November 17, 2007 – Galapagos Adventure gets Underway

Richard and Carlos with a Llama

The great Galapagos adventure really began to pick up energy as people arrived yesterday and last night in Quito from many far-off places. After breakfast this morning we met in the lobby of the Swissotel, our base in Quito, to organize our plans. Martin and Ann set off for a day of shopping and sightseeing. Reuben and Daphne were also caught up in a siege of shopping with the assistance of the Swissotel general manager to replace some clothing and gear that had disappeared at the airport. All worked out well, and Reuben was soon roadworthy again.

The rest of us joined Ramiro, our friend and Ecuadorian guide from our recent volcano climbs, for an hour-long drive out of Quito to Otavalo and the famous market there. Local people bring in their goods from miles around and set up their booths, filling many square blocks in the center of the city with colorful tapestries, sweaters, jewelry, trinkets, and a great variety of food. The indigenous culture of the mountains was very much in evidence, both in the crafts and in the magnificent faces of the people who had done the weaving and sewing, and now were doing the selling. It is remarkable to see the same faces we’re accustomed to viewing on ancient Mayan sculptures, but here they are the faces of the people who trace their heritage back so many centuries.

We had planned to stay together, but soon our group dispersed into the maze of aisles between booths as everyone was attracted by something different. It was fun to come upon one another, see the most recent purchases, share a few suggestions of booths not to miss, and then set out again.

A few miles from the market is the home and workshop of Jose Cotacachi, whose spectacular tapestries had caught our eyes on an earlier Berg Adventures trip to Otavalo. We were once again impressed with the beauty and complexity of Jose’s work—big, complicated tapestries with images celebrating Ecuador’s cultural and environmental history.

Jose was at his loom. In one corner of a room, next to a pedal-powered sewing machine, Jose’s mother-in-law used tweezers to pluck stray threads from a finished tapestry. In another corner several daughters were gathered around a laptop computer, staring into the world beyond Otavalo through the screen of Google.

By then it was 3 p.m. and we were getting very ready for lunch. We made our way back to the Cusin hacienda where the volcano climbers had been based last week for three days. This time we were there just for a late afternoon meal, but the rooms had the wonderful aroma of the fireplaces, the meal was terrific, and the conversation spirited. One option for dessert was “tree tomato ice cream” that is apparently made from a local fruit. Perhaps it is just the power of suggestion, but there is probably a reason tomato is not high on the list of favorite ice cream flavors.

On the drive back to Quito we passed hundreds of people walking along the busy highway. We had seen hundreds in the morning, too, as we had driven to Otavalo. Ramiro suggested they were on pilgrimage to roadside shrines. The walkers seemed in good spirits despite being many miles from the nearest towns.

Even though we had the advantage of motorized transport, travel weariness was catching up with us. We went our separate ways for the evening, many of us turning in early. Leila arrives late tonight after her flight from Kathmandu to Bangkok to Los Angeles to Houston to Quito, and then our group will be complete. At 5:30 a.m. we’ll leave the hotel and head for the airport for our plane to the Galapagos Islands.

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