The Saturday market in Otavalo is definitely a must see for most tourists who visit Ecuador – indeed the market is huge and a paradise for anybody looking for souvenirs, handcrafted local products and jewellry. But to truly appreciate the handcrafted items, we decided to do a tour to the surrounding villages to see the artisans at work. We start our tour with a visit of the Peguche waterfalls outside of Otavalo, a sacred place to the local indigenous people, which gets extremely crowded during the Inti Raymi Festival on June 24th, the Festival of the Sun. A big party with music, dancing and cleanings by shamans is held at the waterfalls – a wonderful place!
Our guide Israel takes us through the rain to a workshop in Peguche, where a family produces traditional musical instruments from the Andes region, certainly including a huge variety of panpipes made out of a special type of bamboo from the coast. Every panpipe sounds different!
They also sell the so-called charango, a small instrument similar to a mandolin, which was originally made from armandillo shells. The artisans also have their own band, which performs on concerts in the area.
We continue our way to the workshop of the indigenous weavers José and María. José is 80 years old, his wife 67 – they are the last artisans who still do the whole weaving process completely by hand. They buy the sheep wool in the region of El Carchí close to the Columbian frontier, wash it twice in hot and cold water to remove grease and dirt and brush it twice to make to wool soft and manageable and then make the yarn on a 150-year-old and hand-operated machine.
We were surprised that out of a small amount of wool they could actually make 3 meters of yarn. Then José demonstrates us how he weaves a scarf on his little weaving frame. He started weaving at the age of 7, he tells us, and with his expertise he is going to weave a scarf within one day.
“Some months ago, I taught a Japanese guy, who was staying with me for 5 days, how to weave,” he informs us in Quechua and points on a photo of the wall. “He did pretty well in fact!” Funny to imagine that the Japanese might produce scarves and blankets in traditional Ecuadorian style in his home country now We ask him if this family business will still live on – “No,” José tells us. “When I die, our business will disappear.” They have a daughter, but she does not want to keep on with the family tradition as it is a lot of work, which does not generate a lot of income unfortunately. José´s scarves and blankets are unique – something I have never seen on the market in Otavalo or other shops. They only sell directly from their workshop.
Next stop is the house of a local shaman or healer in the community of La Calera. He demonstrates us a cleansing, for which he uses herbs, an egg, cigarettes and agua ardiente, a strong licor made out of sugarcane.
The herbs absorb the bad energy the person to be cleaned might have inside…the local people generally feel that when they are weak, without motivation, imbalanced or ill, they generally go to a shaman for a cleansing. Now the shaman batters the pollution out of the patient´s aura with cigarette smoke, whacks with bundles of medicinal herbs, and showers of raw cane liquor spit on the patient.
At the end he rubs the egg all over the body – sometimes it breaks if the aura has been really “polluted. I asked him if he still does cleanings with guinea pigs (which are rubbed all over the body of the patient – “Yes”, the shaman answered, “but it has to be a black one, which absorbs the bad energy better. Sometimes, if the aura of a patient is polluted a lot the guinea pig already dies during the cleaning, if not I cut it at the end and thus can see what kind of illness or imbalance the patient has.” Wow! After the cleaning he tells us to leave quickly so that the bad energy is not following us – so we better run quickly back to the van
Israel takes us to a family house where we have a traditional lunch before we head off to a workshop managed by six women from the La Calera community who do jewelry like necklaces, bracelets and earrings out of the Tagua nut.
The Tagua nut is a botanical alternative to ivory and is a seed that comes from the ivory-nut palm which grows wild in the humid tropical forest in the mangroves at the coast of Ecuador.
Apart from that a local seed called “torta” is used as well.
The women of the community were housewives before and are happy to have their own business now, which gives them a possibility to have an additional income.
We finish our day at the beautiful Cuicocha lagoon and go back to Otavalo to stroll over the market after a great day full of new insights!
This tour was part of “Turismo comunitario” in the region tourism involving the local communities to give them new sources of income and at the same time enable visitors to gain new insights and understand the reality of these communities in a better way. It is very rewarding to be in contact with the local people and an idea of their everyday life – and at the same time being able to support them!
If you are interested in getting to know one of these local tourism projects, please send a short email to email@example.com and we will provide you with more information