Exploring Ecuador Slowly…But It’s Almost Over.

The weeks have zipped by in Ecuador, full of exploration and fun – so much so that I’ve neglected the blog without a moment of guilt…til now, as we see our three months in South America coming to an end.

Let’s rush back to Otavalo for a few minutes, which we enjoyed following the difficult overland trip from Popayan (see previous blog). Otavalo was the place in Ecuador we’d first thought might appeal as a place to “ex-patriate” ourselves for a while in the coming years. It isn’t as prominent on the overseas retirement list as its nearby sister city, Cotopaxi, or its far away kin, Cuenca, but we thought it might work for us, and spent a week there to see if we were right.

Otavalo Market Gossip

Otavalo Market Gossip

Summing it up, some of the reasons we liked Otavalo were because of its scale – smaller, walkable, and no high rise buildings. The climate in March was lovely, at 8500’ high in the Andes, with even higher areas to explore, including volcanic peaks and hot springs, and of course, the well-known craft market.  Not sure whether it’s the ginko we’ve been taking or not, but we’ve had NO altitude issues…yay!

Much as we enjoyed Otavalo though, we probably won’t return for a long-term stay – for some of the same reasons. At about 90,000 local residents, and a very small international community, there wasn’t as much variety in nightlife (restaurants) as we had imagined. Also, not yet an international bookstore or book exchange. And, surprisingly, the craft market itself was a little bit disappointing (see more below.)

All in all, Otavalo didn’t “feel” right, the way we later discovered Cuenca did. Someday it will – when more expats discover it, and have the energy and interest in building small businesses (like the great little coffee shop, The Daily Grind) – we’re just not the ones who want to create those enterprises.

The famed Otavalo market is overwhelming, in the way that you can have too much of a good thing. Dozens upon dozens of small stalls fill the Plaza des Ponchos, every day of the week in a maze of indigenous entrepreneurship. Except on Saturday, when the market expands from the Plaza and fills many surrounding streets as well. Many of those stalls are filled with the same items – from ponchos, sweaters, pants and pullovers to blankets, table runners and bags of many kinds. There are wood carvings, paintings and jewelry, wooden bowls and maracas. Some of it is beautiful, but there’s so much of everything that it’s mind-boggling. And brings to mind doubts of how much could possibly be “handmade.” It was truly staggering how much of everything there was, and how one stall resembled another. How to decide what to buy and who to buy it from? How could each of these merchants be making a living? And what about the actual storefronts we saw, where huge plastic bags were filled with the same trinkets, shawls and hats that we’d just seen in the market?

Many Many Many Crafts

Many Many Many Crafts

So I was pleased to see, from time to time, people (usually women) actually making something by hand – crocheting a bag, knitting a hat, weaving a bracelet. Even more rewarding was going on a day long trip with Runa Tupari, a tour operator in Otavalo (www.runatupari.com/index.php/en) during which we visited traditional craftspeople in their homes. Those were the moments I’ll remember.

82 Year Old Weaver

82 Year Old Weaver

Thus it was that after a week exploring, talking to people, and avoiding much shopping, Otavalo dropped from the list of potential residences; and nearby Cotopaxi never made the list at all – many of the local people had mentioned with bemusement that there was a neighborhood full of Norte Americanos there, and that it was like a little America – not what we’d be looking for if we live overseas again.

But, go to Otavalo, do.  And we’ll go back too.   It’s a charming small Ecuadorian town, and there’s a lot to do from there, from hiking to boating to exploring the traditional crafts refined over generations. There are a couple of great little coffee shops and a fantastic pie shop – yes, American style pies with thick fillings of amazing tasting Ecuadorian fruits. We went three times in the week we were there.

Food Adventures

Food Adventures

And the market, despite my concerns, is a visual extravaganza, which is why I spent more time taking pictures, and less time shopping. Next time, a bit more about Otavalo.

New Friends...

New Friends…

May I Change My Mind? Part 2 of 2, in which I do!

“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.”

― Hans Christian Andersen

Part 1 of this “Colombia cities” blog offered a few hints as to how I learned to travel calmly in Colombia, where there was much that could have been difficult. With a week’s perspective, the challenges have faded a bit, and the beauty, newness and awe come forward.

I browsed the hundreds of photos that I took during our six weeks in Colombia, and offer the following gallery of favorites; hoping they summarize better than words the many things in which I found true delight during the journey.

Joyful Colors...

Joyful Colors…

Cartagena Mural...

Cartagena Mural…

Beach Beauty in Tayrona

Beach Beauty in Tayrona

Bliss...near Tayrona

Bliss…near Tayrona

Coffee Culture, Hacienda Venecia

Coffee Culture, Hacienda Venecia

Vista in Salento

Vista in Salento

Popayan Silouette

Popayan Silhouette

Guambino Gentlemen, Silvia

Guambino Gentlemen, Silvia

Just Look Up!  Gamboling Statues...

