Sunday, February 7, 2010

Tour with Johns Hopkins Alumni

Centre of the World!

It was foggy when we left Quito this morning. The recent rain had made a significant difference in the landscape, which was suddenly greener than it was just four weeks ago when we traveled with the Johns Hopkins students. With the alumni, our route and focus was somewhat different. Our first stop with every group is always in Calderon ( in the area north of Quito called 'Carapungo' which means entrance to the Cara nation in Quichua) , where we walk through the market and visit a shop where they make 'Mazapan' figures, which are bread dough mixed with glue and coloured brightly. I always prefer the ceramic figurines sold at the shop, and never find myself buying anything, although Maya gets very excited and makes a purchase every time. I wonder why we always stop at the same shop and suspect that 'Metropolitan Touring' has a special deal with that particular establishment. Our guide Marcos tells us that the tradition arises from the Day of the Dead when families visit the graves of their loved ones and bring 'Guaguas de pan' (dough shaped as babies and decorated) and colada morada (mixture of corn and fruits and juices) to share with their families and friends and their deceased loved ones. They stay at the cemetary all day reminiscing and talking to their ancestors and celebrating. The fashioning and decoration of the guaguas de pan transformed into a tradition of creating colourful dough figures and selling them. It was also market day in Calderon.

We stopped at my favourite Equator monument, the first one built when the French Geodesic Mission came to make measurements in the 1700's. It is a simple cement globe with a line between north and south hemispheres. Across the street and a little further north is another monument with a huge orange cylinder identifying the exact GPS based equator ( the earlier group were not quite accurate with their measurements) with all sorts of (bizarre) explanations about the native people's knowledge and awareness of being in the centre of the world.

Standing on two Hemispheres

Otavaleños Selling at Mitad del Mundo

The market at Otovalo was the destination of the day. It is bigger on Saturday, and Sunday is mostly for tourists. Since I have visited the market year after year, I find myself a more particular shopper, and am more interested in the faces and the traditional dress and the behaviours of the vendors. I bargain for Maya and am proud to get down to a great deal. The Otavaleños are seasoned bargainers, so it is challenging and entertaining to engage in the negotiations. I have learned to walk away, which works for me every time.

Colours and Faces at Otavalo

We made a stop in Peguche, where a specialty weaving workshop has a far more beautiful collection of carpets. I was happy and sad to see my favourite piece leave the store. I have coveted this peice for a long time, but always felt it was too expensive, so was astonished and when another woman on the trip decide to use her credit card to make the purchase. Textiles have always been important to the pre-Incan and Incans, but it was the Spanish who brought in their looms and set up huge textile factories in large haciendas. The Otavaleños learned to use the looms and passed on their traditional dying and weaving techniques to their children. They have always been known to be great traders and have traveled throughout the world with their wares. A huge festival was underway in Peguche, celebrating the beginning of a new growing season (Pucuy Raymi?), so the locals were in their Sunday best. The children were spraying each other with water bombs, water guns and 'carioca' spray in anticipation of Carnaval.We ate at 'La Mirage' after a visit to Cotacachi for leather goods prurchases (I could not help myself and chose a red purse). On our way home, Marco relayed all sorts of interesting information which put me to sleep, so that I missed every word! He is interested in explaining the synchretism, or the melding of cultures of the Spanish and the preIncan peoples. The natives believed that all the volcanoes were Gods or that Gods lived in them. Imbabura is male and is called 'Taita Imbabura' and visits Cotacachi (mama Cotacachi) regularly. We were surrounded by huge mountains today, but they were all shrouded in clouds, so we did not see Cayambe or Imbabura or Cotacachi.

Festival in Peguche


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