Markets, Beauty Queens, Futbol, Oh My: Otavalo, Ecuador

Ecuador, Feature, Travelogue — By on January 27, 2010 at 10:39 am

From Ipiales, in Southern Colombia, it takes only minutes for the two-and-a-half kilometer taxi ride to Colombian passport control. Once the exit formalities are complete, it seems as if you have to swim through hoards of money changers — each showing identification claiming to be official, of course — waving stacks of bills, shouting figures, and punching seemingly random numbers into their calculators, all under the watchful eye of the border police. We made our way on foot across the Rumichaca international bridge to the Ecuadorian side, and, once again met a swarm of money changers after completing entrance formalities.  We took a waiting taxi to the next town (Tulcan), and caught a bus to Otavalo, which was about two-and-a-half hours away. This completed just shy of 20 hours of bus travel from Manizales, Colombia.  We were definitely looking forward to some rest and a flat bed.

Otavalo is a cute and smallish northern Ecuadorian city of about 35,000 mostly indigenous people. It is famous throughout the region for its market, which sees flocks of indigenous people from all over northern Ecuador come to sell their wares every Wednesday and Saturday. Both the men and women sport traditional dress while hawking handicrafts, animals, and food.  The maze of stalls seems to fill every street, with everything from textiles to jewelery, felt hats , and knock-off soccer jerseys on display: you can find just about anything here. The artisan market occurs every day, but there’s more action on Wednesday and Saturday with the addition of a livestock and fruit market. The town had many restaurants to choose from, and we chose one for supper that had a balcony overlooking the town square from where we could watch the comings and goings of the market patrons, listen to the banter of children and music, and enjoy the pleasant smells coming from the street food vendors well into the evening. See market photos here

The next morning we were on our way to the bus stop to go to Ilumàn, a nearby indigenous village, when a marching band piped up near the church in the town square; naturally, we decided to wait and see what the celebration was all about. The band was marching in our direction and as they passed they were followed by soccer teams carrying their town banner and escorted by the town beauty queen. Team after team of indigenous soccer teams and their queens, the players all sporting knock-off premiere league and professional South American team jerseys, and their competing beauty queens dressed in traditional wear and carrying bouquets of colourful flowers, marched passed us.

As the droves of teams finished passing we realized we were witnessing the opening ceremonies of the Otavalo City Cup; what luck!  We followed the parade to the event stadium (a grass pitch and a few bleachers) and became spectators for the infamous South American beauty pageant. The women lined up in front of the judges and after careful consideration, two runners-up and one winner was crowned for 2010. We then prepared ourselves for some good ol’ South American Futbol! It was quite an experience: on our way to see one thing when the wind called us in another. We went, and had a blast! But, when you are carrying your life on your back, R & R will last only for so long – so many more places to see. Onward to Quito!

    1 Comment

  • Marcelo says:

    Hi, my name is Marcelo Lema. I am the president of the Otavalo City Cup. I really like the way you tell the story of one of the most important indoor soccer event in our city. Plus, it is not only a sports entertainment; it is also a way to express our indigenous culture. I am very glad you have enjoyed the Otavalo culture and the Otavalo City cup.

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