Home > Ecuador > Gualaceo, a handicrafts haven in Ecuador’s southern Andes, Part two

Gualaceo, a handicrafts haven in Ecuador’s southern Andes, Part two

Our handicrafts tour of lovely Gualaceo town couldn’t be complete, without a visit to one of the workshops where skilled hands conduct an ancestral art, original of the southern Andes and the south-central coast of Ecuador: the hand crafting of those superbly fine, light and comfortable straw hats, famously known worldwide as the “Panama hats”, a name which became globally popular due to the fact that these articles, originally made in Ecuador, were exported to the world, since the early 1900’s; through the Panama Canal, when Ecuador did not yet have the international airports and seaports that it has since the mid-1900’s.

The hats weaving is normally an art conducted by family groups, who take great pride in their skills and create the most amazing hats and a variety of other objects, from the fine and previously treated fibers of a particular type of palm.  Eulalia and Felipe take us to the small community of Gañasol, renowned for the patience and excellent quality of their work, mainly the iconographic hats, which can be found at premium stores in Ecuador and abroad, as a symbol of elegance and distinction.  We watch in admiration as three-generation teams work together on the diverse steps involved in the weaving of these fine and fresh garments, not only a welcome necessity in sunny Equatorial latitudes, but also a symbol of elegance, in the country and around the world.

Next is the small community and neighborhood of San Juan, also specialized in the hats weaving.  Here they also elaborate, from the same straw fibers, additional artifacts, such as glass-holders; napkin-holders and dispensers; artistic lamps; jewelry boxes and other objects which tourists eagerly search for and buy at bargain prices, right where they are crafted and hand-delivered by those who made them.

Of course we cannot resist the temptation and we also do our share of shopping, not only to help the local economy, but fully aware of the fact that we are buying quality goods, whether for our own practical use or as distinctive presents.

Now we drive some ten minutes northwest of Gualaceo, to the village of Chordeleg, another Andean town of charming colorfulness and bustling activity on this Sunday, a day when hundreds of national and international tourists come by…  This is possibly Ecuador’s “Mecca” of silver jewelry, particularly of the hand-made artisanal and artistic kind…. Entire streets of the small and picturesque town are lined with shops and ateliers where one can watch the amazingly fine and skilled hand work in carving the precious metals: silver, gold and small amounts of platinum; along with precious stones such as rubies, emeralds and a myriad others, to create rings, earrings, necklaces, pins and a host of other objects, utensils, decoration pieces and souvenirs for all tastes, needs and pockets.  Unquestionably, we all agree that the Gualaceo-Chordeleg combination is an outstanding handicrafts tour, perhaps the best of its kind in Ecuador, a land known for the richness, variety and quality of its handicrafts.

Back to the Gualaceo area we choose a local Hosteria, full of charm and countryside atmosphere, complete with beautiful gardens, enhancing the natural Andean beauty; to have our lunch.  Here, as mostly everywhere, we will of course honor the equally delicious and varied Ecuadorian cuisine. Our local gastronomical feast includes roasted pork (“hornado”), juicy and tender, with a slightly sour sauce of onions and tomatoes; delicious small chunks of crackling piglet skins; the entire Cuenca area’s specialty: “motepillo”, a preparation of hominy cooked and mixed over an eggs paste; and delicious tortillas of maize, golden braised… The matching beverage for such a rich traditional meal was a refreshing rosero, a combination of several fruits, blended into a mix of juice with small fruit chunks, one more tasty experience..

After the rich meal, nothing better than a stroll along the shoreline of the Santa Barbara River, admiring its green banks covered with weeping willows and lots of fruit trees: apples, several varieties of plums, peaches, berries and more… The sound of the running water, the idyllic country atmosphere and quietness were the perfect end for our nature, culture and handicrafts outing from Cuenca to Gualaceo and Chordeleg, in the southern Andes of Ecuador……..

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