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Sunday 22 Dec 2013
Papallacta, Ecuador

Waterfalls and weavers

The altitude was still a problem for me, and three litres of water still failed to cure me of the cracking headache I’d developed yesterday.  Fortunately, a night’s sleep helped and I felt much more human in the morning. I'd have loved another soak in the hot pools, but the ones outside our room had been drained overnight and were refilling too slowly.  We enjoyed the enormous breakfast buffet, complete with a variety of watermelon carvings and what appeared to be a fawn and a duck made out of mashed potato decorating the display.

Our first stop was at Guango Lodge to see hummingbirds.  Like the hummingbird garden at Curi Cancha in Costa Rica, the lodge here had hung sugared water in feeders to attract the birds, so all we had to do was pick a feeder and wait for the hummingbirds to come to us.  I got some good photos, but I miss the zoom lens on my old camera.  They are beautiful birds, but quite territorial so we got buzzed by a few chasing each other around.

The weather had improved considerably from yesterday, so we were treated to stunning views down the valley on our way back towards Quito.  Even from our room at Papallacta we'd discovered we were sitting at the foot of the Antisana volcano, an enormous peak that had been completely hidden by last night's fog.  Andreas thought it was funny to swerve a little each time I tried to get a picture, or pull up with a tree in the middle of the view.  Funny man.

We passed the Lago Negro (black lake) reservoir.  In 2007, a leak from the nearby oil pipeline contaminated the lake and poisoned Quito’s drinking water for over six months.  In order to prove the water supply was safe again, the then President drank a glass of water directly from the lake… and was promptly rushed straight to hospital.  Oops...

On our way up to Otavalo, we stopped at La Quinche to see the church.  Local people bring their new (or second-hand) cars here for blessing – God’s insurance policy.  Andreas said he only owned one vehicle that he didn’t bring here for a blessing, and he had 7 crashes in it, including one that almost killed him.  His right femur is now made of titanium and sets off metal detectors.  The church was packed for the Sunday mass so we snuck through the side and wound our way between the people praying and children playing on the floor.  The area is known for pickpockets and there was a heavy police presence in the market area around the church, so we didn’t hang about for long. 

Lunch today was at a roadside grill, where we were stared at for being the only Gringas in the place.  The food was excellent – a bowl of chicken broth, followed by a mixed grill of chicken, steak, several different sausages, a whole corn cob and a pile of potato salad – plus a coke for a bargain $5.  Even Andreas couldn’t finish his.  Further along the road, we saw a gathering of people outside a restaurant so stopped to investigate.  It seemed to be a Christmas handout for the local indigenous tribe.  We couldn’t see what the adults were receiving, but the children were being given a bag of sweets and a bag of hot pulled pork. Otavaleños also wear traditional costumes and protect their cultural heritage fiercely.  Men have long hair – in fact, it has recently been made a crime to cut boys’ hair and the parents can be punished for doing so.  The tribal elders seem to have more influence here than the police.

We passed Puertolago (San Pedro lake), which sits in the caldera of the Otavalo volcano, with the town of Otavalo nestled along its shores.  Above, the conical shape of the Imbabara caldera towers over the whole valley.  We left the car and walked along a shaded cobblestone path along by the river to the foot of the Peguchi waterfall.  It was a popular spot, with lots of people on the path, picknicking in the sun, or bracing the flying mist where the falls thunder down into the pool below. 

We visited a traditional weaving centre for a demonstration of the techniques the Otavaleños have used for generations.  The people in the area have always worked as a collective: the farmers breed the alpaca to provide both wool and food for the town; there are skilled workers who harvest the wool and skins for the craftspeople; the weavers and leatherworkers create the products to wear or sell; the market vendors take goods to market all across the region to raise money to feed back into the community. Everything is done in harmony with the community.  We both bought scarves to do our bit to support the community – I could fill several shoe boxes with all the scarves I’ve bought this year, but you can never have too many…

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Zoe's Big World Adventure Part II - #3 Ecuador and Galapagos Islands

Travel blog by zobeedoo

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This is the big highlight of the year. Joined by my parents and reunited with Ailsa, we'll spend Christmas in Quito, then travel to Galápagos for New Year, celebrating in style with a week on the Queen Beatriz catamaran visiting the southern islands.

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