Exchange Diaries: Ecuador Part Two

By Meaghan Wray (ArtSci ‘ 14)
Staff Writer

Buena suerte. Good luck.
That’s what my host mom Margarita said to me before I left for Otavalo, an Ecuadorean town with South America’s largest market. I didn’t know what she meant until I was riding the bus, looking straight down the side of a cliff to what my panicked mind imagined as my imminent death.

Margarita wasn’t wishing me luck with anything in particular; wishing someone luck in Latin America is more of a pleasant formality, but the comment rang throughout my short-lived trip.
We arrived at 7 p.m. in Otavalo, where we were dropped off among a sea of locals; we realized our depiction of Otavalo as “Gringo Landia”, or the land of travelers, was a poor choice. A short cab ride took us to our destination, where we were greeted by a young man who lead us to our private bedroom complete with tie-dyed blankets and Pocahontas sheets.

That evening, we made quick friends with a man who owns a café called The Daily Grind. He sold us three $1.25 bottles of Pilsener, after we declined Budweiser and declared our love for Ecuadorean brews. We left with the promise of coming back for “the best” coffee in Otavalo the next morning.
We woke up the next morning to the sound of roosters – yes, roosters -- before we ventured out to grab bagels and coffee and explore the famous Saturday market.
The market wasn’t exactly what I expected, but I was impressed with the leather goods, all of which were handmade with intricate detailing and precision. The love that went into making these goods was obvious; the time spent on each curve and cut, with the talent that a factory machine could never duplicate.

Lunch, where we managed to successfully order our meals in broken Spanish, was followed by the most eye-opening event I have experienced while in Ecuador. As I crossed through an intersection, I heard yells and horns. I don’t know what happened, or who provoked who, but out of the corner of my eye a man dressed in blue camouflage took out a baton and beat a man over the back. I assumed this was a police officer, and quickly averted my eyes and sped away, not wanting to witness or become involved in what was going on before me.
Two doors down, I noticed a man dressed in the same garb, casually sipping a coffee, either unaware or unwilling to acknowledge what was happening.
I judged him immediately. Buzz words like police brutality and corruption popped into my head, but I was equally guilty of failing to take action. I wasn’t sipping a coffee, but I chose to walk away. I chose to disregard it because I didn’t want the image of a man being beaten to taint my love for this country.
As we headed back to Quito, I watched the rows of impoverished homes roll by my window; abandoned stone homes where strings of drying laundry is the only sign of life inside. These places seemed forgotten and abandoned, like the people within them. They seemed shut-off from the world, yet connected through the result of their craftsmanship, which ended up in the market and thus on the bodies of those who can afford them. Yet amongst the ruin lies a commercial amusement park, complete with a ferris wheel, a merry-go-round and a cluster of laughing children; a familiar juxtaposition I have witnessed since I arrived in Ecuador.

Meaghan Wray will be positing again for QJBlogs on October 8.

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