September 10th - 13th 2003
As we now had to wait until Monday before the various customs procedures would begin, we were hoping to turn this time to our advantage and spend a few days outside of Quito. But yet again our plans were turned upside down when the shipping agent left a message requesting that we hand over Ed's original passport and driving licence which in turn would be sent to customs in Guayaquil. Needless to say we were none too happy about doing this, and arranged to take these in person to Guayaquil on Sunday. We would still need to leave these at least overnight with customs so that they could complete the necessary paperwork, but as least nothing would get lost in the Ecuadorian post.
We booked our bus tickets to Guayaquil for Sunday - $9 each for a 450mile/8 hour trip. Our membership to the South American Explorers Club has proved its weight in gold. By chance we met Joe there who has sent the last 18 months driving overland tour groups all over South America. He has been a huge help and spent a lot of time giving us driving tips in the various countries, telling us what to look out for and suggesting places to go to get things fixed during our travels.
Janet from the Club has also been really helpful. We needed to get third party insurance for the car sorted out before getting the vehicle out of customs - we were not sure if customs would ask for this before allowing us to drive the vehicle out of the port and we didn't want to give them a single excuse for delaying anything. Janet found an insurance broker to use and acted as translator for us. I'm sure we could not have done it without her. Unfortunately no company would insure us for our entire trip, only for Ecuador. That means we will need to go through the whole process again for each country but hopefully our Spanish will have improved by the time we get to Peru!
We had planned on travelling with some friends from the Spanish School on Friday evening to Otavalo, a village famous for its Saturday market and two hours north of Quito. The only problem was, the last bus from Quito left at 6:30pm and the insurance broker could not deliver our documents to the hotel until that time. So we had to go by taxi. The ride was an adventure in itself. We explained to the guy in the hotel reception - in our limited Spanish - that we were expecting a taxi at 7:15 and could he let us know when it was there. The taxi turned up on time and, again in our limited Spanish, we confirmed with the taxi driver that he was taking us to Otavalo. He nodded and off we went. A few hundred yards down the road he asked which terminal we wanted at the airport - domestic or international. It suddenly dawned on us that we were in the wrong taxi and that the receptionist had misunderstood; he had ordered us a taxi. He took us back to the hotel but was not too happy. Luckily the taxi we had ordered had just arrived at the hotel and then began a hair-raising ride through the foggy, winding mountain roads to Otavalo. Drivers really think nothing of overtaking around blind bends here. They just sound their horn and overtake. If something does end up coming the other way they either carry on going, narrowly missing the oncoming vehicle or just slam on the brakes and pull back in behind the vehicle in front with a few centimeters to spare.
Having arrived safely in Otavalo, we got up the next morning around 6:00am to catch the animal market just outside of town which starts at about 5:00am and is over by 9:00am. It is certainly a strange sight when you walk up a main street in the town and see a little piglet squealing like mad as it is being pulled along on a lead like a dog. The market itself was fairly chaotic with hoards of people trading pigs, cows, sheep and a few horses. Although not touristy as such, there were quite a few tourists wandering around, some of them nearly getting run over to get that perfect video footage.
The main market in town starts later in the morning and is huge, seemingly taking up most of the town. It dates back to pre-Inca times and serves both locals and tourists, the wares being traded ranging from fruit and vegetables through to household goods, tapestries, jewellery, ponchos and paintings. A couple of hours wandering around the market and people watching was enough for us. So we headed out to the nearby Laguna de Cuicocha, a deep 3km wide lake in an eroded volcanic crater of the Volcan Cotacachi and spent the afternoon walking partway around the lake, before returning to Otavalo and then Quito.
Ed takes it easy in the hostal.