Located about 2 hours north from Quito, Otavalo is a lovely little Ecuadorian highland town. The main attraction of Otavalo is its famous traditional handicraft market, which is around all week long, but which is really big on Saturdays. Otavalo has quite a few gringo restaurants and hostels in the town centre, but you can find more than enough local chow and board just a few blocks further out. Great place to relax and to enjoy the ambience for a few days.
You get all sorts of people on the buses, up here in Ecuador (as in Peru and Bolivia). They'll jump on, they'll do anything for a buck, and then they'll jump off a few minutes' ride down the highway. They'll sing in Quechua (please, could you not!). They'll sell you paperback books. They'll hawk the herbal remedy solution that could revitalise your sex life, boost your confidence, and increase your lifespan by 15 years. Usually, they're loud and painful, and you pay them just to shut up and to move on to terrorising the next bus. But today, on the bus back from Otavalo to Quito, the busker on the bus was quite professional. He had a guitar.
I woke up this morning, to find Otavalo completely transformed. Outside my hostel was a market. Down the street was more market. In fact, the entire town had been converted into one giant, sprawling, souvenir-riddled market! So the rumours were true: it is indeed a big deal, here in Otavalo on Saturday. And since this was my last full day in Ecuador, and in the Central Andes as a whole, it was time to embark on a serious splurge of souvenir and present shopping. I now have a very overstuffed bag, and a rather lean pocket.
There's only one thing you want to do, the day after a stint of mountain-climbing: nothing. And nothing is exactly what I did today. After I got back from the Cotopaxi climb yesterday, I didn't hang around in Quito very long: headed straight to the bus terminal, and hopped on a bus north to Otavalo. And today, I discovered that Otavalo is the perfect place to spend a Friday resting, blogging, reading, and eating some cheap local food. R&R in Otavalo: just what I needed.
And if you've looked at any of my photos from the last 4 months or so, you'll understand why this is such big news. That's right, people: I'm not kidding, I'm not pulling your leg; I've actually done it. For the first time since leaving Oz (about 6 months), I've finally had a haircut. And for the first time since coming down to South America (about 5 months), I've also had a shave! My reasons for not doing this for so long were many, as were my reasons for deciding to end the experiment today. Anyway, I did it this afternoon, here in Otavalo. And I'm now shorn as a sheep, smooth as a baby's behind, and cold as a Jamaican in Siberia. And the hair is gone.