Ibarra is a city in the northern high country of Ecuador, situated in a valley flanked with dramatic hills and volcanic mountains. Although just 45 minutes north of Otavalo, it feels far off the beaten track of Ecuador’s tourist circuit. We arrived here after another classic Intag bus ride from Apuela to Otavalo, crowded to the point that a random woman in traditional clothing was literally sitting in my lap for the last hour. From Otavalo, we switched buses for Ibarra and were here in time to enjoy a late afternoon walk through the city’s elegant plazas.
Over two days in Ibarra, we enjoyed a few tastings of the regional treat, helados de paila. As you can see from the linked picture, these icey treats are made in a large, copper, wok-looking pot which is chilled by a pile of salted ice in a bed of straw. The helado maker spins the pot while turning a large spoon through the ingredients, which come in both dairy and non-dairy varietals.
From Ibarra, we headed literally up in altitude to La Esperanza. There, we stayed with Emerson Obado-Obado and his family at the Refugio Terra de Esperanza. Emerson was a mighty fine host, hanging out with us throughout the afternoon and evening. He brewed up a tea made from a cane sugar product called panela, infused with cinnamon and spiked with pure cane sugar moonshine. We met a couple of his friends from town and discussed a great many topics over the course of several hours.
As an addendum to Lex’s post, we learned that La Esperanza is actually the source of many of the products sold in the tourist market in Otavalo. According to Emerson, approximately 1,500 of the 7,000 people in the town make a living hand-sewing embroidered designs or working with leather. The vendors in Otavalo ask for certain designs and the people of La Esperanza produce them by the box-load each week. Emerson has been working to promote La Esperanza’s cultural heritage and to encourage his neighbors to produce more creative and culturally authentic work to sell directly to consumers outside the Otavalo schlock circuit. His mother is among Ecuador’s most talented embroidery artisans and was selected by the government arts council to travel to Shanghai for an international exposition held last year. It has been an uphill climb for Emerson, as many people are comfortable with the routine of a steady paycheck each week, however small it may be.
Speaking of uphill climbs, the following morning we awoke early with the goal of reaching the summit of Mt Cubilche, approximately 13,000 ft above sea level. A bit groggy from the previous evening’s activities, we jumped in the back of a camioneta and headed a couple of miles up a cobblestone path to the base of the mountain. In classic fashion, it didn’t take long before we lost the trail and were scrambling through plots of wheat and quinoa further and further into ever thinner air. Eventually, after the clouds pulled in, rain began to fall, and our heads were extremely light from the altitude, we decided to head back down a bit shy of the crater lake rumored to exist at the summit. However, we did enjoy some magnificent views of the valley. Next time, we will pack a little food for the hike and be sure to get a better night’s rest.
Tonight we are back in Ibarra and will be making a detour on our path to Colombia to visit a couple of spots further to the north and west before passing through Ibarra again to cross the border by Tulcan. After the border, we’ll be taking what will be only our second flight during five months of travel. Colombia has five domestic airlines and we found an inexpensive flight from the border town of Ipiales to Cali. Unfortunately, I was a bit confused by the website’s layout and purchased our ticket for the wrong day!
When life tosses you a maracuya, you gotta make some maracuya punch. We’re making use of our added time in Ecuador to wander around the lesser-visited corners of the north. As a result, I feel we are discovering a side of the country that has been a bit elusive in some of the other more trafficked locales we have visited. Finally back on our feet after a protracted bout of Andean Bus Virus, we are going to make the most of our last few days in Ecuador.
Fascinating as always re country, people,food, progressive politics. There is famous novel “Stones for Ibarra” by Harriet Doerr, set in Mexico, but I wonder about the name (if you’re looking for something to read)
after all your bus travel experiences — the subways will seem quite civilized!!!
….at least they have a/c!!!
take it easy — recuperate —glad you are meeting such nice people.
enjoy all the yummy fruits.
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