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Otavalo Wholesale

We woke up today, the first day of the current import export tour, to the most gorgeous clear blue skies and the snow-capped summit of 16,000 foot Mount Cotacachi clearly visible to the west of town. We started with a lecture focusing on the importance of knowing yourself, what you are aiming for, and how to ‘turn your passion to profit’.

Several times we’ve had 20 plus people on this tour and once we bussed 40 around Ecuador sniffing out opportunities but this time, as sometimes happens, the numbers are low so instead of me lecturing it’s more like an informal chat, an interchange of ideas, brainstorming and lots of focus on individual experiences, plans and ideas – Great stuff!!

Then we set of on a sunny morning to explore not so much the market in Otavalo but wholesale stores and small producer workshops. As one attendee comented; “the variety of products for sale in one small Ecuadorean highland market town is incredible!”. And its true, from alpaca sweaters, scarfs, shawls, tapestries, rugs, toys and slippers to ceramic chess sets, vegetable ivory ornaments and jewelry to silver jewelly, paintings using half a dozen different techniques – just to mention not even a fraction of the variety. In fact it’s best to get an overview first otherwise its just plain impossible for the newcomer to absorb what is in front of his or her eyes. Despite our intrepid explorers determination to keep their wallets and dollars in their pockets until they could make more rational choices, they were unable to resist passing dollar bills over to the friendly shopkeepers, principally because the prices are so reasonable – alpaca sweaters for $8, upmarket handknit wool sweaters that might cost $200 in a modish outlet in the USA at an 1/8 of the price here.

One of our attendees has been to Cotacachi 4 times now, with husband before and sister this time. Being vegetarian she has spotted some restaurants tucked away in cosy courtyards, so leading the way she ushered us in to one such eaterie. We lunched under a ‘sour orange’ tree thats juice is used medicinally, and chose $3 pasta dishes accompanied by Greek salads at the same price whilst fresh passion fruit juice was the preferred drink.

Once ‘back on the road’ we learned from Clayton Black, a Texan who has lived here in Ecuador for nearly 20 years now, how he built his knitted sweater business into a very profitable niche business. He started by selling all kinds of local goods from Ecuador at markets in cities such as Santa Fe “never made less than $5,000 in a weekend” and has finished by sending thousands of sweaters a year to overseas clients who take all his available supply. Such has been his success that he’s been able to start new businesses developing real estate in the Andes.

As the afternoon wore on, we were tempted to eat home-made chocolate pie at the local pie shop on the main market square but after such a fabulous lunch, and knowing that Santiago, the chef back at our hotel, El meson de las Flores, had prepared High Tea for us we imposed a little self restraint. Once back at the hotel we were treated to fresh brewed Ecuadorian organic coffee and a large slice of quinoa, chocolate, coconut, merengue cake. Great ending to the day!