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  • Writer's pictureJoanna

Big Buses & Banned Dancing

Updated: Jun 16, 2023

Yesterday, I took a tour out of Quito to Otavalo and surrounding areas. Otavalo is a small town in the north, very famous for its indigenous market.  I had to go.. any excuse to spend money… claro?

I wish I had some old stories to share about Otavalo... or even some photos- but I don't.  I think by the time our AFS group actually made it that far (near the end of our trip), I was through with the writing part for the year.  

Meeting the tour bus was a bit of an ordeal.  When I arrived at the Tourist Information bus waiting location, there were 2 other older couples.  I must have looked confused, because they came to my rescue and confirmed that I was in the right spot.

Then along came our tour guide and informed us that the bus was very, very big.  


Her exact words were, “very huge” bus. 

She explained that due to its enormity, it was actually having a lot of trouble tackling the tight corners of Historical Quito, so we were asked to walk a few blocks up to board at a more convenient location.

Not a problem.

It was raining… lightly… but not enough to scare us off.

Back to the very huge bus though... 

I'm envisioning some sort of enormous double decker 747 to come barreling towards us, mach2 with its hair on fire...

Then I saw it.

It was a bus. 

A Bus.

Envision a bus and that is exactly what it was.

Same as all the other buses in town.  Everywhere.

I boarded and almost immediately fell asleep (sporadically, of course.)  I can’t kick this jet lag.  When I do eventually fall asleep at night, it’s only for about 15 minutes, and then I’m up until 3 or 4am.  Cursed.

The girl with the bloated face, red nose, thick ankles who can't sleep at night!  Definitely cursed...

We drove through the streets of Quito to do a pick up at 2 other locations… and as we made our way through the new town and into the outskirts, things started to look really familiar. 

Gusburger!... like an old friend I don't want to reconnect with.  That was a greasy, fast food joint that we used to frequent on more than a few occasions. Usually a little 'borracha' when I arrived.

Your typical burger and papas fritas menu...

Noticed some new fast food chains have arisen… OkiDokee, Willys, Pollo Campero… and just when I thought that McDonald's had left the country- there it was!  In all it’s glory… almost taking up an entire city block.  'Very huge' McDonald's.

Ok- here is my big question of the day.

WHY are there so many unfinished buildings?

They are seriously everywhere.

It’s like the construction workers came, laid the foundation… started on the walls… laid a few bricks… went to the pub and never came back.

“You want to finish this one up?”


I know that Ecuador is a developing country- but I had to google it to see if it was third world.  Now I know that it has its share of poverty and middle class/richness… but from driving around, it appears that there are more on the lower class of the scale than the latter.

But regardless of where it stands on an international scale, it really does feel so good to be back here.

The curb side stalls selling cigarettes, chocolate bars, gum balls, chewy candy… etc…. 

The people walking around yelling "Loteria!"  

The magazine stands. The shoe polish stations.

Then you see things that I wouldn’t consider quite normal.

Like a man sweeping grass.

A man riding a motorcycle with a toddler strapped to his back with some cloth.

I've also observed that the selfie stick is making a huge comeback in Ecuador… or maybe it just never went away once it was introduced. 

Winding our way over the hills of Quito's outer countryside was very dramatic, as the clouds were low enough to hide the peaks of the mountains.  

First stop was the "REAL" equator.

This is actually up for debate.  La Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) is a huge monument north of Quito and it one of the biggest tourist attractions in Ecuador.  In fact, here I am 26 years ago! (Don't even ask what I was doing... acting like a goof...)

BUT this time, the tour took us to the "real" Equator, Quitsato Sundial, the one that is actually a large sundial.

It was erected in 2007 and they claim is actually the real, true equator.  I looked it up online to get a bit more information and apparently, according to Google Maps, the central pillar is 4 metres below the true equator.  

I think there are about 3-4 "real" equators here in Ecuador... seems like a bit of a business venture to me.

Then me made a stop at Waterfall Peguche.  

After parking, we had to do a short walk in to the where the waterfall was located.  On the way, there was a tree named “Centennial Tree.” 

Apparently it is 300 years old and legend has it that it has magical positive powers.

I hugged it.  What have I got to lose?  If a tree is handing out magical positive powers, I’m not one to turn it down. Not at this moment in my life. I guess that the surrounding pools are considered "purification baths" and a very important ceremonial site held  a couple days prior to the Into Raymi celebrations (June 21st).  Legend has it that the Devil sits inside at the foot of the waterfall and takes the soul of anyone that enters at that point.  I didn't risk it.

The waterfall was impressive.  The tour guide kept yelling, “Can you feel the energy???”

If by “energy” she meant the water spray that soaked me, then yes… I felt it.

Next stop - Otavalo...

I globbed myself on to a girl named Tracy from LA. She made me laugh at the beginning of the tour, so I decided that she was stuck with me for the remainder of the trip.  

