El valle de Intag y Laguna Cuicocha

My final big Ecuador adventure.  I was invited along on a 2 night teip to visit Veronica’s family in the Intag valley, a rural and traditional area.  I drag myself out and make my way to the bus station. Fernando, Veronica, and Esteban are already there. Sindy and Jhon are there as well – a pleasant surprise.  I didn’t know they were coming. Jhon plays music with Fernando, Sindy is his girlfriend.  

Two hour ride into the valley. Much of the road is dirt and rough. Perfect.

First stop, Nangulvi hot springs. Since it’s a Monday, we have the place to ourselves for 3 hours. I completely forget sunscreen, which I will regret later.  After, we are picked up by someone Veronica knows, and given a tour of a organic farm. The highlight for me is a huge spider covered with egg sacs on her back. We had a goal of reaching a waterfall but the group is too slow. No matter. A good day.

Cassava root, called yuca in Ecuador.  Cheap and easy to grow, it's a  major food source in developing nations.  It tastes like dry sweet potato.  It must be boiled first, to leach out the cyanide.

Cassava root, called yuca in Ecuador. Cheap and easy to grow, it’s a major food source in developing nations. It tastes like dry sweet potato. It must be boiled first, to leach out the cyanide.

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As dusk hits, we are dropped at the home of Veronica’s family. I am offered water. Hesitation. I just got over a nasty stomach bug; I don’t want another.  Norma, the mom, assures me it is boiled.

Greetings.  Stories.  Conversations.  The teenage daughter, Evelyn, is studying English.  We talk for a while.  She practices English, I practice Spanish.  She wants to be a guide, to show tourists her valley.

Alcohol.  Jorge insists we try his moonshine.  I take a sip.  It tastes like lighter fluid.  He insists I drink it all in one go.  I take another sip.  That’s plenty.  I don’t want to insult him but it tastes terrible.

Eventually, we call it a night.

I sleep well.  Until 4:30am, when the rooster decides it is time to wake everyone up.  I am grateful for my earplugs that always travel with me.

Morning.  I go for a short walk on the trail above their house.  Returning, the guys and boys are planning a walk up to the family’s farm.

Long walk.  I have lots of time to visit more with Fernando.  I enjoy the beautiful views, the good company, the fresh air.  Finally, we arrive.  Jorge tours us around, including showing us how they increased the size of the farm by first burning down the forest.  I struggle with that – so much of Ecuador is being deforested, and there is very little primary forest left.  Still, I can’t blame them for trying to live.

Fernando spots a tree trunk.  It will be perfect for a drum.  The next hour is spent cutting down the trunk then getting it back to the farmhouse.  Fernando, Jhon, and Esteban spend an hour happily preparing the trunk to make 3 drums.  I am sad I won’t be in Ecuador to watch the drums being completed.

While they do that, I explore the farm.  Jorge proudly explains all the plants they grow.  I of course promptly forget most of them.

We return.  I wish the women had come along, but alas, that is not the culture.  In this region, women and men have specific roles.  I suspect that not all women are happy with this arrangement.

Lunch.  The women complain about how terrible we smell.  Since I am aware of my own odor, I feel for them.  I am grateful for a shower.

A few of us walk to purchase fish.  I prefer to stay; Veronica insists I come.  A “five minute walk” turns into 90 minutes.  Nothing in Ecuador is quick.  We stop at a local sugar cane juice factory to observe it being made.  We are offered some to sample; I decline.  The juice is being mixed with a repurposed 5 gallon motor oil drum, and nothing about the operation looks sanitary.  I can’t do it.

Cultural differences.  Back at the house, I struggle with how the fish are being killed, which is extremely slowly.  In my mind animals should be killed quickly, with minimal pain or stress.  They are feeding us; there is no reason to cause them unnecessary harm.  I am grateful when Fernando comes along and quickly finishes the job.

Sleep.  Up again with the rooster at 4:30am.  In go the earplugs.

We catch the morning bus, but not before getting a group picture on the road.

Arriving back at the Otavalo bus station, we say our goodbyes.  Fernando invites me to spend my last 2 nights at his house.  I am appreciative, but also exhausted.  I need my solo evening time.  But I promise one last visit before I leave.

Next night.  I walk to visit Fernando & Veronica, but Fernando is not home.  I leave a few gifts with Veronica and Esteban.  I am surprisingly sad to leave this family.  They have thoroughly welcomed me into their lives, and I can’t express enough gratitude.  Meeting them has led to experiences I could never have on my own.

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Final day.  I rent a bike and pay for a ride out of town.  The plan – explore Laguna Cuicocha, in Cotocahi Cayapas park.  The guide drops me off at a viewpoint high over the lake and then explains my route home.  The lake is beautiful.  I make my way down the road, saying hello to everyone I see and enjoying the scenery.

First stop, village of Quiroga.  Quiet, not much going on.  Even the requisite dog on the church step can barely be bothered to lift his head in greeting.   Next, Cotocachi.  Famous for leather goods.  I explore the market, and shops.  Leather goods everywhere.  Good quality, very fair prices.  I explore the town on bike before continuing further down the road back to Otavalo.

A good day.

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5:00am.  One of the hotel employees gets up to say goodbye.  In a taxi at 5:30am for the ride to the airport.  I sleep, so that I don’t cry.

Goodbye Ecuador.  For now.

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