After 10 days, we reluctantly left Finca Sommerwind and headed for our next destination: the market town of Otavalo. We would miss our daily visits to the hardware store and coconut soft serve ice cream booth in the gringo mall nearby, the company of our fellow overlanders and travelers, and freshly baked German bread at the Finca.
Our first stop was the massive Saturday market in Otavalo (actually, our first stop was the coconut ice cream at the mall, but we eventually made it out of there), which is famous for its large size and variety of goods. The size of the Saturday market was so overwhelming that we just walked away with fresh ginger, broccoli, and fried tilapia lunch in our bellies. We chatted with a local man at the tiny booth about his time spent living in the United States. An elderly Ecuadorian woman sat next to us and gave us a big grin on our way out. The Ecuadorian people are definitely friendly!
We set up camp at La Luna Hostal (iOverlander coordinates here), which was one of our favourite spots so far. In the morning we sipped coffee and gazed at the stunning peaks of the two volcanoes (Imbabura and Cotacachi), the green countryside below us, and blue sky above us. The local tale is that Cotacachi is the mother and Imbabura is the father, and when Cotacachi is dusted with snow in the morning it means the two have been having “relations” during the night. Sexy. Indeed, we woke up to the snow-dusted peak of Cotacachi more than one time during our stay there! We had some of our best mornings sitting outside and eating breakfast, taking in the view, feeling the warm sun on our faces and digging our bare toes into the grass.
We also met some amazing folks during our stay at La Luna Hostal, including Kathy and Cory from Vancouver and Victoria, B.C., Amanda from California, and the lovely couple Kris and Melissa, and their happy-go lucky blonde little one named River from Colorado. These friendly faces were what made our stay at La Luna so memorable. We spent the evenings cozed up near the fire in the common room listening to Cory and Amanda jam on the guitar while sipping on hot honey and lemon tea and tasting the daily soup made by the kitchen. We chatted about our respective travels, favourite books, and music. It was so nice to listen to some live music while Cory and Amanda took turns strumming and singing songs ranging from Neko Case to Bob Dylan.
On our walk back from town one day we ran into Lutzmila who lived close by and ran a food stall in Otavalo. She walked with us through the beautiful countryside as the sun was setting and chatted with us about her kids and our travels. The best part was when she cranked up the Carlos Vives on her phone, and we had some awesome tunes to walk to.
We ran into Jonathan, creator of JJLeathersmith, and a Canadian currently residing in Otavalo. We had been following him on Instagram and decided to drop by his leather workshop. He makes really unique and beautiful leather bags, and he chatted with us about sourcing good quality leather and how he created his hand-made bags. We loved his workshop space with the rustic wood floors and ceilings, white walls, and huge open concept space with a big working table. If there is one reason to go back to work when we get home, it is to buy one of his amazing hand-sewn backpacks!
We also spent some time walking and hiking in the area. Fuya Fuya was a highlight. We scrambled up from the Mojanda lake and took in the views from the top, breathless at 14,000 feet with our new friends Cory and Kathy.
We walked to waterfall near the hostel, as well did several other walks through the neighbourhood with great views of the volcanoes. On one of the walks we got lost and spent a good hour thrashing through the mountainside in the dark trying to figure out our way back to the hostal. Of course we left unprepared, with no headlamps, so we eventually made our way back by the light of Richard’s cell phone. Richard recalled the advice of Les Straud while we were bushwhacking in the dark: no matter how short or long the hike, you should always be prepared with the basics. We epically failed on that one!
We sampled some of the local foodstuffs including fruit sorbets made in copper bowls (helados de paila), and salty pork with the fixings. We found a great helados de paila shop near the Plaza del Armas where we watched the vendor swirl the sorbet with a massive wooden spoon while the copper bowl twirled atop big chunks of ice. This form of ice cream actually originated in Ibarra, where the locals would bring ice down from the nearby volcano Imbabura and spin their copper pots containing fruit juices, cane sugar, and sometimes milk over the bed of ice. The liquid was stirred vigorously until it froze. Delightful.
After all of this ice cream and pork ingesting, we headed to Laguna de Cuicocha for some more high-altitude hiking. There was a well marked trail that circled most of the lake-filled crater. One of our favourite parts was the pine forest which we encountered towards the end of the trail which filled our noses with the scent of pine trees and reminded us of home. We stopped by the ex-pat filled coffee shop Rio Intag in nearby Cotacachi to replenish our organic coffee bean stores.
After 6 days in Otavalo, it was time to continue our journey south. Again we reluctantly packed up the truck, already missing our sun-filled mornings at the breakfast table, the great company, and relaxing calm of the mountains. Our next destination: the busy capital city of Quito.