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Andean Highlands

 Picture Pages:    Map  |  Llamas  |  Hacienda Cusin  |  Imbabura Volcano  |  Calderon Village  |  Hat making  |  Local Musical family  |  Weaving  |  Otavalo Market |   Equator Monument  |  Tour guide

After breakfast, we exit Quito on the Pan American Highway (16,000 miles from Alaska to Chile) and drive a short distance to the village of Calder6n.  Here we saw the unique Ecuadorian folk art of bread-dolls (Massapan). These durable (and inedible) folk sculptures range from Christmas tree ornaments to small statuettes. 

We continued on to Imbabura, the province of lakes and mountains, of inspiring landscapes and folklore. This province is only 80 kilometers north from Quito on the Pan American Highway.  We stopped at Cochasquí, where we walked among mysterious earth pyramid structures constructed by the pre-Incan Cara Indians. This site had ruins from 800 A.D.  There's an amazing panoramic view from here, and a small museum.  We also walked on the Inca Trail, saw Llamas and horses in the pasture and then watched a baby Llama that was born only minutes before.

Driving east, we then turn north onto a small road. We are now in a rural valley to the east of 15,000-foot Volcán Imbabura. Here we visit Indian villages set among large haciendas, such as La Esperanza and Zuleta.  Relatively few outsiders ever come here, where many of the inhabitants still dress in a traditional style: women's clothing often has intricate and colorful embroidery.

We have lunch at the Hacienda Luis.  After lunch we pass through the attractive colonial town of Ibarra, then turn west. By now we have almost circumnavigated the Volcán Imbabura.

In the late afternoon, we arrive at Hacienda Cusin where we stay for the next two nights.  The Hacienda Cusin, situated at 7,600 ft, in the heartland of the Otavalan Indian tribe, is within a short walking distance of the San Pablo Lake, a mystical body of water for the Otavalan Indians living on its shores. A spectacular view of Mt. Imbabura, standing 15,250 ft. high, can be seen from the road in front of the hacienda.. Built in 1602, Hacienda Cusin is named after an Indian chief who fought the invading Incas in the 15th century.

The next  morning we visit a village community almost entirely devoted to the art of traditional handcrafted weaving on the "back-strap" loom. Since early in this century, Otavaleños have developed hand weaving (Agato) to a high art, and their colorful textiles are well known throughout South America and beyond.   We also visit Cotacachi Village that has very good woodcarvings as well as hand­made leather goods.  Another stop is at a small town, Icuman, that makes felt hats.  We were invited in to watch.  The work is done in private homes.

In the afternoon, Marcello took us on a hiking excursion. We drive from Cotachi to a
giant crater on the lower southern flanks of Volcán Cuicocha. Laguna de Cuicocha is a deep lake nestled within the crater, and we hike high above its azure waters. We then had the unexpected pleasure of being offered a boat ride on the lake and entrance to the local museum for the price of $1.00 each.  The boat ride took us around the large island and we stopped to see gas and sulfur still coming up through the water from the crater beneath.  Very interesting!

Another unexpected (and unplanned) event was a visit to a home of famous musicians.  We picked up three girls dressed in highland attire and found them to be part of this family.  Our guide got directions to the house and we had a wonderful time watching a flute made from basic bamboo looking material.

Otavalo Market:
The next morning we drove to the craft bazaars of Otavalo town.  Otavalo is a small city of about 50,000 inhabitants. It lies at 2,530 meters in a spring-like valley, situated between the Imbabura volcano (4,609 meters) and the Cotacachi volcano (4,939 meters).

The most famous indigenous market in Ecuador is held here. Although the market is bigger on Saturdays, you can visit it any day and find an impressive variety of all kinds of Ecuadorian handcrafts. At dawn you may see indigenous people arriving the market place from many mountain trails surrounding the city. They come from nearby villages and towns such as Peguche, Agato and Iluman, to sell their products. One may visit the workshops of these local weavers working on backstrap and Spanish treadle looms, as well as other artisans at work making felt hats, knitting sweaters or weaving straw mats.  We were told on Saturday morning is when animals are sold.

San Antonio de Ibarra:  small village where everyone is in the business of carving wooden items that are sold in small shops around the village.

Ibarra: this clean, freshly painted colonial city, capital of the province, is also known as the white city. It's on the Pan American Highway.

Equatorial Monument:
We stopped for lunch near a monument that marks the spot where we cross the Equator, at about9,000 feet. Here's a gem of geographical trivia: just a short distance east of here, the Equator reaches its maximum elevation, about 15,100 feet, on the southern slopes of snow-capped Volcán Cayambe. We linger a bit on this boundary between hemispheres and visit the Ethnological Museum at the Equatorial Monument.

We then return to Quito and get ready for the trip home the next morning.  All our flights were on-time and arrived home on schedule - with all our baggage.  We flew Quito --> Miami --> Dallas -->Tucson.

The End

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