Of course our goal in this area was the famed community of the Otavalo weavers and the Otavalo market, noted for its cheap and cheerful textiles and all other manner of crafts. Financial damage/benefit was done there depending on your point of view. Tourism is down in Ecuador by 20 – 40% according to a reliable source, so I am sure the dollars were extra appreciated. It is simply not fair to take a fiber junkie to this market: it was the weavings and the paintings that were my Achilles Heel. The market itself is a maze of simply constructed stalls, many of which have very similar products, but in amongst them there were gems. The traders haggled freely and without menace and would follow you a little way to convince to you to buy their wares, but it was all good-natured. Although the market occupied only the ‘plaza’ area of the town, it was almost impossible to retrace your steps and to re-find a particular booth, especially in the comparatively limited time available to us.
We visited the delightful weaving studio El Gran Condor where we were treated to a very informative demonstration of the carding, spinning, dying and weaving processes. I was particularly struck by the chemistry demo of removing a cochineal beetle from a handy cactus, it was then crushed (less appealing) but the colour it produced, a beautiful scarlet, was dramatic; then, when lemon was added, it changed to a beautiful purple, and then back again with a pinch of bicarbonate of soda. I knew about the beetle and its dye properties, but seeing is believing!
Our delightful host was dressed in traditional fashion and she was most generous in almost disrobing for us and showing us how to hold the two flat lengths of fabric (which formed her skirt) together with her woven waist binding band. She explained that the younger women really don’t like to do this. We saw many traditionally dressed women, mostly middle aged or older, and they had a marvelous grace and character. I wasn’t able to take many unobtrusive photos of them: it seemed to too rude to simply snap photos directly. The tables were turned on me, however, when one little girl wanted to take a photo of me: I was happy to give her the opportunity.