Early to late June 2017

Serendipity Moment – Solistice Day Celebrations (Inti Raymi Celebrations)

But I’ll come back to Solistice Day celebrations later in this post. 

The first two weeks of June we spent at Finca Sommerwind on Lago Yahuarcocha northeast of Ibarra. I was resting my back and getting it so I could walk more than a quarter mile; then we could continue our journey. 

But what a beautiful spot to be recuperating in. The first week it was sunny but not hot. Mostly in the mid 80’s. The second week it started to rain in the nighttimes until the last few days it drizzled almost all during the day. Then the mosquitoes showed up. But I can’t complain too much about the rain because it greened up the surrounding hillsides which are normally desert terrain and the area has been in a drought for 3-4 years and like CA, needed the rain. 

The Campground is owned/managed by a German couple so the preponderance of other campers were German although there were French, Australian, Swiss, Czech, British and one other young couple from Jackson Hole Wyoming – although they only stayed one night – staying at the Finca. It was the busiest campground to date but never more than 10-12 groups. Several families had left their vehicles there while they flew to the Galapagos. The German owners operate a cafe that is open on Sundays for Ecuadorians. The best part of the menu was the 5-6 desserts they offered. 

We did a few trips into Ibarra to stock up at Supermaxi – an American-style supermarket, eat out for lunch, and get our prepaid phone re-charged. 

One day we went into town to catch a Napa Valley-style tourist train but discovered once in the station, the train was not running due to track blockage. 

Another day I went with the Swiss/Czech couple to nearby Otavalo and the Saturday animal market and the Artisans Market. (See below for more details on that market.)

Finally I was feeling well enough that Dave and I left Finca Sommerwind on Sat. June 17th and drove to Otavalo and parked in a large secured parking lot adjacent to Poncho Plaza so Dave could experience the Artisans Market. It is the largest market of indigenous peoples’ crafts, artwork, food and staples in Ecuador; perhaps in S. America. So, of course, we bought some items: Panama hat for Dave, cotton striped lounging pants for me and a heavy blanket for later in our trip to use in Chile. (Little did we know it would get used much sooner.) 

The market takes over the entire plaza and spills into the surrounding streets. The local women are in elaborate clothes; a white shift covered with a black wraparound skirt, topped with white embroidered blouses sometimes with lace sleeves or inserts, wrapped in colorful shawls, and topped with a black fedora or sometimes just scarf twisted in different styles or sometimes just laid across top of head. The men aren’t dressed as colorful. Generally baggy black pants, dull shirt but almost always wrapped in a serape and wearing a fedora. 

We slept in the parking lot that night but fitfully because the market goers stay and party into the night. 

On Sunday we headed out to find the Parque del Condor where a non-profit group rehabs, protects and tries to re-introduce the Andean Condor but after an hour driving around cobblestone bumpy back roads where one sign would direct you, then no further signs, we gave up. 

Instead we decided to visit the Peguche Waterfall we had spotted earlier. Probably because of several factors including that it was a Sunday, Father’s Day and day of celebration for the Summer Solistice, the park, trails, overlook and parking lots were full and crowded. But we did hike the short trail up to the waterfall which was nice. Afterwards we grabbed a bite to eat. Dave’s grilled chicken was the smallest piece you can imagine. 

Afterwards we decided to drive up the mountain to Laguna Cuicocha (an alpine lake that reminded me greatly of Oregon’s Crater Lake) where we had planned on camping for the night. Laguna Cuicocha is about 20 miles west from Otavalo on the slopes of the Cotacachi Volcano. As we got closer to the Park entrance, we started to notice many vehicles parked along the sides of the road, people getting out and walking uphill. So we found a spot for the Green Hornet and camper and joined the walkers uphill. (Although the other walkers were faster than us since we were at 10,000′.)

When we got to the Park Entrance and later the Visitor’s Center, there were hundreds of people eating, drinking, dancing in synchronized steps; some dressed in elaborate animal costumes; others carrying baskets of fruits, a-frames adorned with fruit, racks of chickens and guinea pigs strung up-side-down. There were food and drink booths lining the roadway including stands with whole roasted pigs. 

