Otavalo – shrunken heads, an extinct-volcano crater-lake, territorial dogs, and short-sighted South American business practices

Otavlo is a great little town and just a quick ride outside of Quito for those wanting to escape the busyness of the big city, which is something I’m always trying to do while traveling. It also has the most famous market in Ecaudor.

Vendors set up their stalls in Plaza de Ponchos in the early morning

Vendors set up their stalls in Plaza de Ponchos in the early morning

The market is set up in Otavalo’s Plaza de Ponchos each day but the “big day”, the one for which Otavalo is renowned, occurs on Sunday, when the market spills out onto surrounding streets and thousands of people come to shop.

I was not there on a Sunday but I did have a chance to see some of the wares that the market is well known for, starting with, of course, grotesque looking shrunken heads.


Why someone would need or want a shrunken head is beyond me but these things were being sold by vendors all over the market.

The market was also selling lots of chess boards, Surdemerica style.  These boards are sold all throughout South America and depict the white pieces as invading colonial Spaniards and the black pieces as the indigenous Incas.  It’s a bit trite but humorous nonetheless.


And what would a South American market be without some pan flutes and some cow hooves.


The real reason I had come to Otavalo was not for the market but for the hiking.  My first night I arrived by bus and set about to find a place to stay. I ended up deciding on a guesthouse near the bus station, which ended up making for a very interesting and mostly unpleasant experience.

When checking into the guesthouse the owner at the front desk was rude to me, but that would be understating his disposition.  To put it bluntly, he was a d*ck.  This should have been a red flag but I was tired and it was late and I just wanted to get up to my room and get to bed.

On my way to the guesthouse I had passed the beginnings of what was to be a very large concert.  It might have been fun to attend but I had just split from Hanas and Berit, who I had met in Quito – they had opted to camp – and I didn’t want to go alone.   Within 10 minutes of checking into my room at the guest house some very loud music started – the bass was literally shaking the lamp next to my bed.

I was none too happy about the noise.  I went down to ask the guy at the front desk when the concert would be ending and he assured me that it would be wrapping up by 11:30 or midnight.

It was 10pm already and this seemed unlikely so I decided to do some independent investigation.  I wandered back to the concert entrance and asked the guard standing near the door when the concert would be ending.  He told me he wasn’t sure but estimated 2am or 2:30am.  Hmmmmm.

This didn’t sound good to me so I went out and scouted a hostel overlooking Plaza de Ponchos, which was far enough from the music that noise wouldn’t be a problem.  On my scouting run I came across an interesting commercial shoot – some sort of “fallen angel” with her white wings scattered about her body.


When I got back to the original guesthouse that I had checked into, the noise was still blaring and I informed the guy at the front desk that I would be leaving because the music was too loud and to put it simply, “no puedo dormir” (I can’t sleep). If I couldn’t even sleep then why would I stay at the guesthouse?


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