Monday, January 18, 2010

Seeing the Ecuadorian Countryside

Last night I slept rather fitfully, waking up every two hours trying to catch my breath. No headache today, but still a little light headed (that and the fact the room still feels as if it's slightly swaying).

Dad and I had our usual breakfast of fresh fruit, cereal, and rolls. He had his usual raspberry herbal tea, while I got the mate de coca, since it's supposed to help with the altitude.

We met Nancy and Ed at 8 am, along with our driver Fernando. There wasn't enough room for all of us in the back seat and front seat, so I took the fold down seat in the trunk; I could almost fit my legs.

We headed north, and the scenery changed dramatically, from rolling green hills to brown, dry gorges, and then back to green, farmed volcanic slopes. After about an hour we reached our first stop: the true Equator line (the equatorial monument we had seen a week ago based on the French geographers' calculations were off by about 80 meters. After a short spiel, we chose not to buy any of the various offerings and headed back on the road.

I was a little worried that this cheesy stop might augur our future, but it was the exception. We headed through towns whose population looked overwhelmingly indigenous. There were women with brightly colored clothing and fedora hats carrying bundles by the roads, cows grazing along the highway, etc. Our next stop was the town of Cayambe, where we pulled up in front of a cafe. It turned out to be a very traditional bakery. We came in and there was the wood-fired oven being heated up for another round of rolls and cookies. The dough was rising in the large, two meter long bread trough, and some young men were cutting up the dough into rolls and cookies. I bought a bag of sweets for a dollar and asked if I could take pictures.

From there we continued to a high point overlooking Lago San Pablo. Across from us were the slopes of the Imbaburra volcano. I heard Hebrew and found a retired couple from Israel (originally from the Negev, but now from Tel-Aviv). Dad chatted with them for a bit, while I talked to the Slovakian students on another tour. In the distance we could make out our next destination: Otavalo.

Otavalo has the largest indigenous market in Ecuador. On Saturday, the market takes over the whole town, but on week days it is confined to a single square. Interestingly, the items for sale varied from one area of the market to another. I discovered that dad is not a fun person to shop with. He doesn't want to buy anything, he doesn't know what to buy anyone else, and he's rather fearful of buying something the recipient won't want. He rejected every suggestion we made. I finally gave up and bought myself some loose cotton housepants with matching shirt, both embroidered with colored stripes.

After an hour and a half, we got back in the car and headed up to Cuicoche Lake. I had read about this in Frommer's and wanted to see it. We climbed up the sides of a volcano, whose cone had collapsed to form this crater lake. Inside were two lava-formed islands, now covered in green foliage. On a clear day, the lake is turquoise, but on a mostly cloudy day it was navy blue. We could see white egrets flying over the lake, and colorful flowers, such as orchids surrounding it.

From there we headed to another mostly indigenous town: Cotacachi. This town specialized in leather goods and I thought dad could buy a replacement for his card wallet which is falling apart. We went through several stores and found one pretty close to what dad wanted. It was only $4. On the way back, I took some photos of the Imbaburra volcano that looms over the town, and a piece of graffiti that I thought would please dad (it read "The church is the temple of oppression and opulence." I chose not to photograph the two soldiers dressed in a bizarre pink-themed camouflage.

Our last stop was lunch at the Hacienda Cusin in the town of San Pablo (where we he first viewed the lake). We drove down roughly paved roads, and passed adobe walls. The Hacienda is from the 18th century and has recently been restored. Inside the walls were beautiful flowering trees. Our lunch was excellent. We all had the minestrone soup, but I added some of the house hot sauce. For the main course, I had the dorado muniere, while dad had the asparagus torte. We shared tastes. Finally, at a quarter to three, we got back on the road for Quito. As we climbed the rough, rocky roads back to the Pan American highway, all I could wonder was how it must have been two hundred years ago, before rubber tires and shock absorbers.

After some creative and exciting driving along the cliffs and gorges of Ecuador we reached Quito a little after 4 pm. Dad went upstairs to take a nap, and I'm toying with taking a swim in the pool. Dad is so full from lunch, he may skip dinner again. We've already confirmed our transportation to the airport at 7 am tomorrow (we're sharing a transfer with Ed and Nancy), so next stop: Miami.


Unknown said...

Sounds like you had a fabulous time after we left you...though it sounds like you really needed us for assistance with shopping. Always remember that "when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping!"

J.B. said...

You were a lot more fun to shop with! Do you know what it's like to shop with someone who always says "Don't buy that. Why do you need that?" and hates to buy anything himself?

Unknown said...

Yes, I know what that sort of shopping expedition is like... :)