Exploring new wonders of Ecuador’s western andean flanks, part two
At over 10.500 feet of altitude above sea level, Salinas is pretty cold, particularly at night. However, the Hotel’s sheets and covers are made of special fabrics which keep you beautifully warm… Thus, a perfect night’s sleep prompts me for an early and happy wake-up, rushing to the large picture window of my room to watch the stunning beauty of the mountainous scenery in front of me, saluting the day under a crisp and deep blue sky, mixed with the golden sun rays, emerging from behind the eastern hills, while, down below, the colorful town looks quiet and still sleepy at this early hour….
Before seven in the morning, Maurice, Jamie and I are already sitting at the scenic Hotel’s dining room, while young Johnny, who plays Receptionist, guests’ host, general supervisor and table server at breakfast time; merrily brings us trays of, what else, but a selection of delicious local cheeses; slices of ham; delicious homemade bread; locally produced marmalades and warm cups of coffee or chocolate. I sip a delicious chamomile and natural honey herbal tea. Soon “Wacho”, the local nickname for Wahignton, our local driver and guide arrives on his dark red Trooper 4X4 vehicle which will take us around the next days, visiting several remote, fascinating and little known corners of the province of Bolivar, in central Ecuador. We bring in our day packs and equipment for the day’s outing and soon we are on our way, north of Salinas, through a winding road that takes us to almost 12.000 feet above sea level. The unending beauty of the landscapes keeps us marveled at every new sight or angle… And, speaking of angles, we soon spot the spectacular marvel of the gigantic Chimborazo Volcano from one of its most rarely seen angles: the northwest; standing there with its mega-summits shining in white snows, contrasting sharply with the sky’s deep blue.
Half an hour later, riding through an Andean plateau, our driver-guide tells us we are arriving to the indigenous community of Rayopamba. There is no actual town as this is an entirely rural commune of farmers who live scattered over the verdant rolling hills of the area. As we approach we can see agitated movement of the local Andean Kichwa women, dressed with their colorful wide skirts and matching shawls. They are waiting for us to show us their small yogurt processing plant… They too have joined in with the enterprising spirit of the Salinas area and, in addition to running the yogurt processing plant; they also display for us their very colorful handicrafts, made of the Andean straw grass’ fibers: all sizes of baskets and other practical or ornamental objects tell us of their innate skill with their hands. Dona Maria, the elder in the group, cheerful and constantly joking, does the weaving demonstration, as the all-women communal association show us around and point out the natural attractions they are surrounded of: rocky hills with bizarre shapes, one, most peculiarly looking like a human face’s profile, complete with forehead, nose, mouth and chin. Legends and stories complement the fantastic views, adding cultural flavors to the already great scenery.
Sadly we must move on, and now we enter a secondary dirt road, leading us to another remote community: Cocha Colorada (“red lake”, from the Kichwa language). Manuel, the community’s tourism official, tours us around a complex of small secluded lagoons, one actually reddish, due to algae sedimentation. At Galo Cocha, he tells us a host of fascinating legends which portray the ancient Cosmo vision of the Andean Kichwas, while we also get to see scores of Andean ducks, stilts and other lagoon birds. The views are fascinating and the stories add flavor to the whole experience. Finally we make our way to the remote village of Simiatug, surrounded by amazing hills, rocks and verdant fields. Cornelia is here waiting for us with several leaders of nearby communities, to tell us about the many handicrafts they produce out of natural materials and how they are also venturing into the production of processed milk, yogurt, cheese, as well as woven objects. A typical meal of chicken soup, a T-bone shaped piece of llama meat and rice are the prelude to a visit to the town’s church where Cornelia has created a masterpiece of paintings, depicting the story of Jesus, with 100% indigenous characters, including Jesus himself…. a practical and artistic way to bring in the Bible story closer to the indigenous inhabitants of the area. A cup of coffee and locally made cookies mark our farewell to Simiatug as we make our way back to Salinas, after one more day of pleasant discoveries and enriching experiences on these fascinating corners of Ecuador….. There is more to come on the next issue….