but it's bloody hard work!
05.02.2010 - 07.02.2010
Luckily we managed to jump of the bus before it passed right through Otavalo as no one bothered to announce we were there. It was dark by now so we got in a taxi and quickly found a nice hotel on the Plaza de Ponchos, a prime location because this is where they have the big arts and crafts market that we wanted to mooch around. We ate a quick burrito each and then called it a night.
When we woke up in the morning the market was being set up and there were lots of colourful things on display, we were both eager to have a look.
First things first though we wanted to sort out a horse riding excursion and so we went in search a tour agency. Otavalo is a really nice little town, much more picturesque than anywhere else we visited in Ecuador.
It has clearly benefited from the tourist trade and shops, restaurants etc are geared in this direction but it hasn't detracted from its appeal. It also has a lovely location, in a valley surrounded by lush green hills which provides the perfect backdrop.
After walking round the whole town we found a tour agency offering horse riding and went in to enquire. Two main options were described to us which varied in difficulty and as I haven't ridden a horse for years and Adam has only been on one once we were looking for something on the easy side. The one we were considering involved riding for about three hours each way with the aim of reaching a mountain lake, which from the pictures looked lovely. We decided to go away and have a think about, i.e. discuss in private how much we were willing to pay. When we returned later it was closed so we decided it was time to have a look around the market. There were lots products made of llama/alpaca wool; jumpers, ponchos, hats, scarfs, and rugs. Also a lot of jewellery, some of which was very pretty but we were both immediately disappointed when we asked how much things cost, it was so expensive! This put a slight downer on the experience and we just bought a couple of tiny things that we thought were the right price. Later in the afternoon the tour agency was open again and once we'd agreed on the right price we booked to go the following morning. The rest of the day was spent relaxing and feeling a little bit apprehensive about what it would be like to be in control of a horse, we were both hoping for ponies!
In the morning it seemed that the weather wanted us to remain nervous for another 24 hours because it was raining heavily. Neither of us could see the point in sitting on a horse in the pouring rain, also we wouldn't be able to see anything as the clouds were so low. We trudged up to the tour agency and ask if we could put it off a day which they said was fine. It was Saturday and this is when the market is at its biggest and it spreads through out the whole town. I felt really sorry for all these people setting up there stalls in the rain, it was pretty miserable. We didn't let it put us off either though and had a look at what was on offer. We ended up buying some really lovely, soft alpaca blankets and then later on in the afternoon we bartered hard for a couple of paintings we'd had our eye on, we ended up getting them for half the original price so we were pretty pleased. I just hope we like them as much when we get home! The rain didn't let up all day and so we spent most of our time huddled up in our room only popping down to get some grub from the little food stalls. When we went to sleep we both had our fingers crossed that the sun would be out tomorrow.
Our luck was in, the sun was shining down from a bright blue sky with only a few scattered clouds. We hurried out to get some breakfast and then waited at the agreed spot for our horse riding guide to appear. He was about half an hour late and we were beginning to wonder if he was going to show at all but finally Antonio appeared. We thought it was going to be a bit awkward to begin with because he seemed to be a man of very few words, all of which were Spanish but he warmed up through out the day. We all got in to a taxi which took us to a small village out side of town and here there were four horses tied to a couple of fences.
Two of them were quite big and the other two were on the smaller side. When I was directed to the large brown one and Adam to the large black one our nerves kicked in which is never good when you're about to get on a horse. Nevertheless we got our foot in the stirrup, swung our legs over and we were on, this is where the fun began.
For about the first twenty minutes or so I thought it was going to be impossible. Neither mine or Adam's horses would do as they were told and Antonio was giving us no instructions apart from which direction to take, which always seemed to come too late and even this was proving too complicated. In the end though I managed to get my lady (I never quite caught her name) under control, she was pretty head strong all day but I think by the end we came to an understanding.
Adam's horse, Negro (Spanish for black) on the other hand was a different kettle of fish, a bit too headstrong and so he and Antonio periodically swapped mounts through out the day. One of the little horses Antonio had started out on was much more laid back, in fact a little on the slow side but much easier to handle.
We made our way along a serious of well trodden paths until we reached a small look out and from here we could see down to San Pablo Lake.
We dismounted for a little bit of a break and it was good timing because just after about five or six kids on bikes zoomed down the path we were about to take. From here on things got a little more tricky. All the rain the day before had made for very, very slippy conditions and we took a very narrow foot/bridal/bike path with trees on either side. It was pretty steep in places with lots of mud and exposed rocks.
I was leading the way, followed by Adam and Antonio was at the back. I obviously couldn't see but Adam said quite often the horse would loose their footing, their hooves slipping this way and that. It took quite a lot of coaxing at points to get them up these treacherous ascents but we all made it in one piece. Although quite often we were impaled on overhanging branches and Adam's sunglasses were knocked off.
Finally though we came out on to a cobbled road and we were on the final stretch before we reached the lake. None of the horse liked walking on the cobbles as they didn't have shoes on.
So they criss crossed across the road in the search of the softer grass, it was pretty slow progress.
We tried to get them to trot but they'd only do it for short bursts. I don't think Adam enjoyed it much anyway, he found it pretty excruciating. It was all worth it though when we reached Lagunas de Mojanda, a beautiful, sheet of glistening water nestled in amongst the mountains.
There were only a a few other people there so it was really quite peaceful. We climbed off the horses and left them to have a well deserved munch on the abundance of grass. Then we took in our surroundings for a little bit although we couldn't really do much in the way of walking, my legs didn't feel like they even belonged to me any more.
There was a small tent sent up with a nice man and woman inside who had some food and drink for sale. We had a corn on the cob each, a cup of coffee and then we both had a couple of sips of some home made tequila that Antonio asked for. Pretty strong stuff and I don't think drinking it could ever be considered pleasurable but it was interesting to try. Soon enough it was time to remount which my legs really did not appreciate!
We both kind of presumed that we'd be going back a different way as surely the ascents we'd made would be far too dangerous when they became descents. Apparently Antonio did not think so though and we turned off the cobbled road just where we'd entered it. Adam was back on Negro whose plan of action to tackle difficult sections was to get them over with as quickly as possible and as now Adam was leading I just saw him bouncing about in the saddle trying to rein Negro in as they disappeared out of sight. During one of these bronco style moments he lost his sunglasses for good. Soon after this he swapped with Antonio. My horse was a little better and I managed to get her to take things pretty slowly although she did slip completely over on to her side at one point luckily I didn't get crushed and she was up again in an instant. Despite the difficulties and the fact that neither of us really had the skills to do what we were doing, I was having a great time. It definitely got the adrenalin pumping. That said when we finally reached the little village about two and a half hours later we were both definitely ready to get off, the pain was really kicking in.
We waited for a bus down in to town and chatted to Antonio a little more, it was easier now we weren't all on horse back. He explained that he was speaking Quechua to the people in the village, I wasn't sure if the Andean language would have changed as we got further north. Then we told him a little about our trip and home a bit. He was a very, very sweet man and it had been a really good day. Once we were back in town we quickly went about buying some food before heading back to the hotel. We would be leaving Ecuador the next day and this had been a great way to finish our visit but we were sore, tired and in need of sleep.
Laura & Adam