Entering into a new country is always a little exciting, new culture to see, another stamp in the passport and an adventure begins anew. I’ve never done a walk across a border either which definitely adds to the theatre, so it’s country number four for the trip, lets see what Ecuador has in store for us. Today’s been a bit of a mega travel day, the day after climbing Purace and we’re a bit nackered. After 14 hours of taxi, bus, bus, taxi, collectivo, bus and local taxi (which is a ute where you just jump in the back) we finally arrived in Otovalo.
Our first day wandering around Otovalo/ Ecuador is, like Colombia, a surprise, it’s a little different to what we expected, this time in the best possible way. Otovalo jumps out with a few instant characteristics, it’s clean, it’s spacious, the park is stunning and the atmosphere is more chilled than a 60’s housewife on valium. Above all though there’s a comprehensive saturation of traditional culture, starting with pretty much everyone being about 4′ tall, Charlie is seriously a giant in this place, lets not get into what sort of genetic freak I feel like. The women particularly have a really interesting style which is very unique, topped off with the typical Ecuadorian short brimmed hats; the hats are gold, everyone wears them and we simply have to have one.
Beyond fashion though there’s an interesting feeling in Otovalo that has often been notable by its absence in many places we’ve travelled in before and indeed I’ve never really put my finger on it before being right here. It’s only a first look but it seems that what we would call indigenous culture isn’t distinctly separated from culture in general. Across the world it seems that ‘indigenous’ or ‘traditional’ has no place in a more modern version of society, as if somehow the passing of time is a path that a culture cannot travel. As we wander around I’m curious as to why so much of the world, Australia included, puts culture and tradition in the same basket as fashion and underpants: things that inevitably die with the passing of their relevant season?
But lets not make a social commentary rant upon half a day of wandering a new town, I’ll ascend the high horse later possibly, right now it’s all about soaking up the contrast between Colombia and Ecuador. We’ve had a pretty respectable coffee, a great brekky and the atmosphere is ebbing away tension by the second. What we’re most happy with is that this is a pretty small town and it’s filled with examples of ‘just getting it’ from the food, beautiful parks, and the best market we have found, filled with genuinely local and interesting things. So many places seem to attempt to adopt a western ideal but in Otovalo we see a good blending of what’s handy and helpful from the modern world with a sophisticated retention of what’s distinctly Ecuadorian.
Yes on first glance we’re I’ll throw it out there, Ecuador is looking like a bit of a winner. Adding to this is that of all the countries we’ve seen Ecuador has been an economic and social basket case as recently as the last five years. With the fallout from Spanish pillaging, so many countries in South America seem to have gone through a very lengthy period of unrest as they grapple to regain their independent feet as such, typically corruption and greed are the first mice to move into the vacuum left by colonial rule. Where many countries have been on a relatively even keel for a few years now, the seemingly genteel Ecuador has been smashed from pillar to post farther into recent history than most. Apparently only in the last few years there’s been a bit of money (oil) and spending on infrastructure and social policies, it’s a balance that seems to really hit the spot right now.
The question remains: If Ecuador remains on an upward economic trajectory, will the culture we see now be consigned to kitsch history?<