Friday, December 21, 2012

A Day Tour

At 10am, we will meet Luis, our guide for a four hour tour of the surrounding area. Right after breakfast, we ran over to the church in the park a block away, Santuario del Senor de Las Angustias (Sanctuary of the Lord of the Anguishes, Agonies, or Torments…take your pick). Our instincts were correct. There was a children’s mass in progress, but what we had not counted on where the way the children were dressed. There was a wide variety of angels, shepherds, some in Santa type clothes, and assorted other costumes. You can see them in the pictures in the photo blog. They all sat in like groups; all angels were in one spot, and so on.

What fascinated me more was the group of obviously indigenous people right outside the door of the church. With a dark skinned man presiding with the traditional indigenous hat and long braid of black hair down his back, he held a white rose and a can of water. Surrounding him were about 8 women also dressed in indigenous garb, but no other men were in this group. On the ground was a blanket upon which were six books. I tried looking at the titles, but could make them out for certain. What I am sure of is that none of them were bibles. A sedate ceremony took place with the man chanting something, obviously a prayer of sorts. He would stop intermittently to sprinkle the books with the rose after it was dipped in the water. At this point it was the women’s turn to chant. After this cycle took place about 3 times, the gang broke up.  This is the time when I would love to be able to quiz someone about the customs.

By 10am we were back to the hotel and Luis was on time too. His English is negligible and our Spanish is fractured, but we managed fine with both language working back and forth. Our first stop was the Cotacachi Reserve where the path circles an inactive volcano. A lake has been formed in the crated with a couple of isolated islands. Volcanoes don’t come on the ground floor mind you, so when Luis questioned “Do you like to walk?” I interpreted this much differently. What he should have asked is “Do you like to drag your butt up hundreds of stairs?” My answer would have been completely different for sure.

The maximum altitude is 14,832 feet with the minimum being 900 feet. I don’t do the step machine at the gym for good reason, but times like this make me sorry I don’t. To circumvent the entire volcano, which athletic people are apt to do, will take 5 hours. For us less adventurous, we only spent 20 minutes, but I think Luis held out longer. My lungs will swear to it. Besides, he gets paid by the hour, so he had motive to keep up climbing. I gave up earlier than Ron did, because I can say “NO!” in fourteen languages. Ron can use the word with me or tell me he doesn’t want to do something, but feels if he tells the stranger this, it may hurt their feelings. My legs and lungs vs. their feelings? No contest for sure!

Next we went to a town named Peguche, known for its leather goods. This is a major tourist attraction. The streets are lined with one leather store after another for blocks. It is incomprehensible how any of them can make money. The streets were almost completely empty sans a few locals. I think we only saw one other couple that could be pegged as tourists, by their skin color. Luis informed us that a number of US Americans, Italians, and Swiss have relocated to the next town, so this assumption about the tourists could be incorrect.

We stopped for lunch at Tierra Del Sol hotel and restaurant. Considering Luis picked the place, it was a welcome discovery to see the prices were reasonable, the portions too large to finish, and the service excellent. Luis was going to wait outside, but Ron insisted he eat with us as our guest. Upon my request, they made a dish with quinoa and steamed vegetables. It still confounds me that this is one of the major producers of quinoa and other grains, but they are frequently absent from menus in restaurants.
Our third stop was Pinsaqui Hacienda, famous for being 400 years old and having Simón Bolívar sleep there in room number 1 of course. It was interesting, but Luis was so impressed by it we had to continually ooh and ahh for his sake.
As we were closing in on four hours and didn’t want this to run into a $50 tour, we explained to Luis that we had seen enough. He insisted on one more stop, a town named Cotapachi, which was 100% indigenous people who were also known for their handiwork. At his insistence we went to see a weaver. His work was lovely, some I would have loved to have, if we had the wall room, but more importantly if we could get it home. We still have much traveling to do before struggling with airline regulations on weight issues making for a perfect excuse to leave all rugs and weavings behind.

After a coffee at the Daily Grind we headed to the hotel to rest meaning I worked on my pictures while Ron dozed. The call of the wild got to us, so we roamed the streets looking over the vegetables and fruits on offer. Some street vendors sell something that could be mistaken for cooked beans until you look closer where the legs are visible. It is still to be determined what species this was. Bananas grilled are a common offering, so I had one. It was good, dry, but still banana flavored. Almost everywhere you can find some little old lady selling avocados. I bought 5 of them for $1.00, the going rate.

You could tell it was Friday night; droves of young people were populating the streets. Looking for a recommended restaurant, it turned out that now it is a Turkish smoking den for young people. After some serious hunting, we settled for an Italian restaurant run by indigenous people. The chicken and beef lasagna that each of us had were quite different from any before, but was still tasty.

Back in the park near our hotel, there was yet another Christmas festival, but with adult entertainers. There were 2 hosts who talked too much, but intermittently, there were dance and music performances. I managed to video three of the dancing pieces, which are in this blog.

Two last notes, strangely enough you cannot drink the water in Quito. You have to use bottled water for everything including brushing your teeth. In Otavalo, the water is purified and safe to drink and use. 

One lucky break: We were planning on three days in Baños, but since it would have been a 4 hour bus ride, we changed our plans and canceled our hotel there. That same morning, we received a warning from the US Embassy "The U.S. Embassy in Quito advises U.S. citizens living or traveling in Ecuador that the Tungurahua volcano, located near the tourist community of Baños in central Ecuador, continues to exhibit increased seismic activity.  Ecuador’s Geophysical Institute reports ongoing ash discharge, lava flow and explosions."

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