January 31, 2012

Otavalo Adventures: Friday

Not from Friday, but it's Greg and goats.
Awesome regardless!
You may remember, we've already been to Otavalo once in the fall. We wanted to come back because the area looked cool and we had only seen the market (which did not fascinate us as there are a million stalls selling mostly the same thing). I had bigger plans for us for the weekend, but since we both forgot the bank card at home, we were traveling on a limited budget. 

I'd still like to hike around the beautiful crater lake, but we can go back another time. It's only 2 hours from Quito. In any case, I've already been hinting to Greg that I'd like to go back this summer for a weaving or natural dyeing class at Tahuatinsuyo.

After the weaving expedition on Friday, I went to Cotacachi, which is a small leather-goods town. I grabbed some lunch at a place that was all expats - the locals probably couldn't afford it even though it was below average for a lunch in the US. Then, shoe shopping! I had hoped to find some mid-calf boots, but the only ones I found were not available in my size. I think the saleswoman thought I had massive feet, but given that I was towering over her, I don't think she should have been that surprised when I told her my shoe size!

Cotocachi main square - I still love seeing palm trees!
Disappointed, I headed for the bus stop. I was the only non-Indigenous person waiting and the only one without some handicraft to work on. Never before have I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb here. Everyone's hands were busy with embroidery, crocheting baby hats, making friendship bracelets with intricate designs, and separating threads. All of the goods they made were most likely to be sold at the market the next morning. 

A lot of what is in the market is machine or factory made, but when I happened upon people actually making stuff that, it made me feel better about the market. More about that in the next post - including a video or two and more pictures, I promise!
Kids riding a horse along the train tracks in Otavalo -
we liked how the toothless one was hamming it up!

January 29, 2012

Natural Weaving in Agato

Sheep's wool waiting to be made
into thread and the end product.
My birthday present to myself (sure, why not?) was to go to Agato, near Otavalo, and drop in on a very special kind of weaving that is done at the Tahuatinsuyo Weaving Workshop. The founder, Miguel, wasn't there, but lucky for me, it's a family business and so I got to meet Luz Maria and her husband. They are an indigenous family as you'll notice from their clothing and hats. Going to their workshop was the highlight of my Friday (Greg was in school so could not come).

It's set in Agato, a rural village about 15 minutes by taxi up a bumpy cobblestone road from Otavalo. The workshop itself looks like a regular albeit larger family home. I didn't see anyone in the workshop, but a few dogs, so the taxi driver and I had to ask a few people where I could find the weavers.
Luz Maria showing how yarn/thread
used to be made by hand instead of "machine"

The husband (who I forgot to write down his name and then forgot the name as usual) showed me the bags of wool waiting to be carded (separated with two big brushes), shaped into cylinders of sorts with two different, but similar-looking brushes, and then added on to existing thread on their threading machine. I took a video of that.

In Otavalo, weaving is mainly men's work because it is strenuous. The women typically clean the wool, dye it and then sell the work once it's done. In this workshop, they use mainly natural dyes - walnut for brown, grey and black; achiote for reds; and cochineal for shades of purple; lichen for yellow.

He sat down to show me how he used the backstrap loom, which you can read more about their use of it here. Their family is one of few that still uses the backstrap loom.

The husband showed me how he moved a spool of thread to separate the lines of the designs. He did not follow a written down pattern or design from paper - everything they make is in their heads. It's backbreaking work because you're sitting on a mat with the backstrap of the loom behind your back and the weaving in front of you. After 8 hours of weaving, you may only make 6 inches of length in a 15-inch wide piece.

Adjusting the backstrap
Therefore, in their shop, they sell the rugs, table runners, blankets, tableclothes,   and scarves for much more than you'll find in the Otavalo market. To give you an example, a machine-made tablerunner in Otavalo will sell for $8-10. In comparison, the ones at the Tahuatinsuyo workshop sell for between $60-120 depending on how intricate the design and materials.

I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, that it was really an amazing experience for me to see them working and to be able to ask my questions to Luz Maria without feeling rushed or being forced to buy anything. She just really likes meeting people from all over and sharing their craft. I hope to come back in the summer for a few days to either take a natural dyeing class or a weaving class with them and stay  in their home.
The "inner" workings of the loom - on a side note, notice how small  the man's feet are! Mine feel huge in comparison. In fact in Cotocachi (the leather town), one store only went up to size 38 European/7.5 US.

January 12, 2012

Everybody's Going Surfin'

Surfin' Ay-am-pe.

Well, I've got another open slot on my life list after checking off "take a surfing lesson."

