We stopped at a family weaving operation where the family demonstrated how they dye the thread and some of the basic weaving operations.
Our hotel for the next two nights was the El Monasterio de Cusin. Old but not an authentic monastery, it is decorated like one and is a very nice and unique place to stay. Each room has a fireplace for the primary heat and a portable electric heater for the secondary.
It is quite cool at night and the woolen blankets piled on the bed were needed. Very charming.
A lecture from Caesar, a local, well educated indigenous Indian, was outstanding.
He explained the entrepreneurial spirit of the Indian families and how they had financed representatives of the families to travel and live most of the year in the US and Europe, as a way of expanding the distribution of their products. Lots of history with the Spanish takeover in the 1500's, progressing through religious rule, agrarian reform, modern day reform and present day conditions. Their pride is obvious and deserved.
Wednesday morning we packed our smelly clothes into plastic bags to be taken to a local laundry that charged the very reasonable price of $1 per pound. For the weigh in, the Jeffries came in 2nd
with 10 pounds. The Wolfords topped the charts with 15 pounds. But the end product smelled oh so much better than the stale fragrance of rainforest dampened clothes.
Our first stop on Wednesday was the Otavala market. Hundreds of local craftspeople were jammed into the square. Great for people watching and gift buying.
We bought several things including a sweater for me, since I had now realized that the warm weather clothes I had packed were inadequate for the cool Andes. (Travel hint for Ecuador – Bring lots of layers for hot and cold)
Next stop was a farm owned by one of the local Indians. We kneaded bread and subsequently consumed it at the farmhouse along with a great lunch of locally grown foods.
The road into the farm was similar to my farm roads, which means if it rains, you can get stuck in the mud. It has rained a lot and our bus got stuck. Extraction of the bus took up the time intended for visiting the farm fields higher up the mountain but the extra time was used effectively with the farmer / craftsman giving us a very informative tour of his workshop where he builds furniture. Plus he gave us a very detailed tour of his garden that was full of medicinal plants.
The soil is very rich with very deep topsoil originating from its volcanic origins. With agrarian reform that broke up the big holdings originating from the Spanish control, the farms are small, carefully and beautifully maintained by the families. The ample (and I mean ample) rain and cloudy conditions, that remind you of our US northwest results in a vibrant green countryside. Grass seems to grow on everything and the hills are a lush green color. Most of the tilling is by hand or plows pulled by cows because the hillsides are so steep and tractors are impractical or unaffordable. Some of the fields are so steep that driving a four wheeler up the fields would be impractical and hazardous. The countryside is beautiful and reminds us a lot of Ireland without the stone fences.
Thursday morning we are pulling out early from Otavala and heading to Riobamba (a good long drive to the South). Our first stop is the Hacienda La Compania, a traditional Ecuadorian hacienda which has been owned by one family for over a century.
The family also owns a large rose growing operation on the site. With 45 acres under roof with greenhouses, they grow a whole lot and a wide variety of roses. The old house (mansion) has fresh roses throughout the house and grounds. The fantastic breakfast was served by the owners and their staff. The lady of the house, Maria was also a well known artist and a great tour guide for the grounds, chapel and rose showroom.
The rose growing operation was fascinating. Around 250 full time workers (starting pay $322/month), graft, prune, harvest and pack over 12 million roses per year. The nurturing and development of new strains of roses represents the “intellectual property” and competitive advantage. Ecuador is one of the largest rose producers in the world and Valentine’s day represents 25% of their annual sales. Since we are approaching Feb 14, the place was a beehive of activity.
Continuing our drive to the south to Riobamba, we are on the Pan American Highway with beautiful sights of the countryside which on a clear day would be great view of the volcanoes, which is the reason they call this drive the “Avenue of the Volcanoes”. We could see Cotopaxi covered with clouds, Tungauraliua, closer to Riobamba was puffing steam from a small eruption that started the day before and the tallest mountain (volcano),
Chimborazo at 21,000 feet was a sight to see with the sun almost directly behind the mountain creating an aura around the outline of the mountain. Pictures can’t capture these sorts of things unless you have the photographic skills I wish I had or you work for National Geographic.
With a security passport check by a military roadblock and a flat tire on the bus causing another delay, we pulled into Riobamba after dark.
