Sorry, I haven't written in a while. I had an awful experience in Mancora...
Today we took public transit to Otavalo, a popular tourist destination located 2 hours from Quito. Riding public transit is really annoying. Everytime the bus stops someone gets on to either beg for money or sell food. Not only do I have no idea what they're saying, but they yell on the top of their lungs pacing up and down the aisle.
The first place we visited was Laguna Cuicocha, a dormant volcano with a water filled caldera, and at the foot of an extinct volcano of the same name. We hiked around the lake for a few hours. The lake has two islands in the middle, which are the remnants of lava domes from its days of volcanic activities.
At only 3,400 meters, I really felt the effects of the altitude. No matter how deep of a breath I took I couldn't get oxygen into my lungs. It's actually quite scary. Not wanting to draw attention to myself, I kept up with the group. Whenever I thought I was going to faint I stopped to "take pictures". I'm not surprised though. Even when I hike on the north shore I had problems breathing for the first 15 minutes. I hope I don't have problems trekking to Machu Picchu.
In the afternoon we went to Cotacachi, the center of Ecuador's leather industry. There is a small market as well as streets lined with leather shops. I was really surprised by the quality of the leather and workmanship. Everything was high quality and dirt cheap. It's a dangerous place to be when you still have over a month travelling and have to lug around whatever you buy. I don't want to end up shipping 30 pounds of new stuff home ever again! So, I resisted and bought two really nice (and small) purses for $30.
Later that afternoon we visited a nearby native reserve and listened to traditional indigenous music. A local musician, who has recently performed and recorded in LA, performed for us using various wind instruments.
The following morning we went to the famous Saturday market. This is definately the largest market I have ever seen. Indigenous people from nearby villages come to town to sell their handicrafts. Again, the high quality of the workmanship was really surprising.
In the late afternoon we took a bus back to Quito.