Thursday, February 02, 2006
As you walk into the city and approach “poncho plaza”, you are seduced by an increasing number of local artisans with various handcrafted goods for sale. The market commands a square block and spits out into all the adjoining arterial streets. It not only sprawls horizontally, but in tall vertical stacks of multicolored table cloths, hammocks, sweaters, and shawls.
The market dominates your vision with bright colors and interesting textures. It is not especially noisy, however. The local artisans are quiet and polite. As you walk down the aisles, the sellers will quietly point out the benefits to their particular goods. If you make eye contact, they pick up items to show you the finer points. If you express an interest, they will try hard to find just the right one for you. We never pay the price they originally quote. We have become very talented at dickering in a very friendly and respectful fashion. It works out great. We usually feel that we have found a very low price and they know that they have made a respectable profit. Sometimes, as we are looking or thinking, they converse among themselves in Quichua, the ancient Indian language, which bears no resemblance to either English or Spanish.
The market is run by a very successful collective of Indian artisans. If you see a table of Ecuadorian woven goods on a street corner or university mall in the US and it is staffed by a short brown man, he is probably from Otavalo. In fact, he is actually probably from Peguchi, a small village on the hillside above Otavalo. We have stayed in Peguchi and have seen numerous people toting large bundles of woven goods, woodcarvings, or vegetables to the market. I have asked street-corner vendors and purveyors of Andean music in Portland if they are from Peguchi and the answer is always a surprised “yes”.
We will continue to return to Otavalo at every opportunity even though we buy less. The overall experience is worth the trip.