Day 55 – Otavalo, Ecuador

Today we rode from Pasto, Columbia to Otavalo, Ecuador.  It was a fantastic ride over smooth Andean highways with incredible vistas.  The border crossing at Ipiales was time consuming because of a long line-up to get our passports stamped, but otherwise it was a painless procedure compared to what we went through in Central America.  The total cost was 80 cents for photocopies, and no helpers were required.

The town of Otavalo is nestled in the pines at the foot of a towering dormant volcano.  It has a pleasant atmosphere with a good choice of cafes and restaurants.  There is a central square full of hand-made crafts for sale.  I noticed a lot of hostels while looknig for a motorcycle-friendly hotel (success for $20 a night).  Otavalo seems to be a backpacker hotspot.

I am looking forward to exploring Ecuador and beyond, but I am going to miss Columbia.  I had some amazing experiences interacting with the Colombian people.  One night in particular stands out.  We had stopped for the night in Oiba, a small town between Tunja and Bucamaranga.  It was July 20th, which was fiesta in all of Columbia.  I had written a blog entry at an internet cafe.  Ted had already gone to sleep.  Instead of going back up the hill to the hotel, I went down to the town square to check out the fiesta.

It was quite the scene.  The town square was packed full of people.  There was a temporary stage set up with giant speakers.  Music was blasting, and a mass of people were dancing.  Caballeros rode horses through the crowd.  Food and drink stands were set up all around the square.  There was a bar under a canopy in the middle of the square, and it was obvious that a lot of people had been taking full advantage.  I could see one guy hanging onto one of the poles holding up the canopy.  I thought he would bring the whole thing down.  I saw a girl who was maybe 10 years old walking around sipping a beer.

I was standing there taking in the whole spectacle when a group of people dancing nearby came up to me and invited me to join them.  It would have been rude to refuse.  A beer was thrust into my hand (Aguila), as was a shot of homemade happy juice (rum and rice milk?).  I was surrounded by people, all asking me questions in Spanish.  Where was I from?  How did I like Colombia?  Why was l in Oiba?  I answered as best I could with my limited Spanish.  People were fascinated that I had come all the way from Canada on a motorcycle.

One of the men in the circle wanted to introduce me to his family.  He called his wife and two daughters over.  He kept insisting that I dance with his eldest daughter, who was certainly beautiful.  But I guessed her age at about 16.  However, I didn´t want to offend me new friends, so I danced. 

Soon I was being introduced to a whole group of women closer to my age.  I was surrounded.  One beautiful woman led me to the bar and bought me a beer, giving the other ladies the evil eye.  We were engrossed in conversation when one of my newly made friends came over and pulled us back.  Right behind where we had been standing, a space had formed in the crowd.  My new friend made a stabbing gesture to indicate that a knife fight had broken out.

Parents moved their kids back a few paces, but then continued to dance.  It was their fiesta, and they weren´t about to let a a drunken fight ruin it for themselves and their families.  I couldn´t see what happened with the knife fight because of the crowd, but I shortly afterwards I noticed another couple of guys engaged in a drunken fist fight.  The dancers ignored them.

I continued to chat with my new friends.  They kept giving me more beer.  It was midnight when I finally called it a night.  The fiesta looked like it was just getting going.

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