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Otavalo, tradition, culture

The peaceful Ecuadorian town of Otavalo was getting ready for a big party. It was Friday, June 22nd, the night of the summer solstice when age-old traditions would be brought to life once again. Inti Raymi, or the Festival of the Sun, celebrates Mother Nature and her fruits, especially the harvesting of the corn, and is the most important event of the year for the Andean indigenous peoples. As midnight approached, it seemed like the whole town was only heading to one direction, up to the sacred waterfall in Peguche, a nearby indigenous village. I happily joined in the party spirit, making good use of my leg muscles climbing up the hill while dancing to the steady, trance-inducing beat of the drums, guitars and flutes that were being played all around us. The climb was occasionally halted in order to dance a few rounds in a circle and sample the contents of any bottle that was passed your way.

The night was cold but by the time we got to the river, no one was feeling the chill anymore, thanks to the warm atmosphere and the burning liquids inside our stomachs. Now it was time to throw off extra clothing and step into the water, to be cleansed from old negative energies and begin the new natural cycle with a clean slate. The waterfall was turned into a common bath where everyone was a friend, regardless of nationality, colour, age or gender. The ice-cold water actually felt warm as I was trying to maintain my balance on the slippery rocks while communicating with Pachamama or Mother Nature herself.

After the ritual bath we headed back down to the village centre and found ourselves surrounded by the steady drum rhythm and various dance circles again. By now it was about one o’clock and the party was just starting to heat up. We ended up spending the whole night on the terrace of a restaurant, dancing from one circle to another, sharing the joy with friends and strangers alike and just feeling the good vibrations all around us. The hours went by in a flash, and in the morning, with the sun shining brightly again, we finally arrived back into Otavalo. A delicious breakfast and a few hours of sleep were certainly in call for in order to continue the celebrations the following day.

On Saturday evening the streets of Otavalo began to fill up with dancing groups coming down from all over town and from the mountain villages and communities. In each group at least one man would be wearing the Diablo Huma (Devil Head) mask, representing the central personality of Inti Raymi. Another very distinctive men’s garment was the samarro, or fur and leather trousers only worn on special occasions. All the groups made their way to Poncho Plaza, symbolically claiming possession of the central market square where, in the old days, Indians were not allowed to enter.

The town was literally buzzing with music, dancing and thrilled spectators from all over the world, and again, the party went on for the whole night. By the early hours of Sunday morning, most of the dancers had gone home or opted for a less energetic form of partying. Small groups of people had positioned themselves in Poncho Plaza, where food and drink was served all night. Everyone’s preferred drink in the Andean night was hervido, or sugar cane liquor mixed with hot fruit juice. That kept us warm again as we watched the sun rise from behind the volcano Imbabura, which the otavaleños consider their father, the spouse of Mamá Cotacachi, another volcano near the town.

All through the following week, dancers and musicians kept circling the streets of Otavalo, and different events such as dance contests, concerts and children’s theatre were held all over town. Seeing and taking part in this traditional celebration had filled me with great joy and gratitude. I felt as though I had found a spiritual home on the other side of the world. The people of Otavalo are known for their openness and friendliness and that definitely proved not to be just a myth or a marketing strategy. Coincidence or not, in Finnish, my native tongue, “ota valo” means “take the light”. This little town in Northern Ecuador will certainly always hold a very special place in my heart.

 

 

 

 

Further Information

Must see/do at this place: The best-known attraction in Otavalo is the handicrafts market. The market on Poncho Plaza is open every day but the main market day is Saturday when posts are put up in the surrounding streets as well. From Otavalo you can go on a tour of nearby indigenous villages, hike mountains and lagoons or go horse-riding.
You should avoid here: The town is quiet and fairly safe but on the crowded market you should take good care of your possessions.



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By Heidi Maki
I'm a 28-year old Spanish translator, having studied Spanish in Ireland and in Finland. I've always wanted to live in South America and have been...
19 Dec 2007


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