Glorious Andean heights and villages

Trip Start Jul 30, 2007
Trip End Sep 17, 2007

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Monday, August 27, 2007

Sunny, blue skies prevailed Thursday morning prompting me to quickly pack and catch the bus back south toward the Andean heights of the Quilatoa region. Dramatic heights and views would follow as the local bus weaved its way up and down and all around through small Quechua villages and golden hills, valleys and mountains toward the village of Chuchilan. Can a bus bounce in a dozen directions at once? The answer is a definitive YES, establishing new parameters in the world of physics, especially once the bus hit the winding dirt road from Quilatoa crater to the lower elevation of Chuchilan.

First night the valley shimmered in the moonlight as stars sparkled overhead. A peaceful silence fills the valley. A fine stay at the Mama Hilda hostal, a very welcoming environment. At the dinner table, a cheery multinational ensemble assembled, including a French family, three Israeili guys, one young Swiss fellow and an American with his Ecuadorian wife. The couple just happened to have recently lived in Albuquerque and were very fond of Santa Fe. Small world again.
Great food and later entertainment provided by the kids of the village. The colorfully dressed munchkins, in native attire, performed a vibrant dance routine.

The village itself is quaintly surreal with its well lit mini plaza and church yet no visible people other than the kids talking and laughing as they walked down the two block town street.

The next day all of us squeezed into a truck and drove the serpentined dirt road back up to the perimeter of the massive Quilatoa crater lake, its waters reflecting a blue green hue.
My hike began there, elevation almost 4000 meters, or over 13,000 feet. A trail follows a labyrinth of volcanic mesas that emanate from the crater´s edge, passing through pine forest, eucalypus trees, fragrant fields of wild purple flowers,  various forms of cactus and semi desert vegetation, and local villagers backyards and fields. Throughout the hike the snow capped peaks of nearby volcanoes rise into view. The mesas suddenly culminate at the edge of an even more dramatic canyon valley, and down the steep baby powder thick dirt trail you go. You ultimately descend over 3500 feet before reversing direction climbing back upward out of the valley on the other side of the canyon another 1000 feet upon return to Chuchilan. Huffing and puffing I pass by grazing cows, sheep, burros and kids carrying goods on llamas bound for the marketplace town many kilometers away.

That day, and the next, I pass numerous friendly villagers along the steep mountain valley paths, big smiles shouting ¨Hola¨ and ¨Buenos dias¨  to this strange bearded gringo who was hiking the same routes they, and their Quechua ancestors had done for centuries. One mother, carrying one child on her back and the other toddler hand held in tow passed me by, the toddler with his hand extended to shake my hand. We exchanged hellos as I and the mother exchanged chuckles.

Second night, the air chilled by the consuming misty cloud cover that had settled over the valley, we warmed ourselves indoors by the fire to the sounds of guitar and samba music and dance. While others had left, a larger French group joined us for this evening´s activites and food. And yes, outside in the courtyard, so did the munchkins.

My next day hike took me to the steep Andean parama grass ecozone above the valley. From this apex, the land reverses direction falling precipitously down the other side toward the lush cloud forest below. No boring scenery here.

Along the trail I met an older gentleman who was originally from the southern Ecuadorian village of Vilcabamba. The village renown as the valley of longevity, because its inhabitants often surpass the century age mark. The gentleman, bronzed skin and wrinkled I guess his age in the seventies when in fact he said he was over a hundred years old. I asked him the best I could in mangled Spanish what he attributed his longevity to. He smiled and very softly said, ¨Sex, Drugs, and Rock n Roll¨. So there you have it I thought, what I´ve instinctly felt were the secrets to eternal life were confirmed by this aged sage of Vilcabamba.
(If you´re reading this Nial, this last part is for you!)

But seriously folks, I did observe a people who work very, very  hard, encumbered, burdened and yet seemingly contented with a very basic simple life in glorious surroundings, living off the land and smiling often. Impoverished and restrained by their remote highland surrounding, mobility is very limited. The local buses are the all purpose transport workhorses for the entire Quilatoa Andean community, transporting the people from house to house village to village with heavy burlap bundles of food and goods. It is a step back in time. 

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