Early this morning we set off for Otavalo, a town north of Quito. Otavalo is famous for its Saturday artisan market, which I am told is the largest in all the Americas. A great many crafts and indigenous weavings are sold, including the infamous Panama Hat, or Sombrero de Toquilla, as it is known here.
I must take the time to clear up the common misconception that Panama Hats are from Panama. They are (and have always been) made by hand in Ecuador. The Montecristi area in famous for them. The name derives from the Panama Canal workers who wore them in the midday heat to keep out the sun.
The hats come in fino, super fino, super super fino quality and so on, and range in price from $20 to several thousands of dollars. The great thing about them (aside from their dashing appeal) is that you can fold, roll or stuff them into your bag without damaging the weave. The really fine ones can fit through a man’s ring and hold water. We didn’t buy one of those, so I can’t really verify the ring thing, but I can say they do roll to a pretty small size.
D. (pictured left) believes that hat wearing, the noir, 1940s kind, should be compulsory, or at the very least come back into style.
As a side note, Ecuadorian women do not wear sombreros, with the exception of indigenous women who wear black bowler type headwear. A shame really, as I look just as dashing as D in the hat.
To get to Otavalo, we took a national bus from Quito. I’d read that the ride could be harrowing, as we were several thousand feet in altitude and climbing, mostly on curvy roads. It wasn’t too bad considering we had on board ‘entertainment’–– watching the crazy bus driver chatting to his mate and driving most of the way in the wrong lane, as if he were playing a game of chicken.
Twenty minutes in, a kurshuffle broke out over the ticketed passengers versus the standing ones. It lasted almost the entire journey, until an elderly gentleman (naturally wearing a Panama) slapped a brash rogue on the head and told him to mind his manners and shut up. Strangely the kid did as he was told. Everyone cheered and we went back to worrying about the bus driver. Such is the power of the hat.
Hat or no hat, I’m sure the outcome would have been different if we’d been in another city. Possibly even another era.