The Abraspungo Hotel was a lovely place on the inside, but with a dark arrival and an early morning departure, I have no idea what the place looks like on the exterior. Good local food and entertainment from a local group with modernized Ecuadorian music made for a good evening.
Up real early, we departed at 5:30 am to make a two hour drive to do the Devil’s Nose Train Ride on the Autoferro. This was a real treat.
The Autoferro is a railway from Guayaquil up and over the West side of the Andes and through the valley to Quito. Rugged territory, lots of lives lost in the construction and a unique bus that runs on the tracks. Our transportation through the area called Devils Nose was more traditional in a train car but the steep inclines, multiple switchbacks, breathtaking views and great entertainment at the destination was worth the time.
With lunch at a local farmhouse, we went to the Ingapirca Ruins, which is the most important Inca complex in Ecuador, located in the southern Andean region of Canar.
Unbelievable stone masonry skills of the Incans with perfect cuts and fit stones has yielded a preservation without extensive modern age renovation or rebuilding. Unfortunately the clouds at our elevation of 10,600 feet were so heavy that pictures and views were almost non-existent. Our guide Gonzalo demonstrated his knowledge well with a great lecture/tour of the site. This has peaked my interest in now going to Peru to see the big ruins of the Incans.
The remaining drive was uneventful and we checked in to the Hotel Santa Lucia in downtown Cuenca. Another long day, but with a many good memories. Adding to the category of interesting is another adventure. We have our home for sale in Florida. When we picked up our emails in Otavala from all of the days we were in the Amazon basin rainforest, we discovered we had received an offer on our home two days before. The price was not to our satisfaction so we countered. The counter to our counter was received when we arrived in Cuenca and we subsequently reached an agreement for the sale. Today (Saturday) was an adventure in tracking down working equipment for printing and scanning the contracts to seal the deal. It’s done. By March 9 we have to clear out of Hawks Nest Drive. No stress involved there.
Saturday in Cuenca was a relaxing day. Up and out at 8:30. No forced march across the countryside. Just plenty of time to enjoy Cuenca. The city has approximately 500,000 people and is Ecuador’s third largest city and is approximately 7,700 feet above sea level. The headaches are going away from altitude, so that is a good thing. They have dated forms of human habitation back to approximately 5585 BC. The Incas occupied the area for a while with some of their ruins showcased in the city. There are many retirees relocating to the area from around the world, mostly English speaking from the US, UK, Australia etc. The problem the locals are having with this migration is that the immigrant population (the retirees) doesn’t want to adapt to the Spanish language which seems to be a “cultural rub”. Sound familiar.
On Saturday we visited a Panama Hat Factory.
Interesting factoid – Panama Hats originated and the real thing continues to be made in Ecuador. The process of making the hats from harvesting the material, weaving the basic hat, dying / bleaching and formed into a final product was demonstrated. Mary and Barbara are now proud owners of the original Panama hat style. They look good. The hats are a unisex design, so I can wear it when Mary doesn’t. It will look real good at Churchill Downs.
We also visited a ceramic factory and again purchases were made. The suitcases are getting a bit too heavy. Finally we had a University professor give us a walking tour / lecture in old town Cuenca. The churches, always on the tour list, were impressive. More interesting were the stories and customs of the Catholic church as it developed with the indigenous population of Ecuador.
We will end the night with another lecture on the culture and customs of the area, another dinner to add more pounds to a rapidly growing belly and hit the beds for another short night before an early Sunday morning departure to Guayaquil. This will be our final stop before we head to the Galapagos and will be the final stop for the Barbara and Danny and Ardie and Nancy, who will be headed back to the US.
Smelling of "eau de parfum of rainforest" (not likely to be a new perfume from Calvin Klein), we arrived in Quito from Coca on Tuesday around 1:30 PM. Boarding our bus, our appearance and odor was confirmation that we had been in the rainforest for the past 4 days. Cloudy, misty rain and cool temperatures, we drove north 2 hours to Otavala, (elevation of 8,500 feet). This community is in the valley running through the middle of the Andes with volcanic peaks to our west and east. Very fertile for farming and rich in the artistry of weaving. The indigenous Indians, speaking Quichuan, began specializing in weaving over 400 years ago and their product is now being distributed throughout the US and Europe.