Home > Uncategorized > Exploring new wonders of Ecuador’s western andean flanks, part one

Exploring new wonders of Ecuador’s western andean flanks, part one

The afternoon is moving towards its last quarter as our van rolls across fascinating Andean
landscapes and our minds try to process and classify the hundreds of images we have seen since
we left Quito, the capital of Ecuador, around noontime: the magnificent Cotopaxi Volcano, the
world’s highest active, with its imposing conical shape and huge cover of sparkling white snow
and glaciers; later Ecuador’s highest colossus, Mount Chimborazo, towering at over 20.000 feet
of elevation and allowing us the honor of fully uncovered views of its three summits, equally
awash with a gigantic cover of glaciers and perpetual snows, seen from a rather unusual angle, the
northeastern side… Then, it is a never-ending parade of sights, scenes and colors which only the
most remote corners of Ecuador’s Andes can offer.

Shortly before sunset, Maurice, Jamie and I arrive into Salinas de Bolivar, a quaint and picturesque
little town, nicely nestled on a bowl-shaped small valley, at 3.600 meters above sea level (some
10.500 feet); surrounded by hills and mountains, painted in all imaginable tones of green, emerald
and brown-reddish colors. Salinas takes its name from the existence of millenary salt mines,
whose geological origin lies on saline and nitrate components of the ancient granitic rocks which
form Ecuador’s western Andean Range. Small mountainous rivers allow for the filtration of the
salt along the “Candos”, a series of large and mainly oval-shaped holes, from which the salt is
extracted, using antique techniques. Salinas acquired notoriety about a decade ago, as a center
of small community enterprising, conducted by the local inhabitants, with the support of some
national and international, public and private organizations. Presently, it is Ecuador’s icon of
cheeses production, in present days, exported to many foreign countries. Using a blend of local
techniques with European technology and know-how, Salinas now produces top-class Tilsits,
Goudas, Mozzarellas, Gruyeres and other types of superb cheeses….The industrious spirit of its’
inhabitants has taken them now into the production of fine chocolate, dried fruits and a host of
other goods and products, steadily on the rise…

We arrive at our small but more than pleasant and well-appointed Hotel, at a privileged viewing
location, atop a hill. Young Johnny and Paola, the Reception staff, cheerfully check us in, provide
us with our respective sets of fresh towels and usher us to our very comfortable rooms. We
realize the sunset hour is arriving so we rush to the Hotel’s terrace to photograph the stunning
scenery of the small and colorful town painted in colors, with the majestic background of the most
bizarre and awesome looking cliffs and rolling hills, creating a surrealistic scenario for some unique
movie… A short distance below, a rare set of barren, yellowish-brown patches, show us the actual
“Salinas” or salt mines, silently sitting there as the evidence of amazing chemical and geological
processes….The hilly mountainous backdrop is post-card perfect. Behind the Hotel, two huge and
impressive rocks stand one in front of the other, providing one more bizarre feature to the whole
scene… Without being geologists, we can almost “see” the geological origin of these mountains, in
the colossal clashes of nature, as the Oceanic Nazca plate pushed underneath the South American
Tectonic Plate, eons ago….

After a dinner of locally made pizza, topped, of course, with an assortment of local cheeses and
varieties of dried baby tomatoes and mushrooms; a large cup of also locally made hot chocolate
with dipping of fresh cheeses from Salinas, we sit at the cozy living area, around the fireplace,
for a lengthy chat with Dorian, the young President of the “Mundo Juvenil Foundation”, a private
institution ran by local youths, who, joining the town’s fame for communal enterprising, have
ventured into Community Tourism projects, which include the running of the Hotel and tourism
development plans for the area. He tells us that international experts were brought in to assess
the feasibility of the two “Farallones” rock cliffs being used as venues for vertical rock climbing.
However, the conclusions of the experts detected that the rock consistency was not hard enough
for the purpose. Nevertheless, other venues were located sufficiently close to the town, to allow
for this and other adventure sports to be conducted. Dorian’s eyes sparkle with enthusiasm as he
tells us of their ambitious plans to create a new tourism pole in the area. And we cannot wait to
start exploring this fascinating area of the Andes, early tomorrow morning. We will tell you about
the continuation of this story on the next issue…….

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