Only a vague memory lingered in my head about the market of Otavalo, so when we were on our way on an early Saturday morning from Quito, I decided to forget it and come with an open mind. Certainly, the road had been improved, and after less than two hours, our bus pulled into the bus station of Otavalo. Right away, we saw people selling stuff in the streets while we walked towards the Plaza de los Ponchos, the main draw on a Saturday, the prime market day of the town. Expecting a very touristy setting, I was relieved to see the square full of locals. The centre of the square is choke-full of stalls selling rugs, caps, shirts, brightly coloured wooden plates, and much more; around it, you can also find stalls selling vegetables and other daily goods.
The second thing to strike me, was the fact that all women at the market of Otavalo were dressed in brightly coloured traditional dresses, with matching jewelry. Some women were wearing hats, while others simply had a thick cloth to protect their heads. Some had very serious looks when negotiating a deal, others showed bright, endearing smiles. I had been dreading pushy women, aggressively pursuing visitors to sell their stuff, but the atmosphere turned out to be totally relaxed and friendly. Looking around stalls only invited the women to say "A su orden", after which they would patiently wait for the customer to indicate her or his interest in something. Probably the best way to sell things; at least with me, pushy sales methods do not work, and I am sure I am not the only one.
The market of Otavalo has a very long history: even in pre-Inca times, this place, at the crossroads between the Amazon basin, the Andes, and the western coastal areas, was a trading town. The locals are proud of their ancestry, and professionally carry out what they are good at: selling handicrafts produced in surrounding villages in a charming, friendly, and good-humoured way. Even if you do not buy anything, it is perfectly possible to have a nice chat with the girls and ladies at the market stalls, inquiring about their lives, learning more about their wares, how they are produced, and their private lives. Sun or rain, their mood seems indestructible. Even after walking around the market for hours, I did not tire of the look of the brightly coloured clothes, the broad smiles, and the beautiful attire of the market women.
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