Just Look Up! Gamboling Statues…

Locks...

Locks…

Lusciousness Everywhere

Lusciousness Everywhere

People, colors, food, nature, art…you can find them everywhere; and everywhere different. So much to learn!

What’s Brewing? So Very Much!

Old Bust Head Brewery

Old Bust Head Brewery

This 13,000 mile 100 day plus journey has prompted one question more than any other – how are CW and I managing to spend so much time together, and still be together?  After 32 years of marriage when we rarely spent more than two full weeks together, we’re still smiling (at each other!) after four months of travel, in a car (…talk about close quarters!) If you’re contemplating anything like what we’ve just accomplished, it’s worth considering how you really prefer to spend your time, and agreeing on some simple ways to make sure you get enough “me” time – however you define it.  (This blog eventually comes round to lots of fun info about beer, brewing and beverages, so bear with me!)

Cooking with Spent Grain - Pizza Crust!

Cooking with Spent Grain – Pizza Crust!

We’re not oblivious to the pitfalls of travelling.  In fact, we think one of the greatest indicators of a potentially successful partnership is surviving the challenges of travelling together.  Those challenges are many and I’ll address those in a dedicated blog – but for now, I want to explore one of the most important ones for me:

Constant togetherness…

 

The Roasterie - So Good!

The Roasterie – So Good!

Boulevard Brewing - Around the Corner

Boulevard Brewing – Around the Corner

On this journeywise adventure, we knew from experience that a key strategy would be to find ways to have some occasional hours (ok, frequent hours) apart, to be on our own or at our separate pursuits.  And since we’re both very comfortable in new places (and really, nowhere in the U.S. was going to feel as strange as some of the other places we’ve been) we knew it would just take a little planning to engineer a few hours on our own every other day or so.

Evans Bros. Coffee - Idaho

Evans Bros. Coffee – Idaho

What helps immensely is that we’ve both created portable businesses: CW as what one of his brewery friends so aptly calls “an itinerant malt peddler,” and me, as a consultant and advisor to food and beverage startups in the organic, fair trade and natural sphere.  Charley does best with in-person calls on breweries, while I can manage primarily with phone, Skype, and email, though personal meetings are great when they can happen.  Our work means engaging with fun and interesting people who are working to nourish the world!

We didn’t consciously start our four-month long journey with a plan for how to incorporate independent time – but we learned quickly that CW’s most successful brewery visits would often take an hour or more, and if I could find a local coffee shop, farm market, or natural grocery to explore for at the very least an hour (and two hours was not at all a bad thing, I came to learn) then we’d both have a better time, with no anxiety for me over “when is he going to get back?!” nor CW worrying that I was getting antsy just when he was about to present the malts and whiskies, and getting to taste stellar beers, all with the point of actually leaving a sample of Copper Fox malt behind!

Tasting Brews Across the USA

Tasting Brews Across the USA

It’s far past time to give CW credit for a lot of the fun and exploring we’ve had on this journey.  Charley’s work with Copper Fox Distillery  http://www.copperfox.biz/index/ in Sperryville, Virginia has taken us (well, him) to over 60 craft breweries in 22 states and 4 Canadian provinces over the past 4 months, as he introduced brewers to the Distillery’s hand crafted, Virginia-grown barley malts.

We started the trip with about 100 pounds of the specialty smoked malts in the back of the car (along with our suitcases and camping gear), and picked up another 30 pounds (plus fresh bottles of the two whiskies) on the West Coast.  Although I’m now used to the slightly yeasty, warm-bread smell of sacks of the specialty malts wafting about in the car, I was happy that we left Boston for home having completely depleted the malt inventory!  CW’s pretty excited about that as well, as it means that across the U.S. and Canada, small and mid-sized craft breweries—now well over 30–are experimenting and creating new beers with Copper Fox’s apple and cherry wood smoked malt, and mesquite smoked malt.   Results of this summer’s visits already include brews on tap or soon on tap at Old Bust Head Brewing, in Warrenton, VA  http://www.oldbusthead.com/  Firehouse Brewing, in Rapid City, SD  http://www.firehousebrewing.com/  Sawtooth Brewing, in Ketchum, ID  http://sawtoothbrewery.com/         The Grizzly Paw Brewing Company, in Canmore, Alberta (near Banff)  http://www.thegrizzlypaw.com/      and The Raw Deal/Real Deal Brewing, in Menomanie, WI  http://www.rawdeal-wi.com/  .   If you happen to be nearby any of these, you can enjoy a brew with a Copper Fox smoked malt as a key ingredient, and vicariously join our  “journeywise!”

Mural in Detroit

Mural in Detroit

There’s a bit more of the trip to catch up on, but we’ve now arrived back in Philadelphia, and midst the unpacking, sorting, and oh yes, planning the next trip, I’m behind my optimistic blogging schedule.  Soon to come – what did we learn and what’s next?  Stay tuned!