From My Notebook 48 Years Ago This Week: From Quito to Otavalo and Pasto

3rd March 2023 |

Feb 21

Leave Quito. Too late. Fantastic downpour & hail. Inches of water on roads. Bike fails on way out, but only for a short time. Reach Otavalo at nightfall. Frozen. Indian café. Find Peace Corps house. Ray (Raimundo) receives us. Sleep in kitchen. Ray illustrates textbooks to help Quetchua-speaking Indians to learn Spanish. Very pleased with progress of program.

Feb 22

Saturday. Market at Otavalo. Very Indian – and quite unlike Peru or Bolivia. Indian dress is sombre. Navy blue wool ponchos, pigtails. Characteristic diamond shape of men, short cotton trousers, women wear hats of piled up shawls, straight dark dresses, white blouses. Almost all are barefoot. Gold bead necklaces (glass from Czechoslovakia).

Much more communicative than other Indians. Sellers line up in two facing rows – with their blankets in front of them – shoulder to shoulder – while buyers walk between them. Permanent kiosks of masonry for stallholders. Many Gringos taking pictures. One of my cameras has failed (light meter) after soaking on Peruvian beach.

The Gringo café – pancakes US style – granola for sale – like refectory at Berkeley. Bruno is astonished. Ride out to hacienda to meet Matt coming the other way.

[Matt Handbury is Rupert Murdoch’s young nephew, riding a BMW, trying to decide what to do with his life]

The Hacienda

Went to see hacienda, then back to Otavalo – where Andy and Cleo arrive at Ray’s. Together return to hacienda, by old Pan-American route – cobbles, then grass slide down past precipice. Andy at first strikes me as quite strange. Thin – gaunt – blonde, moustache, tight leather trousers, orange satin smock. BMW. Front teeth missing on left side. Cramps his smile. Easy to underestimate, as I do at chess.

Feb 23 – 27 at Hacienda

Bob and Annie there too. They’ve decided to stay and get married. Play card game called hearts. Marathon session till 4am. Vegetarian meals. Indian family very close. Girls just come and sit. Fascinating and lovely to watch. Always smiling, greeting. Maria says photos steal her spirit – her father told her so.

Andy becomes ever more interesting. His dead-pan manner, slow uneasy smile, would fit a Western hero. The missing teeth could explain it, but there seems to be more. With his specs on he seems quite innocuous, small-minded, hard to imagine him fishing tuna – $500 in one day off ‘Two-fold Bay’ in Australia. Tells story of killer whales and fishermen combining to catch blue whales. Also of his hero, the Irish Australian skipper he has sent me to see.

So we went out to dinner on the last night and coming back Bruno drove into a foot of plastic mud on the old highway and was stuck there for the night. Took two hours of digging to get him out in the morning.

[I also remember that Andy, inexplicably, accused me of stealing his camera body by switching it surreptitiously for one of mine. Could not disabuse him. Bob and Annie gave me an address of friends in California, leading me eventually to the commune that played a huge part in my life.]

Feb 28

Rode off to Colombia in the rain. Wet but easy. Got to border at 4.30. But customs is back in Tulcan. Bruno is furious. Then, on Colombian side, ride up hill to Ipiales to find that passport control was at the frontier. And while we stop to talk to frontier guards a section of hillside falls on the road we were about to take.

Roast chicken at Ipiales, then into night to find place to stop.

Getting ready to leave

On the road the Ipiales

March 1

Woke up to beautiful scenery and sun. A curious dip in road, against a grassy hummock. On other side a valley, cultivated, and mountain beyond. A bus has been abandoned down the road – one of those fairground vehicles without doors, common in Ecuador & Colombia. A small house nestles in the ground beside us, smoke oozing through the roof. Took many pictures. Left about midday on switchback road to Pasto. Most impressed by countryside. On smaller scale than Peru, greener, less bare stone, but spectacular. Waterfalls, trees, much cultivated land. White house, L-shaped with porches, tiled with clay or wood. Found a patch of flat grass, near a mountain top to camp on, about halfway to Pasto. Spent much effort, both nights, preparing for prospective assaults by delinquent Colombians. Arsenal included my knife, machete, Bruno’s pistol. Seen by many lorry drivers and imagined the gossip at nearby hamlet, but a peaceful night.

March 2

In Pasto I was a sensation

To Pasto – ordinary town with some big modern municipal buildings. Searched uselessly for (spark) plugs. Bought food. Took road to lake. Not so impressive. Slept in car outside rustic hotel owned by Germans (Swiss?) who said they’d come to Colombia 20 years before, after being soldiers – to supervise the opening of a number of hotels. Then opened their own. We ate, bought wine (Chianti at 180 – in shops 130). Played chess.

March 3

Renault failed to get up hill. Towed by lorry, into Pasto and out, to eat in a rainstorm on the road. Bruno develops a passion for porridge and bacon & eggs, but I still don’t dunk my bread and strawberry jam in my coffee. Who’s the chauvinist?

Where did we spend the night?