Otavalo’s Traditional Market – tears and discoveries

Today we visited Otavalo’s sprawling Saturday market – one of the largest in South America. I loved seeing the fresh produce piled high at the food market and the handmade ponchos and sweaters at the handicrafts market. Although some merchants wore casual tops and jeans or basic smocks, many wore incredibly elegant navy blue shawls with white blouses and long skirts. I felt too shy to capture what I was seeing, however, and a thousand beautiful photo ops passed me by. At one point, however, near the animal market, I so was taken by a women in traditional dress gently holding a live chicken against her chest that I offered her a coin to take her photo. She immediately turned away, and so I gave up.

Not much later, Elise saw a farmer hitting a squealing pig with a stick to get it to move along the street. She also saw chickens hanging upside down and being placed into plastic bags where she feared they would suffocate. Elise clung to me, crying, and begged to leave the market and Ecuador altogether. We passed a woman sitting on the side of the road with a little child and sign that said she had cancer. We gave her a donation and said a prayer for her. It was all heartbreaking, and the tears streamed down my face, too.

Later, when some of the shock had worn off, we talked about what we’d seen. Having lost her Dad to cancer, Elise worried about what would happen to the little girl. I reassured her that friends or family would care for her and that there was always some hope that the Mom might heal. We said another prayer for them and Elise asked her Dad to help from heaven. When she started crying again about the animals, I explained that they live their lives on basic (not factory) farms and so enjoy sunshine, fresh air, and some freedom of movement…and then have one Terrible Day. Indeed, she’d noticed that the pig had looked quite healthy. Still, she formally announced that she wanted to be vegetarian – exactly like my sister had when she was around Elise’s age. I told her that it was her choice, but that we’d need to rely on my sister’s extensive knowledge of nutrition (double Master’s, extensive postgrad studies) to be sure she’d get all the micronutrients her body needed. I shared with her that I myself had been a strict vegetarian for years for nutrition and animal rights reasons, but that I discovered at a cousin’s organic farm at Lake Constance, where the animals were treated very humanely and fed organic produce, that I had much less of a problem eating a tiny bit of meat if it came from such a farm.

But if all that weren’t enough, when we returned to the hotel, we discovered that Elise’s phone had been stolen out of her zipped coat pocket. I tracked it using Google’s find my phone service, but at some point, the signal disappeared. After the emotional start to the day (not-to-mention the pre-departure phone-related stress), I felt a surprising sense of calm. Seems that fearing a theft can be more stressful than the event itself. But the world doesn’t end, and, just as with any other problem, there are solutions (filed a police report and insurance claim, and will get Elise a hidden wallet in which to carry a less fancy replacement phone). At the end of the day, we unwound over a great dinner – delicious, generous salads with beans and corn at Chimichanga. Although it had not been an easy day, I realized that the two incidents had revealed some core values, and that the theft had taught us how to be safer going forward, which will serve us well for the rest of our journey.

PS Word to the wise: We learned later that Global Nomads insurance (aka Bupa Global Travel) does not cover any thefts of your property that you do not observe being committed. Is that not 99% of all thefts?! If you’re planning to buy travel insurance, it might be helpful to check this particular policy condition before you buy.