Scene in the Crafts Market, Otavalo, Ecuador
There is nothing quite like the crafts market of a Latin American city like Chichicastenano, Guatemala; Otavalo, Ecuador; or Cusco, Peru. One wonders down narrow ways awash with color and aglitter with native ingenuity. There are times when I felt bad for not buying far more handicrafts than I could reasonably be expected to carry—especially the textiles. What I do buy is usually small enough to fit into the single bag with which I travel.
I remember the first time I felt this way. I was in San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico. It was December 1979, and I was fascinated by the Highland Maya textiles. It was then that a little Chamula girl, no older than eight or nine, sold me a little doll in native costume that she had made herself (or so she said). As she was describing it in her Highland Mayan dialect of which I knew not a single word, and stroking it as if it were something rare and magical, my heart melted and I bought the doll. I still have it on one of my bookshelves, resting against the Latin American literature section.
At some point, I’ll take a picture of it so that you can all see what I sucker I am. I suppose it is better than being heartless.
My brother and I were staying on La Niña in the tourist suburb of Mariscal at the Viejo Cuba. On our first day in Ecuador, we were tired out by the 9,000 foot (3,000 meter) altitude, but we had a few hours before vegging out for the night. Right down the street, at the intersection with Reina Victoria, was a fantastic folk museum called the Mindalae. Both of us were interested in purchasing some folk art: The Mindalae provided a guide to the best of what was produced around the country.
We took the elevator to the top floor and proceeded to walk down looking at the exhibits, many of them based on pre-Columbian originals. Included were ceramics, textiles, ceremonial objects, basketry, and other crafts. Adjoining the museum is a craft store with an excellent selection of items paralleling the exhibits, and offered at a fair price.
The displays at the museum were in both Spanish and English. If you are interested in Andean handicrafts, it is a good idea to visit a museum like the Mindalae before visiting the various local markets. You will have a better idea of what is available in every region of the country.
Dan and I enjoyed the Mindalae so much that, after Dan left to return to the U.S., I visited it a second time.
A Unique Museum Linking Pre-Columbian Art to the Present Day
There it was, a museum just one block from our hotel in the Mariscal district of Quito. I knew that Dan was interested in seeing and buying Ecuadorian handicrafts, so we decided to pay a visit to the Museo Mindalae, which calls itself an ethno-historical museum of Ecuadorian handicrafts.
It turned out to be a good call. Although we are more than half a millennium away from Christopher Columbus, the peoples of the Andes are still very much in touch in touch with their ancestors. Of course, not only the Spanish, but subsequent rulers encouraged them in this. Today, the Fundación Sinchi Sacha, which runs the museum, not only encourages them, but runs a three-story handicraft store featuring the best of their work at fair prices.
Pre-Columbian or Current?
I wound up liking the Museum so much that I returned to it the day before leaving Ecuador for the U.S. Both Dan and I bought several pieces of art from the store.
When, subsequently, we saw the crafts markets at Otavalo and Cuenca, we had a good idea what we would find and how much it might cost.