was there.
Stomach and intestines
Unfortunately I wasn´t able to a picture of the big bucket of cow hearts, because they whisked them away when I took out my camera and said that I needed to buy them if I wanted to take a picture, and I really didn´t know what to do with $5 worth of cow hearts. There were also these big bowls of jellied fat as well as loosely folded up bundles of animal skin, fatty tissue side up. The worst part was probably the cumulative smell, a mixture of wet dead animals and meat, organs, and fat, all come to rest at temperature with persistent flies in the air. Quite the environment to say the least.
On Saturday, the town transforms into this massive marketplace, with artisan vendors filling most of the streets and straining the town´s transportation system. In additon to the two previously mentioned markets there is also a livestock market and a small animal market.
The livestock market is held slightly outside of town and people bring their cows, pigs, horses, and goats to sell. This wasn´t nearly as interesting as the small animal market. The small animal market had people selling guinea pigs, a local delicacy, as well as ducks, lots of chickens, geese, turkeys, snails, rabbits, dogs and cats (as pets). It was really the sheer variety of animals in such close proximity that made it interesting; there were puppies escaping their bag only to run into baby chickens or ducks with looks of bewilderment. One person might have a little pen set up and be selling something like one duck, four chickens, a turkey, and some guinea pigs, all together in the same pen. There were definitely lots of chickens bought and sold with the birds being toted around upside down by their legs or thrown into sacks along with other small creatures.
A street during market day
The market day was at least colorful and varied, the downside was the massive tourist presence, it totally transformed the town, now I could see why there were at least a dozen pizza places, which for some reason is like a gourmet food. For me, it was just as interesting to watch the vendors break down their make-shift stalls at the end of the day and pack up all their stuff, folding it intricately and re-packing it into large sacks or bins and then pulling apart the metal suports and wooden benches before loading it all into trucks. As the day wore on, the crowds thinned out and many people left town the same day they arrived, leaving behind trash strewn streets and a much more tranquil Otavalo, setting the stage for one of the town´s Saturday night activities, the cock fight.