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January 15, 2001

After again enjoying the most wonderful fruit juices, pineapple, melon, or papaya, at the Hotel Reina Isabel in Quito we headed north towards Ibarra with the volcano Cayambe as our guide. Our first stop was at the village of Calderon a famous centre of a unique folk art. Here we had the opportunity to watch the making of bread-dough decorations.

Continuing on our way surrounded by dry rocky hills, sparsely covered with tufts of grass, the valley is warm and fertile, famous for its orchards and local fruit such as the chirimoya (custard apple).

An overlook gave us a good view of the valley and Alois took advantage of the Agava plants to show us how they provide a natural needle tip and fibre.

Soon we were again passing over the equator. We were entering the province of Imbabura with its numerous Andean volcanoes, lakes and valleys.

The Otavalo area is known for its handicrafts, the textile component of which dates back to the 1500s when the Spanish conquest with its forced labour brought about the development of the industry and the raising of sheep in the area.

Peguche is one of the wealthiest towns in the Otavalo Valley. The town’s artisans are renowned weavers. They create detailed tapestries, rugs, blankets, bags and clothing, which are shipped throughout the world. One of the best known artist / entrepreneurs is Jose Cotacachi whose folklore shop is just off the main plaza.

One unique aspect of the indigenous peoples of Otavalo is that although they have very successfully entered a prosperous money economy, they have continued to maintain their ethnic identity.  This identity is rich and deep, and many Otavalenos still speak their Quichua, their native language, and wear their traditional dress.  On top of that, Otavalenos have forged their own way, not relying on outside development organizations to help them turn their craft production into an successful economic business.

Weavers in the neighboring town of Agato take a more traditional approach to weaving than those in Peguche. Their more traditional appearance reflects their attitude towards life and weaving. The people continue to weave in the same manner their families have for centuries. The Andrango-Chiza family works out of the Tahuantinsuyo Weaving Workshop near the center of town. Miguel Andrango runs the shop They make traditional weavings on backstrap looms using handspun wool and natural dyes and products. Almost all other weavers use the upright Spanish loom and /or chemical dyes. Miguel’s goods although more expensive than market weavings are in heavy demand by those seriously interested in textiles.

The area is also home to several Indian musical groups. On leaving the area a brother and sister team joined us on the bus. Then we were off on our final leg to Ibarra, also known as la ciudad blanca (the white city). Soon, as the the sun went down, we were being tucked away in a hacienda for the night.

Tomorrow we will weave our way through the countryside back to Quito

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