I will start this by admitting that I had seen so much written about retiring in Ecuador that I was prepared to not love it. Yes. Not necessarily a confession, but an acknowledgement that I can be a bit of a snob. How can that many people like something without some of them having relinquished their critical capacity? So I arrived with a bit of an agenda-a desire to find the spider under the bed that everyone else had overlooked.
I had myself rather unceremoniously dropped by the side of the road in Otavalo with a couple of much younger backpackers after taking a long raucous bus ride from the Colombian border. We stood there for a few moments and then I went and found a taxi, as I already had a reservation. They didn’t, so I invited them to come with me to my hostel.
When we arrived it seemed as if the hostel was closed. It was darkish, towards sundown, and seemingly lifeless. Finally a young man came to the door, after we rang a few times, and showed us into a dimly lit entry. Yes, I had a reservation, no, the couple didn’t. No problem either way. The partner of the young man arrived and scooted the young couple to the “honeymoon suite” at the top floor. I was taken to a smaller room on the second floor off from a bit of a library. It was getting darker, and the largely unlit building was empty save the 5 of us. I have to admit to visions of the Bates Hotel. I have learned along the way not to judge the accommodations too harshly when arriving after a long bus ride, especially from another country.
The Hostel sat a little uphill from downtown, and every level offered views of volcanoes and the city. At the top was a kitchen the size of a small apartment, with volcanoes from every direction. The hostel was the loveliest I’ve stayed in, and the young men running it saw to everything quietly and with a very patient graciousness. At $15 a night for an ensuite single with a view, it was perfect.
The big white building in this picture is the hostel.
Otavalo serves as the eponymous city core for the indigenous people native to Imbabura Province in northern Ecuador. The streets are filled with Otavalans strolling and taking care of business. Poncho square functions as the city center, close to which is the Saturday animal market and the fresh foods market.
This is a favorite snack of tiny snails.
I stayed in Otavalo for a week-probably out of laziness and the pleasure of a good kitchen in which to cook the market findings. I still was unconvinced about Ecuador, but it was early days. Walking the streets every day in Otavalo was a pleasure, and the people were kind and warm. It certainly meets the criteria I have for a place to retire, but I didn’t feel it, as it were. Maybe it was just too entirely other, and I felt like an interloper and a bit of a voyeur.
But I appreciated the striking difference from Colombia, which has a very small indigenous population. It was a good introduction to Ecuador, and I warmed to the country. While there I visited Cotacachi twice. I’ll write about that another time.