Summer Flashback: Otavalo Market

One of the (undoubtedly many) reasons I tend to drive my friends slightly crazy is that I am maybe the world’s least reliable photographer. I’m not necessarily saying that I’m bad at taking pictures (although I certainly didn’t get the innate genetic talent my father has), but rather that once I’ve annoyed everyone around me by trying to document everything that happens, the photos then disappear into some kind of time vortex, emerging four months later and screwing up the chronological continuity of everyone’s Facebook timeline (sorry, Kate!).

I swear that I don’t do this deliberately — I’m not trying to piss off everyone I know by greedily hoarding my photos, nor are they so unimportant that I forget about them. I’m just, as in so many other aspects of my life, a stubborn perfectionist who is emotionally incapable of unleashing photos upon the world until I’ve cropped that weird shadow out of every corner and made sure the colors look the way they’re supposed to. And god forbid I leave a single image without a caption — I can hear decades of journalism professors scolding me from all the way over here. Do you know how hard it is to try to think of something clever to say about 400 pictures of butterflies? Sometimes it seems easier just to give up.

All of this is a very long-winded way of me saying that these photos are from a rather long time ago — the end of June, in fact. I went on a bit of a photography spree during my three-week “summer” vacation, and as such am only just getting to all of these now. But better late than never, right?

We’ll take these in small doses, so as not to overwhelm anyone. Our journey begins (after making it past the surprisingly grumpy airport security people in Cali) in Ecuador, where my friends and I had a whole week of frolicking in and around the middle of the world. After arriving and immediately partaking of delicious fajitas and mora margaritas at the wonderfully named Red Hot Chili Pepper’s restaurant in Quito (I’m basically at the deprivation point where I would fistfight someone for even half-decent Mexican food), our first major touristy stop was the world-famous Otavalo market.

The market, located about a two-and-a-half hour bus ride outside of Quito, is probably the most well-known artisan market in Ecuador and one of the most popular in South America. Saturday is the epic big day, when the stands spill out of the central plaza and take over all the streets of the tiny mountain town of Otavalo; since we had arrived in Ecuador on a Saturday, we made the trip on Sunday instead. This, in my opinion, turned out to be a bit of a blessing, since I was so overwhelmed by all of the crafts that were there, I can’t imagine dealing with anything bigger or more crowded. Basically everyone shopping there was, like us, a foreigner with a camera, but that didn’t stop us from loading up on everything from gorgeous dyed alpaca-wool blankets ($14) to ponchos ($18) to warm fluffy hats ($8). Did I mention everything was almost unfairly cheap? I felt a bit guilty bartering, even though that’s the M.O. in markets like this one, just because I already felt like I was getting away with highway robbery. My friends and I crossed off at least half the people on our deserving-of-presents-in-December lists, and must have been an amusing sight carting our individual trash bag-sized loads of goodies back onto the bus with us. I’m pretty sure I personally bought the volume equivalent of an entire alpaca’s worth of swag, and I sure feel good about it.

These photographs really don’t do justice to the kid-in-a-candy-store feeling of being at Otavalo, nor do they even describe the madness that must be the Saturday market, but they’re a little taste of the amazing explosion of colors, fabrics and textures that appear every weekend on the Ecuadorean mountainside.

(and if you have to ask if I’m bringing you back a present, the answer is probably no. I can only fit so many alpacas in my luggage, acquaintances!)

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