Chimborazo peaks through

Trip Start Jan 19, 2012
Trip End Feb 03, 2012

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Thursday, January 26, 2012

This morning we leave early without breakfast, loading up our luggage in our new, slightly larger bus. At least all of our luggage fits now in the back luggage area. We drive south now towards Quito, but stop after only a few miles at the Hacienda La Compañía in Cayambe. The Jarrin family  built the house in the early 1900's. The furniture and much of the special decorations, like the pressed tin ceilings, were imported by ship from Europe, trained to the highlands from Guayaquil and then by donkey to the hacienda. The original family still owns the hacienda and a small amount of acreage. Husband and wife are our hosts. Husband greets us while the wife and her staff prepare our breakfast. She later joins us. She is the personification of grace with a Jackie Kennedy Onassis-like appeal.

After breakfast, they give us a tour first of their lovely chapel that is still in use and is the site of the family weddings. After a farewell, including a rose for each of us, we continue down their road to their rose farm and processing center, Rosedex. I wasn't aware of it, but Ecuador is a major producer of roses for export around he world. We walk through one of their large greenhouses where the process of grafting, pruning and harvesting roses is explained. Then into the processing plant where the bundles of cut roses are examined and grouped by flower size, leaves removed, and then packaged for shipping in cardboard containers that cover the flower, but leave long stems exposed for storage in water before being shipped out.

We spend the rest of the day driving south, bypassing Quito, on our way through the Avenue of Volcanoes. The countryside, when revealed by beaks in the fog and misty clouds, glows  in diverse shades of green.

We stop for lunch at La Cienega, the former hacienda now a hotel,just outside the Cotopaxi (volcano) Park. It is massively thick, built with 6-foot deep stones carved from volcanic rock and designed on the typical interior courtyard plan. The courtyard at La Cienega is very large indicating the overall size of the building. It would be interesting to get lost wandering it's hallways. After lunch and the now familiar concert (guitars, pan pipes and drum- I buy the CD), Gonzalo leads us around the hallways of the mail floor, stopping in rooms that are very cold. The thick stone might be good for fending off earthquakes and invading armies, but not a great idea for warmth as many castle owners and visitors can attest. We walk across the courtyard to visit their lovely chapel.

The old haciendas were farmed by the indigenous people who were virtually slaves. They were "given" plots of land to farm and then either owed money or produce to the owner. Most of them worked the same plots of ground for generations. With the breakup of the hacienda structure in just the last several decades, they were finally freed and given ownership of their plots. The landscape is revealing: small plots are defined by either walls or fences or just by the colored patches of the different crops. The households are set up in a corner of the plot and typically include a few cows, chickens and pigs.  The farms rise up the mountainsides and across the valleys. Every bit of the vital black soil is made fruitful, even if only for pasture. Each region has their specialty products: artichokes, avocados, broccoli and so on. We are traveling through a produce cornucopia. I can easily accept Gonzalo's statistic that Ecuador produces 90% of their foodstuff.

At one point in the afternoon we pull off the road. The sun briefly shines clearly against the peaks of Chimborazo Volcano, revealing its glacier rimmed top at about 20,000 feet. A glorious photo op! Gonzalo is proud to note that while Chimborazo is not the tallest mountain by height above sea level, its location along the equator makes its summit the farthest point on the Earth's surface from its center. Take that, Alps!

We eventually pull into Riobamba. Eduardo carefully navigates down a narrow road made even tighter by its fringe of fenced homes and turns into the parking area of our hotel for the evening.

Most of us have rooms in a smaller building, and spend our time, while waiting for our luggage to arrive, visiting each others unique and lovely rooms. A few bottles of local red wine are opened and a party commences. Salud!
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