Trip Start Jul 22, 2011
1Trip End Aug 03, 2011
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Where I stayed
Arrived in Ecuador on July 23rd after stayng one very warm night in Jersey City to see Zoe off for her two-year stint in Myanmar. Stayed one night each in Guayaquil and Manta, neither particularly interesting, and then two nights in Bahia de Caraquez, a holiday resort mostly frequented by Ecuatorianos, squeezed into a small peninsular between the Pacific Ocean and the River Chone. Did a short hike in the bosque seco - dry tropical forest - where I was lucky to see a family of cuchuchos.
Then an eight hour bus ride to Quito, with lovely views as we wended our way up a windy road through the Andes. Stayed two nights in Quito, mostly just wandering around the Centro Historico with lots of churches and colonial buildings. My timing was good, as there was a military marching band in the afternoon, and free displays of traditional folk dancing on both nights
On Friday I picked up a hire car and drove north up the Panamericano - the highway which goes from Alaska (I think) all the way to the southern tip of Chile, with only a short break somewhere in Panama - to Otavalo, famed for its Saturday market. It is indeed a huge market with several hundred stalls, maybe more than a thousand, and despite a rather tacky core catering to bus loads of tourists from Quito, at least 50% of the market is where all the surrounding villagers come to do their weekly shopping for food, clothes, kitchenware, animals, shoes, electronics and anything else they could possibly need.
I spent about three hours wandering the market and soaking up the atmosphere - and yes, I did buy some souvenirs - and then headed north up the Panamericano in search of Hacienda Primavera. I had found some favourable reviews of HP online a couple of days ago, and managed to get some rather vague directions from the owner, Pepe. It’s about 1.5 hours north-west of Ibarra, he said. Looking on the map, it struck me as being quite close to the Colombian border, roughly where Colombian troops illegally crossed the border to destroy a FARC rebel camp last year, much to the Ecuadorian government’s chagrin. And Pepe’s last name is Escobar, which could also be a bit unsettling, depending on whether you think the most famous Escobar was Pablo, the FARC commander, or Andres, the footballer
Anyway, I headed NW as instructed on a narrow winding road down a steep valley with huge green mountains on either side, the temperature rising rapidly, as the road descended. After about 40km I turned right “by a few houses where there is a bridge over the river”, and then followed a very narrow, very windy, very rough dirt road for 14km. “Don’t worry”, Pepe had said, “just ask anyone for Hacienda Primavera, and they’ll point you in the right direction.” Useful advice, if there were people around!
Eventually got here about 3pm, and I have to say, it is one of the most delightful places I have stayed. (And I have stayed at a few.) It’s a small colonial hacienda, renovated about 12 years ago and with only eight guest rooms around a flower-filled central courtyard, with a small dining-area, lounge and swimming-pool with patio. There is only one other house in sight, and it is surrounded by green hills topped with clouds, and the only sounds are the calls of numerous different tpes of birds, and the gurgle of a small river about 100m away. There are only four staff here: Pedro, the cook; Jose, the waiter who also cleans the rooms; Alex (the cute one!), the driver, who also washes the patio in the morning, and seems to help in the kitchen; and another Jose, the horseman, hiking guide and general help
As we had walked down the hillside earlier, I had heard music coming from the village, and asked Jose what it was. He said that it was a fiesta today and they were having contests now and fireworks later. So now I asked Alex if we could stop for a few minutes to see what was going on
Back to the hotel where Jose served me a delicious meal of sauteed chicken with herb sauce, pureed potatoes, mixed vegetables and red cabbage, washed down with the ubiquitous half-litre bottle (nobody serves small bottles of beer in Ecuador) of Pilsener lager, followed by creme caramel. Then Alex, Jose, Jose, Pedro and I all bundled into the pickup for the 4km bumpy ride to the village where the floodlit square was bustling with most of the 500 or so inhabitants. They were listening to the blaring music, or eating at the handful of rustic food stalls, or just standing around chatting as though they were waiting for something to happen. Sure enough, a procession comprising most of the rest of the inhabitants wound its way into the square, led by four men with a glass case on their shoulders containing a statue of “el divino nino Jesus” - the divine Jesus child, who is the patron saint of the village
Next, several men carried into the square a large wooden structure, about 15m long and 3m on each side, which they impaled onto a post and then lofted it vertically and sunk the end of the post into a hole in the ground into which they stuffed stones and dirt in order to keep their erection vertical. All around this structure was an elaborate array of fireworks. The floodlights were turned off and somebody lit the fuse which started a sequence of fireworks lasting about 25 minutes, going progressively from one side of the structure to the next, gradually working it’s way up to the top, with a crescendo of fire and rockets, all orchestrated to music, and with one poor chap standing underneath the thing, slowly turning it round and round. It’s hard to explain, but it was quite spectacular and I have never seen anything like it before.
After that, was the “vaca loca” or crazy cow: a man put another frame of fireworks on his head, lit it, and ran around the square chasing people and children with this thing spewing fire and sparks in all directions. Everybody thought it was a lot of fun, though it looked rather dangerous to me and would never be allowed in the US
OK, this has gone on for far too long so I will finish now and try to upload it. Hiked for four hours today with Jose, and had planned to go riding but the rain interfered. Suffice to say that Hacienda Primavera is a gem of a place: beautiful location, simple, but clean and comfy rooms, friendly staff, and good food. And the price: US$83 per day including three meals and as much guided hiking and riding as you want. I wish I could stay longer, but must head back towards Quito tomorrow for my flight to Guayaquil on Tuesday and then home on Wednesday.
(You get bonus points if you have managed to read all of this!)