Here’s a few things that we’ve found that took some getting used to…
It’s been raining for a week here, and we were getting cabin-fever, so yesterday, when I asked Kelly for suggestions on what to do, he suggested we hike around Laguna de Cuicocha. Cuicocha is a 2 mile wide caldera and crater lake at the foot of the Cotacachi Volcano. It’s name comes from the Kichwa indigenous language and means “Lake of the Guinea Pig”.
He said, (and I should have stopped to really listen), “it’s only a 4 hour hike and pretty level all the way ’round- you can do it”…I didn’t stop to think that we were going to be up in the mountains around it- not at the bottom where the boats are…
I can’t believe that for the first time in a week, the sun peeks out, but we leave both raincoats in the closet. Armed with no hat and only a Coke and a Snicker in my little bag, off we go! Kel does have one bottle of water in his pocket! Our plan was to hike the 4 hr trail, then meet our ride at La Mirador, the restaurant that overlooks the lake and the two islands. ( The islands are in the center of the lake, and off-limits to visitors..it’s inhabited by guinea pigs). You can take a boat around the lake for a tour, but are no longer allowed to visit the islands themselves).
We got started just fine, and I was excited about taking some really awesome pics…after about an hour, it dawned on me that I had at least 3 hours more to go! Not being mentally or physically prepared for this little adventure, the elevation was taking it’s toll- I felt like I couldn’t breathe! My husband, on the other hand, is “shake it off” and “just take your time”,…the typical Ranger response I have come to expect from him.
We went a little slower that he would have liked, but I tried to keep up, stopping quite often to BREATHE! The trail seems to have been made by skinny goats; very narrow, very wet from the week’s rain, and looking straight down the side of cliffs….if it hadn’t been for animal dung on the trail, I wouldn’t think it had been occupied at all. The views of course were spectacular, but I seemed to be watching my feet and the trail more so than looking at the gorgeous scenery (you can tell when I stopped taking the pics)!
Up and down, up and more up, winding around…at times, crevices, mud or sandy with rocks, it kept going….while I was calling on the name of my precious Jesus to just help me breathe and walk, my beloved husband is bounding around like he just discovered a whole new mystical and secluded continent! I’ve also developed a personal entourage of tiny flies that bite like mosquitoes…and wouldn’t you know it, I had on short sleeves. I am definitely the poster girl of what not to do on a mountain hike!
About an hour and half into the hike, we spotted two majestic condors, but also noticed the clouds rolling in…and twenty minutes later, here comes the ICE COLD RAIN WITH HAIL! We had no excuse but we were caught totally unprepared for this, and there was no where to hide…we had already passed the couple of observation points at the top…there were no trees either…we had to keep sloshing thru the mud, rain and hail – no choice but to keep going forward. While all this was happening, my yoga pants (yep, didn’t even wear jeans) were soaking up rain and stretching in length…my shoes came untied, glasses fogged, then I twisted my knee. When the hail and rain finally stopped, I sat down in some grass and mud to BREATHE and squeeze water out of my clothing….I looked up and Kelly had run into some young girls on the trail and was talking and laughing with them…(they were fully dressed for the weather) from Sweden. Can you believe one was actually skipping?? I mean, come on…I looked & felt my worst, and 3 contestants that could be on Top Model just happen to be on the same mountain trail? In front of my husband….?? I think he actually giggled…he denied it, of course!
Anyway, I’m limping now, ( my right knee feels the size of a basketball ) just trying to finish the hike and get to the park station. Kelly is now having to help me walk down the last 1/2 mile, and wanted to take our picture at the end of the hike, but between the sign language and the threat of bodily harm, he knew better!
We finally made it up to La Mirador, (walking in the rain again) and the driver we’d paid to pick us up wasn’t there (he must not have understand our Spanish), so we had no way home. Even though we were both soaked and freezing, we ordered a meal and a taxi. When our food came to the table, we looked up and of course, here comes the sun! All’s well that end’s well…home to a hot shower, dry socks, sweaters and ice on the knee for me! I told Kel the next time I wanted pics from that high up, I’d hire a helicopter!
We spent a (rainy) Saturday with our new friends from Virginia, Dave Causey & Miriam Weaver, exploring the town of San Antonio which is known for it’s furniture and carvings. We were honored to meet several master craftsman in action. My favorite sculpture in the town gallery is the one with the couple and the heart in the middle…I would love to commission a smaller one for us to keep!
Carvings range from saints, cherubs and crucifixes to animals, masks, Aztec and Incan influenced pieces, abstract sculptures, and cost anywhere from $1.00 to a few hundred dollars. The main plaza is surrounded by the largest stores, with lots of small galleries and shops along the backstreets. Near the main plaza is the Taller Escuela Escultural y Tallano ( a carving workshop and school).
Most of the furniture fit two categories: the King of Spain marries the Queen of England or Mod Squad. You can order custom furniture which is good thing!
We took a taxi to Ibarra for a lunch of beef steak, fries, salad and helado (ice cream) and a visit to SuperMaxi for hard to find items like peanut butter, stevia and shrimp. After our 45 cent bus ride back into Cotacachi, I noticed a family near the terminal playing instruments while the children danced. A nice way to finish the day!
