“ama sua, ama llulla, ama quella” (don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t be lazy) – traditional Inca greeting
This weekend i went to Otavalo and Cotacachi, towns not too far from Quito in the northern part of the country. Otavalo is famous for its Saturday market which sells a heap of woven handbags, clothes, and jewelry to tourists, and more practical things like fake levy’s and vegetables to locals.
Cotacachi is famous for its proximity to one of Ecuador’s largest active volcanoes. It’s a small town, well kept and reminded me of a Hollywood movie set without actors, that’s how empty it seemed and how colorful the houses were.
The majority of the people in both towns are indigenous and speak Quechua, the original tongue of the Inca, as their primary language. Many women of all ages continue to dress in the traditional white blouses and long skirts with the colorful belts, while men tend to wear modern clothes. It seemed discongrous to see a traditionally dressed girl kissing a boy who looks like a Brooklyn gangsta-wannabe.
There were old ladies begging in both towns but i couldn’t learn why they did it. Were they lacking family, or was the social security income provided by the Ecuadorian government not enough, or is it simply tradition that keep these old women walking the streets and smiling with their rotten teeth and asking for coins in exchange for a blessing? I love old ladies you know…
On the way back to Quito on Sunday i took a bus from Cotacachi. I was a little mad at myself for spending all weekend talking in English and now that i was the only foreigner on the bus i decided to practice the language i had neglected for two days. The middle aged man in shorts sitting next to me was happy to talk and i mostly understood that he lived in Quito and drove a truck for work. What he was doing in Ibarra (town north of Otavalo) i wasn’t sure, fixing his truck i think. It was while he was telling me about his route (or so i thought) and i was saying “si si” (yes yes) out of weary politeness that i realized i had just agreed to something… agreed to visit or travel with him somewhere :( I found the situation so amusing i started to laugh :)
The bus ride was long due to traffic. Imagine a relatively narrow road through the mountains at dusk – the famous Pan American highway – with a slew of slow moving cars several miles long because everyone needs to get back to work on Monday… It’s dark and the mountains are but outlines filled with hues of blues and grays and the roads by necessity loop around them as the tail lights, hundreds of them in procession swirl around the mountains like gold rings around tremendous fingers…
In Quito the bus dropped me off at the north bus terminal. From here i wanted to take a taxi home but the only taxi i managed to catch refused to use the meter… and out of principle i refused to ride with him. While i waited with a dozen other people for another taxi someone told me that there was a bus going to Mariscal as well and so that’s what i rode back home… engaging the assistance of two men to tell me when it was time to get off. The problem though was this: once off the bus i still had to walk 5 blocks home. I decided to take a taxi. It was worth a dollar and half to minimize my chances of getting robbed.
It was a little past 9pm when i returned and i decided i was hungry and went to a nearby Thai restaurant. Sitting at the window i had a good view of the empty street outside, the first time all week that i had seen the street (and Mariscal neighborhood) so devoid of life. Less than a dozen men passed by the whole time i ate and then i heard a yell and saw a blond lying on the street before a black man pulled her away… “What happened” i asked the waiter who had a better view than me… In Spanish he told me she was actually a he and a prostitute who had slipped on the wet pavement and that the black guy was her client who…. well this part i couldn’t understand…it something to do with money… that’s why she was yelling