A Girl's Journey to Ecuador


Although Ina has no recollection that she accompanied her father on a trip to Otavalo, it is clear from photographs that her father did go to Otavalo and that he attended the large Saturday market there.  Ina’s father met the author Ludwig Bemelmans in Otavalo, a popular tourist spot, even then.  Otavalo is a small town surrounded by Indian villages about 100 kilometers north of Quito. On the road into town is Lago San Pedro, the second largest lake in Ecuador and a popular fishing site. In the mid 1940s, anthropologists John Collier Jr. and Aníbal Buitrón conducted an ethnographic and photographic study of Otavalo.  They describe the Saturday market this way:

Dawn in the Andes. Icy wind sweeps down from the jagged peaks that rim the world.  Imbabura towers across the cloudless east.  Cotachachi bars the west, her snow crest glowing in the first light.  Beneath, night still clings to the valley, wreathing the villages and fields in mist, reaching up the mountains in opulent folds.

For the Indians, in the highlands, day comes before darkness has gone. Under the starts they leave their homes at the foot of Imbabura, shoulder their massive burdens, and start their journey downward to market in the valley below

Saturday morning. The trails leading to Otavalo are crowded with old and young pressing forward at a run, the bare feet moving noiselessly over the dusty paths.  Everywhere there are lines of burdened Indians coming from every quarter of the mountain-ringed world. Down over footpaths that join trails, trails that converge into roads, roads that pour into the market town like streams till the streets of Otavalo become and endless river of dark-blue ponchos, bright-red ponchos, brilliantly striped with gold and green and turquoise“ (Collier and Buitrón 1949: 12).

Elsie Clews Parsons, a pioneering feminist anthropologist and one-time President of the American Anthropological Association, worked in the Otavalo region in 1940-1941. She wrote the following in her  posthumously published manuscript titled Peguche, Canton of Otavalo, Province of Imbabura, Ecuador.

“The Otavalo Saturday market (or, rather, markets) consists of a magnified version of the general daily market, the textile and pottery market in a great clearing on the north side of town, the cattle market on the east side, a little meat market beyond, near the railroad tracks, and the pig market on the west side.  In all the markets, both Whites and Indians are sellers and buyers, although there is some specialization” (30). 

Collier, John, Jr. and Aníbal Buitrón. 1949.  The Awakening Valley.  The University of Chicago Press.
Parson, Elsie Clews. 1945.  Peguche.  University of Chicago Press. 

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