As you saw in the last post, Ayelet and I were at a wonderfully quiet beach during my December break from school. We opted to fly down to the coast after hearing that a bus ride was probably 10 hours. Since Quito sits up so high in the mountains, it pretty much felt like we only glided down to the Pacific after our take off. After a few hours on a bus we walked into to the dirt road town of Ayampe to find our beach cabana. Ayelet was looking for peace and quiet and I wanted to hit the water. After we arrived, I realized I might be getting in over my head. Our first night out walking had huge looking waves and I had no clue what was on the ocean floor. Luckily the next day we met up with a Canadian couple that moved to this tiny beach town and Ryan assured me that a morning surfing lesson would be just fine.

I'm sure you have already had a nice chuckle at the picture of me on that tiny wave, but I am happy to say that I did manage to get up on the board and surf, hang 10, all the usual surf stuff. After my hour and a half lesson I was a bit bruised up and not really looking to get back on the surf board right away. That chance will come sometime down the road where I hope to graduate to a wave a bit bigger than 1-2 feet high.

January 8, 2012

Ayampe: Our Beach Getaway

We heard about Ayampe through friends and it sounded like the perfect place to relax away from the crowds. It was just what we needed after our first few months in Quito. Quito is cool, but it was nice to go to a place where we didn't smell cars any day we were there and we knew everyone in town by sight within a couple days.

The lady at the corner grocery store (one of three in town) probably started referring to me as the one who ate coconut popsicles for lunch everyday. We saw the local expat yoga instructor and her surf teacher husband almost everyday even though we only went to their classes once (Otra Ola is awesome!). The beach was quiet and only got busy when we could see maybe 20 people on the beach at one time.

Ayampe was perfect for long walks on the beach, watching the waves crash, getting to know the tides, examining interesting rocks (we loved the green beach rock and the shells with surprising colors inside), chasing scuttling crabs and trying to figure out what they eat, reading and crocheting in our hammocks, taking a yoga class, taking a surfing class, naming all the dogs roaming around, watching the chickens looking for grubs, and trying every restaurant in Ayampe (Four in total: 1) healthy Finca Punta Ayampe with its excellent breakfasts, 2) little Italian pizzeria at Las Orishas hostal, 3) our cabins' restaurant La Tortuga, 4) Surf, a cutely decorated, but sexist in terms of portions of food they give, bar/restaurant where you can watch the surfers try the waves). 

We even managed to tear ourselves away from our hammocks to go into Puerto Lopez, the fishing town about 20 minutes north. We skipped the famously tourist-heavy surf town of Montanita though. 

The rest of our pictures are on facebook and Greg's going to post about his new talent soon!

January 6, 2012

Hanukkah on the Road

This year, we were able to have a few nights of Hanukkah at home and some on vacation. We took some photos of our celebrations for you all - enjoy!

Our first night in Ayampe we lit the candles on the beach at sunset

Greg loves lighting them!

Our candles in Quito

January 4, 2012


{Wow, sorry for the delay! I just realized this one never got posted! I'll be posting more soon about our latest trip to the coast} It seems like there has been one weekend vacation after another the last few weeks - last week the school had off on Friday for Thanksgiving and this week, Greg has off Monday and Tuesday for the founding of Quito (las fiestas de Quito). Last weekend we rode down to Banos, a popular town about 3.5 hours from Quito that was named after the hot springs there. Now the town has way more than the hot springs that most tourists enjoy, but we were there mainly for some rest and relaxation so the hot springs were our main focus.
Sunset on our first night in Banos
My beloved hammock on the porch
We stayed at a place outside of town called La Casa Verde, which I would highly recommend to anyone going to Banos. It's an ecological guesthouse run by two lovely expats and it attracts such a cool crowd of people. We got a room with a hammock outside of our room and it was well-used by me. On our first morning, we went to the hot springs that were close to the hotel. It turned out to be a very good choice because it was a lot less busy than the ones in town. It was called the Santa Ana hot springs and it was across from the Samurai hotel. These hot springs didn't have the hottest baths, like the popular one in town, but it had a very comfortable hot bath and nice scenery with a wall of bamboo sheltering one of the pools from the wind. We found Banos to be very windy, especially in the afternoon and evening. It was sort of unexpected, but in the sunny afternoon, it was welcome.

After we got back from the baths, we went into town to grab lunch at Cafe Hood. The food was the best we had in Banos! The desserts weren't the best, but I had a delicious lasagna and Greg had a potato curry. We took our bathing suits so we could try the more popular thermal baths in town that were open into the night. They were SO crowded and not nearly as pleasant as the ones we had gone to in the morning.

View from the porch at La Casa Verde
The hotel had a beautiful glass bottle wall on the staircase -
this would be something I would love to add into a future home!