The previous entry into these Ecuador Strikes Diaries (covering days 1 & 2 of the strikes) described how we found ourselves stuck in an indigenous province in the North of Ecuador. The main highways and roads had been blockaded by protestors – as a result, we were truly stuck.
With our travelling plans scuppered, we had no choice but to wait and see what would happen next.
If, per chance, anyone has been waiting for this next entry into the diaries … I’m sorry you’ve had to wait so long. Getting around to writing has been challenging recently; and the fact that I don’t get paid for writing means that making time to write hasn’t been a top priority.
Hopefully then, from here on out, my blog output will be more consistent.
Day 3: Saturday 5th October
Early this morning, we were awoke by the sound of busy road traffic as well as helicopters overhead — we thought, for a second, that the roads were open and the strikes were over!
But it soon became clear that our luck hadn’t turned.
Before embarking on our walk to Otavalo, we went into the small village of Iluman and saw that all the shops, except for the now lucrative bicycle shop, were closed.
Therefore, our decision to book accommodation in Otavalo, the closest city to our current hostel (in Iluman, a one-hour walk to Otavalo) proved to be a sensible one.
On the Road Again
Hitch-hiking was out of the question under these circumstances. Our only option was to walk along the Panamerican highway — Ecuador’s equivalent to Britain’s M6 — and we weren’t the only ones to make that choice.
It must’ve been surreal for the local people to see this road resembling a boulevard more than a highway — it’d be bizarre to see the M6 like that.
But for us, this was nothing more than the situation at hand. It was just another obstacle to overcome.
Nevertheless, it was strange to pass by so many road blockades — which were as big, if not bigger than yesterday’s blockades.
There were blockades ever 200 metres or so, and beside each village/settlement were gatherings of 50-100 people.
The blockade at the entrance to Otavalo had significantly grown. Hundreds of protestors gathered there on this day, including (who I assume were) community leaders giving speeches; local musicians playing upbeat, celebratory tunes; and people playing cards or with a ball.
It was like a street party … but on a highway.
If the road had been unblocked when we heard traffic that morning, it didn’t help too much. People were rowdier now than yesterday.
Tear Gas and Guns vs. Sticks and Stones
Meanwhile, in several other parts of Ecuador, the national military were intervening aggressively … and with some success.
In provinces bordering the Amazonian territories, protestors had been compromised … in the big cities – Quito, Guayaquil, and Cuenca – protestors had been (almost) neutralised.
But in our province, Imbabura, no such action had been taken.
And while we didn’t want to see anybody get hurt, we couldn’t help feeling frustrated by the fact that nobody was dealing with the situation we found ourselves in. It felt like we would be stuck for a long time.
The politics weren’t improving, either. On the one hand, President Lenin Moreno was displaying no evidence that he would budge from his decision; and on the other hand, the strikes were showing no signs of letting up.
Still, we hoped that things would calm down after the weekend – after all, everybody needed to make a living! They couldn’t strike forever (or so we thought).
Our wisdom led us away from Iluman to Otavalo because we thought it would be a more reliable source of food, water, electricity, etc.
It came as quite a surprise, then, to learn that Otavalo was also closed— the shops’ shutters were all down, and people congregated in the street to discuss the increasingly unusual situation.
Most locals seemed to support the strike action; but closing their businesses on a Saturday certainly hurt them.
For us, our plan of finding a nice coffee shop, where we could relax while contacting our new host using the WiFi, had suddenly evolved into a quest to simply find WiFi — somewhere, anywhere.
We were turned away by a few places, whose doors we discovered to be open; before one hotelier reluctantly allowed us to use his WiFi.
What’s for tea?
After finally arriving at our apartment (where we were made to feel extremely welcome by our acting-host, Annie), it was time for us to figure out a way to source some food, in spite of Otavalo’s shutdown.
We walked around for about 20 minutes before noticing several people carrying crates of eggs (some people carrying several crates); and we eventually figured out where they were coming from.
There was a man stood outside his shop, shutters down, and every few minutes — when a small crowd had gathered outside — he would quickly lift his shutters and sell everyone eggs (nothing else) as quickly as he could.
After buying some of those eggs, we saw a few ladies selling fruit and vegetables through a fence on a street corner.
Then some local people showed us a place where, if you rang the doorbell, you were discreetly let into their little convenience store.
So we managed to get everything we needed to cook some food!
It was only once we’d eaten that we truly began to recognise the oddness of the situation.
Day 4: Sunday 6th October
We felt poorly rested again this morning, thanks to a combination of protestors’ night-time chanting; a shop downstairs constantly opening and closing its shutters; and what could only be described as furniture removals above us.
So we spent the morning feeling a bit sorry for ourselves … and reading news updates on Twitter.
We learned that the president, Lenín Moreno, in spite of the furious protests calling for his resignation, continued to resist them. He seemed strong.
The transit unions had actually ended their strikes, officially; but the indigenous people were having none of it. They insisted that trade union leaders had been bought out, and that strikes would continue until the fuel subsidy was reinstated.
“It Looks Worse Than It Is“
Twitter also informed us that the reason for shops closing in Otavalo was that large groups of protestors were patrolling the streets, forcing everybody in town to participate in the strikes.
Whenever the protestors suspected that a shop was secretly open, they would bang on its shutters and threaten the workers (we were informed on a later date that some protestors had padlocked the shutters of shops they discovered to be open, trapping everyone inside).
But the shops still remained secretly open. Each morning, a supermarket called Aki opened before the protests began. Its shutters remained down, though, and we had to queue outside the front gates waiting for a steward to grant us permission to enter.
Consequently, the locals exiting the shops carried bags and boxes loaded with supplies. Apparently they didn’t expect a swift resolution!
Moreover, the scale of the protests (which had grown yet again today) suggested that their expectations wouldn’t be far wrong.
By the way…
I’d like to make it clear that Rebecca and I never once felt unsafe during these strikes.
The protestors patrolling Otavalo — while certainly appearing and sounding intimidating, with their chanting, home-made spears, and the odd machete — never threatened us, or made us feel uncomfortable. In fact, I’d go as far as saying they were friendly towards us.
The odd protestor teased us, and the odd one wolf-whistled at Rebecca … but that kind of thing happens in England too. It isn’t the sort of thing that we hold against Otavalo (or Ecuador), and it didn’t happen too often.
In spite of experiencing these strikes, we’d still recommend Ecuador as a tourist destination. Most people here are kind and welcoming.
That being said, the protestors seemed completely unaware of the inconvenience they were causing us!
Then again, why would they think about that? The strikes were nothing personal towards us; they were about the toll Moreno’s austerity measures would take on them. Our travel experiences were probably the last thing on their minds.
Nevertheless, we wanted to leave Otavalo as soon as we could. Many of our belongings — including our passports — were still in Banos, and with strikes escalating into riots in some parts of the country, we were worried.
The locals we spoke to on days 1 & 2 told us that the strikes would probably clear up by Monday, after a weekend of strikes. But the intensity of today’s strikes made that seem unlikely.
We had no choice but to wait some more. And wait we did.
Winds of Change
That night, we took again to Twitter…
The military forces, who had thus far avoided the Imbabura province (where Otavalo is situated), had entered the province via La Esperanza, near Tabacundo – almost less than 40 km from our apartment.
Two indigenous protestors died in the violent clashes, and when news reached the protestors in Otavalo, we heard (from our bedroom window) the chanting and the strikes increasing in volume.
It was difficult to sleep again that night…
Keep an ear to the ground for the next diary entry…
Follow me on Twitter for any updates: @tautologicaltom