After asking a Ecuadorian family what was the occasion, I was told the Ecuadorians celebrate the Summer Solistice on the Sunday preceding the actual day and make it a weekend event – it is called the Inti Raymi. See this link for complete details on how the Ecuadorians celebrate this ancient tradition carried over from Incan times. (http://getawaytips.azcentral.com/festival-celebrated-june-ecuador-3076.html) And one of the biggest celebrations is in Otavalo. 

Another one of those unplanned Serendipity Moments. If we had found the Condor Park, we might not have had time to drive up the mountain and would have missed the celebrations. 

The only downside of the event was the man in charge of the parking lot wouldn’t let us camp there and so after a couple of hours we drove back down to Otavalo and again returned to the secured parking lot on the edge of the market. 

The next morning we decided to drive up to another mountain lake – Lagunas Mojando. As we climbed up the cobblestoned road, several gorgeous valleys opened up with volcanoes ringing the edges. We passed fewer and fewer houses and people until we arrived in the paramó (high altitude grassland) at Lagunas Mojanda. The altitude was about 12K feet.  

The lake is surrounded by peaks; the western peak was Fuya Fuya, southeastern peak was Cerro Negro and the southern peak was Cerro Colangal. 

Immediately upon arrival a pickup with two young men arrived so we were reluctant to leave the truck unattended. They spoke to us and seemed friendly but we decided to stick around.  Good thing because it started to rain and at that altitude it was cold. 

A few hikers walked by as well as seven America men on big touring motorcycles who drove up and then left. It ended up raining all afternoon (except for a one-hour time frame just at sunset) and then it rained again all night long. 

That night we got to use our new Ecuadorian blanket as well as our down comforter and we were still cold that night. Combined with the cold and me having difficulty breathing at that altitude, we decided to head back down to Otavalo and re-group. So we drove back to the market parking lot, got breakfast and planned where to go next. 

We decided to venture forth to our next planned destination, Mindo, northwest of Quito which is a well-known birding spot. But to get there you have to drive south to the northern outskirts of Quito, cross over on city streets laid out helter-skelter to the major road headed northwest. 

On the way, we stopped at the Equator marker near Cayambe. Dave says it is the fake marker. Then once through the outskirts of Quito, we stopped at Mitad del Mundo which self-proclaims, it is the ‘real’ equator marker. Largest tourist site in all of Ecuador. 

A large tower showing N, S, E, and W sides with explanatory signs of the history of the site and how to determine Northern and Southern Hemispheres and a museum inside centers the complex. Good museum, various floors are devoted to Ecuadorian geographical regions and each region’s natives and also has floors dedicated to a number of different scientific displays and machines with signs in Spanish and English. 

For example, did you know that because of the Earth’s bulge at the Equator and gravitational pull, you weigh approximately one pound less at the Equator than at the North Pole? (Every pound helps.)

Think of a Disneyland without the rides when you picture this site. Buildings are laid out in ‘small town plaza’ effect with multiple restaurants, cafes and gift stores. There is a Planetarium; also French, Ecuador and Spanish pavilions. Wonderful hummingbird sculptures swept into artistic benches are strewn all over site. Each one painted differently. 

After eating lunch, we headed northwest through the Rio Alambí and Quebrada Amboasi river gorges with their steep mountainsides lined with lush greenery. Found Mindo with no problem and have settled into Hacienda San Vicente, a four hundred acre finca right on the edge of town. (We did have to ask for directions once we were in town because we came in one way and the signs pointing to the long uphill driveway pointed the other way and was covered up by vegetation.)

The Hacienda has a beautiful garden setting with bird trails throughout the property. But because of rains making the soil saturated and soft, we didn’t park in the lawn area, but rather are parked parallel to one of the guest cottages. Staff set up an electrical line and we are close to bathrooms and hot showers. 

We hooked up with Julia Patiño – the first woman bird guide btw – who is excellent and have gone out three mornings with her. We have spotted just over 100 birds; many which are first-time life birds and many are endemic and found nowhere else in the world. In the afternoons we walk into town and get our lunner (combo lunch/dinner) and head back to camper before afternoon rains set in. 

Although much lower in elevation (approximately 4,000′) and daily rain showers, there are relatively few bugs and the temperatures are around 80 during the day dropping to upper 60’s at night. We are comfortable enough in that range. 

We may stay awhile. 

One thought on “Early to late June 2017”

  1. Wow. It seems like walking through these towns is like walking through museums of art. Your descriptions are wonderful. Thanks.

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