Friday morning, the group was ready to leave for Otavalo, a largely indigenous town about an hour bus ride from San José de Minas. We were off to a late start because Zach and Edoardo thought we needed to meet in the town square at 7:30am, rather than 6:45am. Once we got moving, the bus got crowded pretty quickly. We continued to make stops along the way, and then our one hour trip quickly turned into a two hour journey. Once we got dropped off in Otavalo, it took about 30min of wondering around before we found our hostel. Quickly after we all dropped our bags off in our rooms, we left for lunch. Lunch was in a beautiful pure white café with a view of the market. Each of us had either turkey sandwiches, caprese paninis, or bagels, all with free drinks; it was quite a luxury for all of us.
Once lunch ended, the majority of us left for a hike that passed over a large hill overlooking Otavalo and giving a breathtaking view of Imbabura volcano and San Pablo lake. While hiking over the ridge, in the distance all you could see were acres of farmland, grazing cows and some purple alpine flowers blooming. No photo could ever give such a beautiful view justice.
After about a few group photos, hours of hiking and nagging from Chris later, we were finally about to see the Birds of Prey show at Condor Park. At this show, there was a great “bird’s eye view” of Otavalo and Imbabura. We got to see a couple large and small birds. Throughout the entire show, Nick couldn’t stay put. He kept saying he wanted to volunteer and get selected to hold one of the birds. Before we knew it, he was running to the back of the line in order to do so. All of us got a good laugh, especially because of his new purchase of purple sunglasses he had been wearing the entire time.
Soon after the show ended, we began our second small journey to El Lechero, a 1,000 year old tree. Reaching the tree, the clouds started to lower and the sky began to glow gold. After walking up a small steep mound, I saw El Lechero, the sacred old tree, overlooking San Pablo, Imbabura, and Otavalo. Just moments after I saw this amazing view, I dropped my backpack and could not help but start to cry. Everywhere I looked and everything I saw made me so speechless. There were sweet crisp smells in the air, cool gusts of wind and pure silence; truly heaven on Earth. The legend of El Lechero says that the tree on top of the mountain and the lake were once two souls in love, but were kept from each other because of their families, so they decided to escape to be together. In their attempt to escape, they were cursed and turned into a lake and a tree. According to other stories, El Lechero is also said to have magical powers.
After leaving the safe haven of El Lechero, we divided up into two pick up trucks and were driven back into town. All of us had cravings for pizza, so a little bit of research later, we found a restaurant that supposedly had the best pizza in Otavalo. The pizza was fresh, thin, and very tasty. We split up after dinner for our nightly ice cream routine and bought Magnum bars. At the hostel we went upstairs to the balcony and had toasted bread with Nutella, while having small conversations with each other. I quickly went to bed after it started getting late and too cold to sit outside.
The next day I woke up at around 7am, got dressed and headed down to a free breakfast being held in our hostel. Definitely one of the best breakfasts so far. After we finished eating Paulina, Leah and I cleaned out our room and checked out. We left our bags downstairs at the hostel and started our day at the market. The market was very colorful, filled with many locals and only a few tourists. The streets were packed with vendors and stalls selling different things like sweaters, foods, paintings, linens and bags. It was great because every one of us were able to haggle down prices and bargain with the vendors. Just about everyone in the group bought alpaca sweaters, some bought paintings, others got pipes, bracelets and other trinkets.
When leaving Otavalo around 4pm, we had our own private bus. It was nice to have more space and room for all of our newly bought souvenirs. While on the drive back to San José de Minas, the clouds lowered very quickly and driving seemed to be getting very difficult, especially being on a cobblestone road. Looking out the front window, you could barely see five feet in front of the bus, let alone see down the cliff to the left of us that we were driving on. Our driver was going so fast, with every turn he made, some of us would grab onto seats, onto each other, shout, or even feel like vomiting. This all went on for a little less than an hour long. Luckily we made it back to town safe and sound.