Tuesday, January 12, 2010

HIghlands, Quitus and Caras

Pichincha Morning

Our day started early, as all our days do when traveling with the students. We usually stay in the hotel with the students, but Eric decided we would save money if we stayed in our apartment (we have paid for the whole trip so I am not sure how we are saving). I prefer being around the students so I can get to know them better, and the noise and the confusion does not bother me. Maya makes sure to become acquainted with everyone, and has no difficulty introducing herself and participating in their activities. On the other hand, waking up to Pichincha bathed in clouds was reassuring.

We packed for three days and two nights, and were on the bus at 8 AM. Our destination was Otavalo with several detours on the way. Just getting through Quito morning traffic was a challenge, but the bus driver, who was amazing (every year I admire our bus driver the most!) took Eloy Alfaro to a peripheral road on to the Panamerican Highway, and we were on our way. Calderon is a town just north of the city, and has a tradition of fashioning colourful figures out of bread dough mixed with glue. It is a popular stop every time we take a tour bus to the north. On the main road as we enter the town, there are whole pigs roasting on spits in restaurants, and 'fritada' and hanging pigs with chunks cut out of them. We are taken to a store where the artisans are working and demonstrate their skills in using remarkably deft fingers to form figures. I was distracted by a man outside the store who was selling 'Tigua' paintings from the area around Cotopaxi. He claimed to be the artist and to work with both oils and acrylics. I bought two of his paintings, one of a shaman rubbing a guinea pig all over his subject. The cuy are used to bless someone or to diagnose illness or evaluate 'good' or 'bad' energy. Another painting depicted the story of a rabbit tricking a wolf. I know I have read the same story in a collection of legends of the Andes and will have to find it again.

Tigua Painting

Calderon Bread Figures

We stopped in Guayabamba, where we bought a very strange exotic fruit called 'chirimoya', which look prehistoric and for several years I felt they looked far too odd to eat, but this time I tried one, and found it sweet and tasty. We will make an effort to try some more interesting fruit in the market tomorrow, and several students expressed interest in trying 'cuy', so that is now part of our agenda in the next few days.

Cochasqui is a Quitu-Cara ancient monument composed of several huge pyramids with long ramps leading up to them and many 'tolas' or tombs over a massive area that used to be an hacienda for hundreds of years. The indigenous people had covered the structures with dirt and grass to hide them from the Incas who conquered them and then the Spanish who came afterward. There is confusion as to the purpose of the structures. They may have been ceremonial pyramids or tombs or ritual calendars for agriculture. There is a stone calendar of the sun and of the moon at the top of the largest pyramid. We walked through the site with our very enthusiastic guide enjoying the 150 llamas and two alpacas. Elesier, our guide, found us some salt to feed them and they all came running to investigate and visit us. We visited a typical Andean house and another with cuy running all over the floor.

The sun was shining and we enjoyed a picnic lunch before hiking around Cuicocha, a crater lake that looks like a guinea pig. Maya ran up the hill and was ready to run around the whole lake, but the fog rolled in and we ran down through the mist as the sun went down.

We are staying in Otavalo at 'Las Palmeras', where we have stayed before. Our destination tomorrow is the market, which will be smaller but adequate on a Wednesday. Our students are enthusiastic and interested and entertaining.

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