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Posts Tagged ‘Ibarra’

After the few days in Quito we hit the road to Otovalo at 8.30am on a Tuesday morning. It’s Saturday evening and I could only clear my ‘blogger’s block’ today – what with awesome landscapes, some amazing experiences, hikes, local people and of course the wine and food – there was a fog which seem to have just lifted!

Masapan figurines - Calderon

The journey from Quito to Otavalo is on the Pan American Highway travelling north of the Capital. Starting early we made a stop at Calderon, a small town off the highway , famous for its Masapan (masa – dough, pan– bread) or bread-dough sculptures. This is the only city in the world that makes these figures. As always, there may be some imitations out there like there is for almost anything, but there is nothing quite like the figures of Masapan! These make great gifts if you’re looking for something small but original and unique. If you are wondering what I am referring to – you may have seen these while decorating your Christmas tree.

From Calderon, another hour or so and we did a brief stop at a small café with a great view of the Volcano Imbabura and the Lago San Pablo at its foot. The Imbabura is referred to as Taito (Father) Imbabura who fought with the Volcano Mojanda to win the love of Mama Cotacachi! That is local legend. Volcanoes are revered in this part of the world, irrespective of the threats of eruptions; the people are at peace with them. This is the start of the Imbabura province. The view of the Andes is spectacular from every angle, but with these majestic volcanoes and the associated folklore, it makes the experience even more surreal. Getting a glimpse of the peaks of these volcanoes is quite a challenge – no matter how bright the sun shines, there is almost always a tuft of cloud cover on the peaks  – you get to see them if you deserve to! A green carpet of vegetation all over gives the surroundings a soothing feel about them.

Volcan Imbabura and a part of the Lago San Pablo

In the valley between these volcanoes lies the peaceful but very important town of Otovalo. This is by far the most important indigenous market town in the highlands. The indigenous Otavaleños are famous for weaving textiles, usually made of wool, which are sold at the famous Saturday market. Although the largest market is on Saturday, there is a very wide range of wares available throughout the week in the Plaza de los Ponchos, and the many local shops.

During the market’s peak, almost one third of the town becomes full of stalls selling textiles, tagua nut jewellery, musical instruments, dream catchers, leather goods, indigenous costumes, hand-painted platters and trays, purses, clothing, spices, raw foods and spools of wool.

Otavalo is an area made up principally of farming communities due to the rich volcanic soils in this area, but with the growth of tourism, the town has begun to focus more on the making of handicrafts which have made the Saturday market a popular stop with visitors to Ecuador.

An Otavalena at the Otavalo Market

Our next stop was 20 minutes up the road from Otavalo, at the 300 years old Hacienda Pinsaqui, where we spent two absolutely fascinating nights. Built on acres of fertile land at the foothills of the mighty Imbabura, the Hacienda still has a portion of the original gravelled Pan American Highway as a part of it. This Hacienda is a treat – for those who love history or don’t, it will be very difficult not to love this set up. Simon Bolivar ‘El Liberatador’ and the hero of South American independence from the Spanish Empire, spent many a days in Room 1 of this Hacienda, where he would be accompanied by his lover Manuela Saenz. It is believed that the ‘ghosts’ of Simon and Manuela still come down to oversee the Hacienda’s working on some nights!!!!

The evenings at the Hacienda are made interesting by the personal touch of Victor Montalvo, the General Manager, who makes it a point to explain the history of the place and the many stories associated with its existence! The music of Waukis, the local Andean Band from the nearby village of Iluman and rounds of Canelazo, a mixture of hot water, sugarcane alcohol, lemon, sugar, and cinnamon – typical of the Andean region, build up a tempo that is rounded off with a handsome ‘Lomo Pinsaqui’ – the local steak and a glass of Argentinian Malbec.

La Hacienda Pinsaqui

Walking on the grounds of the Hacienda one comes across elegant horses that are winners of several equestrian events nationwide and in other South American events. The bar here is called the ‘cave’ and is literally like a cave forming the basement.

An early morning ride to a farm high up on the slopes of the Imbabura brought us to the base of our hike through this landscape on the second day. Here at the farm Cecilia greets you with a warm hug and enthusiasm. Owner of acres of land that was once part of the Hacienda Pinsaqui (her family owns the Hacienda), she is cultivating potatoes and beans and rearing 280 sheep for wool. Cecilia took us up to the mountains for a few hours hiking and interaction with the Andean flora. The hike started with a prayer to the ‘spirit of Imbabura’ as the locals would do and the ‘Shamans’ would advise you to do.

The second half was dedicated to another walk around the Cuicocha National park where we walked up to a height for a view of the Cuicocha crater lake with two islands. On the way back, it was a visit to the town of Cotacachi (named after the volcano). This town is famous for its leather goods. Mark my words – you will not get it cheaper and better anywhere else! How does $70 for a nice leather jacket sound?

La Hacienda Pinsaqui - One of the sitting rooms

The next morning, we were once again on the road to a town further north – Ibarra. Ibarra is also known as the ‘white city’ as it is predominantly a mestizo town. Known for its wood works and sculptures, it is quite fascinating to see the galleries which serve buyers from distant towns and cities. From Ibarra it was down towards Quito. Rose plantations are a big contribution to Ecuador’s economy, and this part of the country is full of them. Stopping off at a plantation to see the source of some of the roses we buy in England, we had another great experience of visiting an old colonial Hacienda, where the owner showed us around and sat us through an authentic Ecuadorian lunch. The Hacienda Campania is part of the rose plantation and is strewn with roses of 72 varieties that it exports to the US and the rest of the word. Quite a sight – it almost gets better at every stop!

The day ended at the Hilton Colon, in the new part of Quito. This part of town is very well organised with no eye sores. There are modern buildings, universities, grand parks and open spaces and bistros lining its streets. Quito does have a good feel about it.

Hacienda La Campania

 

With a night’s stopover it’s on to the Cotopaxi National Park early next day. I will come back with more from there.

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