I literally spent all my money at the Otavalo Market.  Cheap? I've encountered cheaper.  Some things were a steal of a deal... others not so much. See, Ecuador switched from the Ecuadorian sucre to the American dollar in 2000, after their currency nosedived.  Comparing costs to North America though, not a lot of difference.  Every time I asked how much something was, and they replied, the back of my mind screamed out 'American exchange rate.' Bought the usual trinkets- necklaces, bracelets, beaded wonders, stuffed dolls, multicoloured scarves, lacy doilies, woven hats… 

People begging for money. The usual.

Of course, a day would not be complete without a little pain and embarrassment for myself.  I walked right in to a plank in the market, holding blankets and smashed my knee.  You know that feeling when you can literally taste the pain. I had to sit down and rock back & forth for about 10 minutes, until it subsided... and then stumbled away...

It's funny how much the locals at the market try to appeal to your wallet...  It's fun to barter for things that you actually want... but it doesn't matter how much they try to pull me in, harass me, follow me, or how low they go... nothing is going to take away the fact that I don't need a large wool blanket, nor do I need a hammock.  No to knives, woven bracelets, fridge magnets, Virgin Mary statues, ponchos, paintings, tile work...

Stopped in at a local restaurant with 3 others from the tour and made the quick decision that a beef, rice, cheese & jalapeno burrito would be the best option for me to eat that day.   As much as I talk tough, I am not an expert in choosing food wisely and I’ve had 45 years of proving that.

I also have to just accept the fact that 90% of my diet for the next few weeks is going to be made u

p of deep fried foods… fries (papas fritas), encanadas, fried plantains, frittatas, and even the occasional burrito... It's inevitable.   If you can't beat it, join it. Grow Jo... grow.

There are a couple good things that I have already come to notice about dining out in Ecuador.  One- everything is usually translated in to English, directly beside the Spanish description.  As funny a translation as it may be sometimes, it gives you a fair idea of what you might or might not be getting.  Also most places have their entire menu photographed and plastered - whether it be on the awning, poster, pictures, board… it’s there. 

Pick, point and pay…

I found it funny that we all had to write our names on this list… but then that was it.  I don’t think I saw the tour guides once do a count or call names. On the bus and off we go!

And I have to mention, the bus was TOO big actually.  It had the capacity of seating 45 people.  I think we had 18 on our tour.  Maybe have a smaller bus on standby. Probably would have been more 'what is the word I'm looking for' - cozy...

Next stop - Cuicocha!

This is a beautiful lagoon (crater lake) at the foot of the Cotacachi Volcano.  The name means 'Guinea Pig Lake.' Ricketiest and smallest boat ever! Honestly - 18 of us... and 3 tour guides.

Tracy and I had to goto the bathroom, so unfortunately we missed the 'adult' life jackets. Trying to squeeze in to a child size lifejacket and breath normally in public is challenging. To add insult to injury, I found out that I wasn't allowed to dance on the boot. What is this? Footloose?...  #notimpressed

It was interesting.

Wet again… but interesting.

We did end up breaking down in the middle of the lake… but, thanks be to Dios, the boat guy got us back up and running again. As much as I wasn't looking forward to swimming to shore, I did briefly consider it a good way to clean my clothes...

When I got back to the hostel last night, I decided that I needed a nice little place to write, catch up on my daily dose of social media and have something to eat... and perhaps a lovey glass or two of vino tinto. There is a restaurant door, just moments down the street from the hostel,.. and it didn’t look like more than just a small  dive, but tonight I stuck my head in the door to have a look.  Love at first site.   It was the most adorable little hovel I have ever been in.  Something out of a romantic fairytale of restaurants.

There were HEARTS on the walls as you made your way up the narrow steep staircase. 3 floors of delight! Granted, I quickly discovered that the reason it seemed so romantic was because it WAS so romantic.  The place had 3 loving couples dining in there, swooning over the candlelight, sipping on red wine... enjoying their meals, while being in love on holiday. I sat there like a lump, alone, on facebook… albeit with wine.   Never without!  That's my motto... Nothing makes you feel more alone than a restaurant who's main decoration is hearts... and sharing a 1/2 litre of wine with me, myself and I.

I have to say that I have been walking UP a storm.  Walking everywhere.  Streets, narrow lanes, stairs, lagoons, markets, waterfalls… all over… and that feeling in my bum that I’ve sat WAY TOO long will NOT go away.   It started on the plane.  You know that feeling that you have just been sitting  for too long & you have to keep adjusting your ass to remain comfortable.  I get it in the movies sometimes. 

It’s like invisible bum sores that just won’t heal.  Too much information? Too bad. I am without pride now. Well, I have been wearing the same outfit since Saturday afternoon. It’s Wednesday.   Not kidding.

  • I have been on a plane in it. 

  • I have walked in it. 

  • I have sweated in it. 

  • I’ve done steps in it. 

  • I have even slept in it.

I am literally dying for warmer temperatures... 

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