Otavalo and around

We spent a few days in Otavalo before heading to our workaway in Cotacachi, a small village nearby. We didn’t see the famous Saturday market, but we did wander around the regular tourist market as well as the locals’ food market.

The 18m Peguche waterfall is on the outskirts of town. You can get there by following the old train lines north of town. There’s a little campground there, which at the time we visited seemed to be the place for local teens to hang out.

We took a half day guided hike ($35 pp, including transport, guide and lunch) to Fuya Fuya, the extinct volcano overlooking the sparkling Lagunas de Mojanda.

There was barely a cloud in the sky when we set out in the back of a bumpy truck from Otavalo. On arrival, the walk looked deceptively simple; straight, up, and up a little more.

But in the high altitude we were a little slow and as we kept going we realised there was a lot more ‘up’ than we had seen from back at the lake side.

By the time we reached the top, we were covered in clouds and our hopes for the spectacular view quickly vanished. However, it was beautiful being surrounded by spiky vegetation and drifting whiteness, and our guide kept us entertained with stories and facts.

My favourite tale was about a family of cannibals who lived along the old route between Quito and Otavalo, which passes close to Mojanda. They preyed upon weary travellers until one day a visiter stopped at their farm for food and was served pie…with a human nose inside! He escaped and ran to tell local villagers who got together a posse and killed the cannibal family.

Despite the clouds, it hadn’t rained for quite a long time in these parts; plants and animals were drying out.

Laguna Cuicocha, a volcanic crater lake nearby, was more lush.

It’s possible to walk around the whole crater in about 4 hours, but we didn’t have that much time so we contented ourselves with hiking partway and sitting to watch the pleasure boats chug across the blue water. There’s also a small, modern museum which explains about the local ecosystem and formation of the lake.

There’s no public transport to either of the lakes so you have to rent a private vehicle, hitchhike or go with a tour. We got a truck-taxi in the village of Quiroga to take us to Cuicocha and pick us up later for $10. You can get this cute map overview of the area at the tourist office in Otavalo.

Playing handball in El Alto

El Alto is the fast-growing, indigenous city that sits on the high plateau surrounding La Paz, Bolivia’s capital. Even when you’re acclimatised to the altitude of the altiplano, the lack of oxygen and humidity, combined with cold temperatures, makes every step you take a little harder. When I lived in La Paz, I used to joke that even just lifting a pencil was a workout. Walking around and exercising at La Paz’s 3,600m average elevation is tough, but El Alto literally takes it to new heights at more that 4,000m! I once left my house with a long-sleeve top and a scarf to find myself shivering in flurries of snow once I arrived in El Alto.

Early morning on the way to El Alto.

I wanted to share these photos of grandmas in El Alto playing handball as part of a health program funded by the city government. What I love best about this is that even while they play they’re still wearing all their multiple layers of skirts, sweaters, scarfs and shawls! I was always told to ‘dress like an onion’ to deal with the changing temperatures throughout the day, but I’d always get too hot and have to shed layers walking around at midday only to freeze again once I stepped into shadow. I believe that Bolivians have their own internal microclimate as they never seem to take off layers, no matter what the temperature around them is!

For more on El Alto, see these articles from the New York Times and The Guardian, this blog post from Cultural Survival (an organisation that advocates for Indigenous Peoples’ rights) and this longer article about the economic difficulties in El Alto.