As we drove up, we saw children coming from the school that is on site here, and we walked down a cobblestone path to get to the waterfall. Along the way, Rodrigo pointed out a tree that was carved with initials of lovers. He told us that although Catholicism was the main religion in Ecuador, indigenous people also had their own beliefs, and a lot of the time, religious teachings were mixed with pagan beliefs. One of these is that BIG trees are filled with a spirit, and if lovers carve their initials in the tree while courting, that the gods will protect them. Also, there is a tree called La Lechero, the living tree, and before you are married, you carve your initials in this tree for longevity and passion in the marriage.
The waterfall itself is magnificent, and the tingling cool spray is so refreshing. There is a higher lookout point that gets you closer to the waterfall, and so of course, up we go! I can always tell the difference in the elevation, but it doesn’t seem to bother Kelly much! (This is a place where you’d like to just spend a lot of time). The rushing is thunderous, and we both felt energized for our walk back.
Like many other Andean communities, the Peguche community celebrates “Inti Raymi”, or sun festival. Inti Raymi is the biggest and most famous Andean Ritual. It begins on June 24 when thousands of people visit the sacred places to take the “Baño Sagrado” or sacred bath as part of a purification ceremony and many come to the Peguche waterfall – they are also filled with energy for the coming seasons.
They also celebrate “Paucar Raymi” each spring. Paucar Raymi is a time to honor the fertility of the land, and give thanks to “Taita Inti” or Father Sun for giving us the light of life and to “Quilla Mama” or Mother Moon, for protecting our dreams.
We ended our day at Lake Cuicocha (the volcanic lake) at the foot of Imbabura, where you can take a tour by boat around the islands. A fabulous meal at the lake restaurant, and we were ready to call it a day! (The meal: roast pork, potato cakes, fried and boiled corn, avocado, cheese, and fried plantains).
Today we were fortunate to meet Rodrigo Flores, a native of Ecuador who speaks almost perfect English and he took us to meet some of the local weavers. Please take a look at his website if you want to learn more about the culture in Ecuador. Rodrigo has been to the U.S. for education in leadership and computer skills, and his brother owns a store in mall in North Carolina. Rodrigo is an enterprising man who very concerned about losing the local customs and traditions in his native country, and is educating the younger generation about the value of their history. He is an entrepreneur who is a travel guide, and is in the process of setting up campsites near Lake Cuiocha. He is also a great storyteller!
Our first stop was a village called Huayco Pungo, which means “canyon door”. Here we met 75 yr old Jose Manuel, who has been weaving reeds that he gets from around the volcanic lake into mats and fans. It was an extremely humbling experience to meet Jose and see where he lives. He was very gracious and showed us how he dried the reeds, and then pounded them with a smooth stone as he wove. It takes him about 2 hours to create a 3 x 5 mat, which he sells for $3.00 at the market. Most of the older indigenous people still use the mats as a mattress. He allowed me to take some photos of his home, including the occupants – 5 guinea pigs (which we think he keeps for food!) Note: If you ever hear me complaining about ANYTHING, remind me to look at some of these photos.
Our next stop was the tiny village of La Compania, where we met a family who specializes in weaving belts and scarves. Maria (who is the grandmother) and her husband Carlos, seem to have a friendly on-going competition to see who finishes their product first! They keep the two granddaughters during the day…it seems that we interrupted “homework time”. After buying several beautiful scarves that feel like silk (they are made from alpaca wool)…I still couldn’t resist the sales technique of a 4 yr old entrepreneur! She informed me in no uncertain terms that the dolls were worth $2 each because she helped to make their hat…I bought two dolls from her just because she was so adorable! Here, even the small children understand the significance of a visitor – it may mean money added to the family coffers.
Each village now has it’s own school- ages 6 to 12, but as early as 3 yrs old, the children begin learning their family’s trade- whether it’s farming, weaving, carving, or as a musician.
We also learned that the gold colored beads worn in abundance by the indigenous villagers, are a symbol dating back to before they were conquered by the Spanish. In that time, the beads actually were real GOLD, and represented a bountiful harvest.
Along the way, some common sites are to see families washing their clothes in the water that comes off the mountains, and animals that seem to just be wandering around on their own. Many houses will have mats out front with beans and corn drying in the sun.
The small community of Iluma is known for hat making and it’s many shamans (healers). You will see a sign above several doors that say De Yachacs de Iluman (the people that know). Healing is another one of the traditions that is handed down from generation to generation …they use native plants, parts of animals, a blend of the two, make their own medicine and poltices- much like Native American history in the States.
For example, one treatment we’ve heard about is to take tadpoles and let the tail part flicker into an eye that is filled with blood. Somehow this clears the blood out of the eye. (Remind me not to overwear my contacts while I’m here!)
We were privileged to meet Ana who gave us a short lesson in her craft of hat-making. She has wooden “heads” (more like a bowl shaped piece of wood marked with sizes), then using the form, she molds her material (leather or straw) and irons the brim with an old fashioned iron that is heated by a fire. Once she gets the shape she wants, she adds details. ( We took some videos today, but they’re not formatted yet!)
Peguche (named for the nearby waterfalls) is home to Luis de Carlo Togada and his lovely wife Maria Anna Conseulos Togado (76 and 74 yrs old), who shared with us the art of making blankets, shawls and wall coverings made from sheep’s wool. They were a fun and lively couple, and their work area was spotless.
We ended the day with a visit to awesome Cascade de Peguche and the volcanic lake… Stay tuned!