Friday, September 30, 2011

Clinics and Condors and Commerce...oh my (Mom 3)

We were a little reluctant to leave Baños after having such a simultaneously invigorating and relaxing visit. But the legendary market of Otavalo is not to be missed by visiting retirees with a little extra room in the suitcase.

But we didn't get to the shopping, or anything else for that matter, right away, as we found yet another opportunity to explore the Ecuadorian health system. Di had been having asthma issues the past couple of days beginning in Baños, and it had reached the scary stage by our first morning in Otavalo.

Though it was your typical low-income emergency room--"My wife is having an asthma attack and can't breathe"..."Sí, take a seat"--we left again impressed with what money can't buy.

This emergency room was no less efficient than any low-rent  e-room in the States. It was what in the States would be considered untidy and not clean enough, but not to any dangerous degree, as far as I can tell (much of American hygienic habit is more sensibility than sense). And next to Di was a young man in the bed shaking, shivering, occasionally discharging purple fluid, and in all other ways showing the signs of alcohol poisoning (the quaint shower curtain dividers protected us from everything but the retching sounds, though).

So with over two hours in the emergency room, the nebulizer mask and medicine, and prescription meds, our total cost was...$0! And even the supermarket here requires more paperwork just to get your discount card than the hospital wanted for all this free treatment. Incredible.

So that day Di was rehabilitated enough to tackle the famous Otavalo market. Every town in Ecuador has a market, of course, and many are open for business every day as this one is. But the Otavalo market is absolutely massive on Saturdays, spilling several blocks in every direction from the full city block it takes up every other day of the week. That one block took us several hours to get through, so besides missing the pure spectacle and chaos of Saturday, we were happy to do "Otavalo Lite".

Just your typical Saturday in Otavalo

We've now been here long enough to be able to participate in the haggling culture, and I'm guessing Diana--our most skilled horse trader--is down to paying only 20% more than things are really worth. Having lived our whole lives in a price tag culture, it feels weird to have a vendor get as much out of you as they can--not even entirely honestly--and then be on very friendly terms with them afterwards. We bought most of our stuff from this lovely family, and Diana spent some time with them later getting some basic native Quichua language instruction. All this was after the final haggle which went something like this (half Spanish, half English):
  • How much for all this?
  • Uhh, this $10, this $35, this $20, this $15. $85 for everything.
  • But the lady over there will give me this and this for just $25, and yours is $35?
  • This is alpaca, hers is llama [met with an incredulous look from Di...then diminutive look from vendor]. $30.
  • Hmm, OK. [noncommittal look from Di but moving onto the next thing.] And we're buying all these things from just you. [the bulk argument...say no more]
  • Sí, sí. $75.
  • Nooo. We saw you first and promised we'd come back to you, and we did. $65.
  • [Almost hurt, sideways look with half-smile] This is very good price for you. [Di, still incredulous]. $70.
  • Señor, we came back to you because we liked you. $67.
  • Mmmmm...$70 is very good price. OK, $69.
  • [Di gets actual cash out to hand to him]. $68.
  • [Weak smile and nod, taking the money.]
And after that exchange and the bagging up of the goods, he gives her a "yappa", or gift that is customary from the vendor to the customer after a transaction, a scarf worth $4, or the value of the last five minutes of haggling over $4.

Any gringo is fair game for the wolves, but we've actually heard many vendors don't like to deal with them because they aren't very good and haggling and end up taking too long to get the deal done, even if they do end up paying more than a local. On a slow market day, though, any lamb is welcome to the slaughter. Why look, here comes a lamb now.

Notice the look of smug confidence on this cat about to pounce on her mouse.
  • Muy guapo. Very handsome for you.
  • Heh,  yeah, I dunno. Cuanto Cuesto?
  • Sólo treinta dolaritos [just thirty little dollars]
  • Nooo, the one over there is $20!
  • The quality is not good. That is llama. This is alpaca. Muuuuy suave [pet, pet the chest]
  • Heh...heh...yeah...umm, $25.
  • Is very handsome for you...and muuuy suave [pet, pet].
  • Heh...heh...I don't kn...[pet, pet]...heh...what was it? Cuanto cuesto?
  • 28 dolaritos for you [smile, cute, face down while still looking up at his eyes]. Sólo 28 dolaritos.
  • Heh heh. OK.
That was fun.
The deal is done and Teddy has a new friend. Of course Tío Teo really did better than my artistic license would suggest, but the skill and different styles of each really are fun to watch. It is surprising how primal it can become, given that whatever price you pay for some remarkable hand-made textiles is still dirt cheap. But you still end up toe-to-toe on the last couple of dollars.

Our last day in Otavalo was spent up above the town at a bird sanctuary that was one of the most unexpected surprises on our trip. We were drawn to see the live condors (Ecuador's national symbol), but the place has dozens and dozens of remarkable birds and a view and museum alone worth the cab ride up. This show, with a number of incredible raptors could also have been a highlight unto itself.

Just before it tried to eat her rat head

But of course the world's largest flying (if not prettiest) bird was the real draw. Besides being indescribably large, condors have red help me, they have red eyes! which you can only get a hint of in this picture, unfortunately.

And finally for Mom's sendoff from Ecuador, graciously arranged by the ministry of tourism, this boy gives his best Ecuadorian flag pose. Ya'll come again soon, now, ya hear?

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