Home > Ecuador > Guaranda: scenic countryside and rich cultural traditions in Ecuador

Guaranda: scenic countryside and rich cultural traditions in Ecuador

February 18, 2011

We leave the busy commercial city of Ambato in Ecuador’s central Andes and shortly after, we abandon the country’s backbone highway, the legendary Pan American Highway, to make a sharp turn to the west, heading to Guaranda, a small and picturesque provincial capital, nestled on an Andean Valley, between hills and mountains, and just minutes away from the warm sub-tropical valleys that eventually would lead us to Guayaquil and the heart of Ecuador’s south-central coast. The side road is paved, well maintained and features good signaling for the drivers…

The one hour trip takes us around the northern flanks of the mythical Chimborazo Volcano, Ecuador’s highest summit, at over 21.000 feet of elevation, to the placid valleys lying between 7000 and 9000 feet of elevation, west of the Andean colossus. We have to make frequent stops as the day is clear, though a bit overcast, but we have amazing views of Chimborazo’s northern side.  At a high pass of the road, an ancient glacier, possibly millions of years old, actually reaches the roadside. Of course we cannot resist the temptation to stop and descend from our van to touch the millenary pieces of ice.  The view of Chimborazo Volcano from here is plain stunning and it shows lava flows, geological faults and, all around the base of the immense mountain, the barren fields of volcanic ash are dotted with gigantic stones, as silent evidence of the fearsome volcanic activity of the giant, centuries ago….

As we start slowly descending, the scenery becomes one of those post-card type views, with a never ending string of rolling hills, cultivated in terraces up to their very top, painting the natural scenario with a glorious display of green, gold, orange and red colors… It also shows us the immense agricultural richness of this land which provides abundant grain, maize, wheat, barley, vegetables, potatoes, tomatoes and even some fruits.  The indigenous people of the area are dedicated farmers, the women in their colorful dresses, blouses and shawls, and the men in their white trousers and striped red ponchos and small white felt hats watch us go by and, especially the children, wave cheerfully at us…..

We now enter the quaint and scenically pretty city of Guaranda, capital of the province of Bolivar, landlocked between the western side of the giant Chimborazo Volcano and the Andes and the lower valleys which lead to Ecuador’s coast, at the very geographic heart of the country.  The city is nationally and locally known as the “City of the Seven Hills”, yes, just like Rome, due to the fact that it is actually surrounded by seven colorful hills, part of the western flanks of the Andes.  From certain angles of the relatively small city, especially from some the observatories or viewpoints, you can actually see, almost as an enormous Wall, just behind the city, the rarely seen western side of the omnipresent Chimborazo with its snow and glacier summits towering high up, as if trying to pierce the sky…

It is market day and, at the marketplace, a bustling ambiance of buying and selling takes place, amidst a unique display of colors, from the clothes of the indigenous communities to the multicolored produce that is displayed at the small stands…. Bright red tomatoes, shining purple onions, yellow bananas and green peas, huge watermelons, giant pumpkins are just a small sample of all the varieties of products which are brought to this commercial crossroads where products from the Andean highlands mix with those of the tropical Pacific coast’s lowlands. Leaving the main market square, we find that much of the city’s centre is a huge commercial hub, where stores sell from heavy farming machinery to all kinds of tools and household items; from shoes to clothing….  Some of the stores display the traditional, artisan made guns, fabricated at the nearby small town of San Jose de Chimbo.  Also on display are the world-class cheeses produced in the equally small rural community of Salinas de Bolivar, a pioneer initiative of community ran businesses that has brought fame and prosperity to the area….. It is time for lunch and while some great local delicacies await us, the afternoon will provide us with some rich cultural experiences which will be narrated for you on the next issue…

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