Visiting more hidden treasures of the “Unseen Ecuador”, Part three (final)
After enjoying just a couple of hours’ “glimpse”, yet a fascinating one, of the “Piedra Blanca Protected Forest”, we slowly make our way back along the trail, cheerfully chatting away with Omar and Xavier, representatives of the juvenile group of entrepreneurs who are planning to develop some Ecotourism and adventure tourism programs in the area. As we walk along the muddy trail, the vegetation doesn’t stop amazing us and calling for more pictures of the huge tree ferns, the maze of bromeliads, some rare and pretty orchids or the very colorful, bright red and yellow flowers of the ginger family.
We board our vehicle back to San Luis de Pambil, the small and colorful town, bustling today with activity as it is “market day”. We sadly leave our hosts and continue our journey onto the next town, just thirty minutes away: Las Naves. This is seemingly another busy crossroads of commerce between coast and highlands, and here we plan to make a short stop to check out some of the local attractions: a small natural beach and pool at one sheltered corner of the river, where the locals enjoy swimming and aquatic games, while alongside, small kiosks sell typical local food and refreshments. People are friendly and wave at us with cheerful smiles. We have picked up Marco, the local tourism expert of the area, and he then shows us the way to what seems to be a former Inca or Pre-Inca cemetery, a small complex of evidently man-made “tolas” (artificial mounds) laid over a flat land of presently banana plantations. The farm’s owners tell us that abundant pottery and ceramic pieces have been found on these mounds, but studies haven’t yet been conducted to establish their exact origin. Back to Las Naves (the name of the town means “the ships” and is the source to more than two or three quite different versions of how it acquired its name)… Salt-and-peppered with imagination and local legends and stories, it all adds charm to the already tropical environment of the village, located on the borderline with the coastal province of Los Rios.
At the main square, a pretty and well gardened park is the stage for a group of local women, displaying for the public their skills with a variety of handicrafts, mainly weaving a variety of garments and daily-use implements; hats, baskets, hammocks or embroidered blouses or table cloths. The area is predominantly coastal farmlands and, as we continue our southbound journey, we go past endless plantations of bananas of several varieties, plantations of cacao, coffee, citrus fruits and mangos; the native “bread-fruit trees”, tobacco, as well as teak and balsa woods… It is simply a wonderland of tropical produce, leading us to realize how rich is the Ecuadorian soil, producing such an abundance and diversity of products, not only for national consumption, but also to export to the rest of the world. Our driver reminds us that Ecuador is the leading producer and exporter of bananas in the world.
It is well past noontime and as we swiftly ride the two-lane paved road, we can feel the warm tropical air of the coastal inner flatlands, as we admire the never ending parade of an immense variety of products which will fill with color the marketplaces of villages, towns and cities throughout the country. It must be close to 90 degrees Farenheit and quite humid, but we are enjoying the tropical sights and scenes. Finally we arrive into Echeandia, one of the larger cities on the border strip between the westernmost part of the Bolivar province and the coastal province of Los Rios. This is another commercial hub, teeming with activity on this Saturday afternoon. After exploring its main square, featuring a statue to, of course, Simon Bolivar, we head down one of the central streets for a latish lunch. Gastronomy is part of the experience and here we try one of the local specialties: a seasoned chicken stew, served with abundant rice, salad and the always delicious fried manioc or “yucca” dice-shaped bits, along with the always tasty “patacones”, crunchy plantain fried patties. The oranges in the area are nation-famous, so we gladly quench our thirst with a delicious freshly squeezed juice of the sweet and tasty fruit.
As we prepare to make our final journey from 200 feet above sea level to over 9.500 feet above sea level, back in the Andean highlands, we realize the fortune of having been able to discover more hidden treasures of this never-ending beautiful Ecuador…..