Otavalo is two hours north of Quito, high in the Andes mountains. It is located just off the pan American highway that goes straight to Columbia, which is three hours east of Otavalo. The Otavalo people are one of the largest indigenous groups living in Ecuador. They are known for their handicrafts, textiles and fabrics, leather goods, coffee, chocolate and roses. There are rose gardens and greenhouses that line the road and flowers are for sale everywhere! Roses are so abundant in Otavalo that the locals can buy a dozen roses for one dollar. The flowers are big business and are shipped daily to the United States, Europe and China. In fact, roses are so important to the Ecuadorians that there is a special room at the airport just to store the roses before they are shipped out!
Today (March 9) was our first full day in Ecuador. We began with a healthy breakfast of fruitas and granola. Then, we traveled to Old Town Quito and stopped first at La Basilica del Voto Nacional. We climbed what felt like hundreds of steep and treacherous stairs in La Basilica to reach the top of the bell tower. Our next stop was a Franciscan church called La Compania. The church was built by the Jesuits between the years of 1605 – 1765. Why did it take so long? From nave to alter, floor to ceiling, the church is painstakingly covered in a dazzling gold leaf.