Fellow volunteers and I took the bus from the north bus station in Quito to Cotacachi, a town about 5 miles northwest of Otovalo (which I still need to go to for some hiking and the market there). That weekend, there was a festival with all of the indigenous groups in the area called Inti Raymi in Kichwa (it means "sun festival") and also commemorates San Juan, San Pedro, and San Pablo. We went to the town to see what it was all about.
On the first day, the men start dancing around 9:00am or 10:00am and dance until about 7:00pm at night. The dancers wear these leather chaps that have sheep or alpaca furn the outside. they also have these giant black hats that are made out of a hard material and have symbols on them of all different kinds. I think the hats kind of serve a dual purpose because the next item that the dancers have are whips made out of rope, steel cables, or chains. As they dance around the town, they whip the ground. The dancers, at least the male dancers, also drink a lot all day, so there were tons of teams of riot police dispatched all over the little town to prevent fights from breaking out between the different groups of dancers. On Sunday, the women danced, but since some of us had to work, we were only able to see the part of the festival on Saturday.
After wandering around the town for a bit and watching the different groups' dancing, we took a couple of taxis to a nearby lake called Laguna Cuicocha. I guess you used to have to pay to get into the park where the lake is located but now it is free to enter. The lake is absolutely gorgeous. There are lush green mountains that border one edge and then you can walk around the other edge. The park even has a little visitor's center where you can purchase hot empanadas and canelazo. The lake itself is actually fairly large and there is a small island in the middle. Too bad we didn't have more time left in the afternoon because I would have loved to canoe or kayak on that lake.
At night after we ate dinner, we walked around the town again, but stuck only to main, well-lit streets (pretty much the entire male population of the town was plastered and they still had those steel whips). While Otovalo is famous for its Saturday market, Cotacachi is famous for its leather goods. I was not even planning on buying anything, but then my friend wanted to look around so we ended up wandering into a store and started trying on jackets (dangerous). We both ended up walking out with really cool bomber-style jackets. While we were trying them on and deciding if we wanted to purchase them, our other friend decided to come in the store and mess with us to get us to hurry up. He ended up buying a jacket even more expensive than either of ours.
After half of our group was clad in Cotacachi leather jackets, we wandered down a street and got help from two very nice women who were running a food stand at night (they were going to be dancing the next day). They called cabs for us and waited outside with us until the cabs arrived, and tought us some Kichwa words while we waited. They even went to the cabs first to make sure they were the cabs that were called to make sure it was safe for us to hop in. They also told the cab drivers where to take us so that we could get on a bus back to Quito. While we were waiting with them, we saw a group of drunk men stumble out of a house next door. They were followed by a woman who must have been one of the men's wife - she was carrying all the steel cable whips (smart lady).
Once we got on the bus leaving Otovalo and heading back to Quito, there were no seats left so we stood for a little bit until more people got off and some seats opened up. While we were standing, there was a lady who had two seats to herself and just had a bag sitting on the empty window seat. She was really stubborn and refused to move the bag so that one of us (or one of the other 10 people standing) could sit down, claiming she paid for both seats. Who knows what was going on with her, but it made the ride back pretty hilarious.
All in all, it was a great trip (even though I got sick from whatever we ate for dinner). And the jacket is pretty cool too - it's too hot to wear it much here, but it will be perfect for fall and winter in Michigan.