Friday, August 19, 2016

The Secret of Ecuador's Guilds

The Secret of Ecuador's Guilds
By Suzan Haskins
"This may be the cleanest town I've ever seen in Latin America," my husband said as we walked after dinner one night.
I agree. The residents of Cotacachi keep their little town very tidy. There are no holes in the sidewalks to trip over, no vacant lots piled with litter.
Children ride bikes around town without adult supervision, teenagers congregate in the plaza at night to chat or sing songs or nibble on ears of corn or chicken kabobs seared on a kettle grill under a streetlamp on the corner.
This is Ecuador's famous "leather" town, high in the Andes mountains, where artisan shops line the main street and you can buy any type of leather item, from a saddle for your horse to booties for your baby. Prices for these items are 50% to 75% less than you would pay in the U.S.
In Cotacachi, Ecuador, life is easy, simple, natural... and cheap.
At night the artisan shops close up and only a few restaurants and small mom-and-pop shops are open. That's all you need, really. After a day of sunshine in the 8,000-foot-altitude mountain climate, nighttime is for sleeping. The cool, crisp air smells faintly of wood smoke, roasting corn, and eucalyptus. Eucalyptus trees grow abundantly wild, as do palm trees.
Think Breckenridge without the pretension or the snow, and you'll come close to imagining Cotacachi. It's what those of us who came of age in the 1970s hoped life would be: easy, simple, natural.
And incredibly affordable, too. As elsewhere in Ecuador, your dollars stretch to astonishing lengths.
In 2008, we bought our own condo in Cotacachi. We purchased it from the builder, pre-construction, for $52,000. It's a top-floor penthouse of a little more than 1,000 square feet with a fireplace, sunroom, outside terrace, and mountain views.
If you need upscale creature comforts like a gourmet meal or (and I don't say this lightly) one of the world's best spa treatments, you'll find both at the five-star La Mirage Hotel and Spa on the edge of town.
The famous market town of Otavalo is just 15 minutes away should the shopping urge overcome you. Fresh produce can be bought there or at Cotacachi's open-air Sunday market. Or go to the nearby city of Ibarra to the modern supermarkets, or the mega malls of Quito, one of the largest and most sophisticated cities in South America, just two hours south.