Let’s get high. Way up in an Andean forest.
Our driver, Julio, points out groups of Venezuelan families walking along the road from Otavalo to Quito. They left their devastated country on foot in search of work and a better life. A harsh reminder of nearby troubles.
We stop at the “Middle of the Earth” where the sun always rises around six o’clock in the morning and sets around six o’clock at night.
An incredible contrast to places like Alaska in the northern hemisphere. You could pay for a tour to the “formal” equator display just outside of Quito, but here we have no cost, crowds, or fanfare.
Enter paradise. Away from city pollution and bandito vigilance. Ali Shungu (Good Heart) Retreat in Otavalo soothes our souls so much that we extend our stay.
Our cabana has a kitchen and a wood burner for heat.
We have views of mountains, llamas, and gardens. A couple of friendly dogs too!
We’re over two miles high, hiking private mountain trails where in the 1700’s French scientists tried to map the equator and left inaccurate markers.
At the daily market we stock up on fresh produce, beans, breads, shrimps, and of course beer and wine to last a week.
On Saturday, we head to the famous Otavalo Market.
At the animal market outside of town, young men show off their fighting roosters.
It’s common culture for young men to raise their roosters with with utmost care, love, and pride.
We missed the cock fights. These fights rarely result in death, as they do not use sharp talons, but strap on blunt edges sort of like boxing gloves.
Not being shoppers, we spend little time perusing the wide array of handicrafts on display.
Instead, we find the third floor of the indoor food market in search of stall number 99, which we heard has the best Hornado (oven roasted pig) in town.
Served over hominy, rice, potato pancake and mixed with special sauces, it melts in our mouth.
Time to work off some indulgences with a heart pumping hike around Laguna de Cuicocha (Guinea pig lake).
This crater lake, a caldera formed by a collapsed volcano, earns its name from two islands in the middle that resemble guinea pigs, which are a revered source of meat and income for people in the Andes. (See: A Taste of Quito Ecuador)
The trail weaves in and out, up and down and across the surrounding mountain for about eight miles.
We traverse counterclockwise in order to tackle the steepest climb first while our legs are still fresh.
Luckily, it rains which keeps us cool, but limits visibility.
Direct exposure to the sun at around 11,000-foot altitude could be brutal, so we appreciate the clouds.
This amazing trail passes above the clouds through five different ecological systems from desert to brush to jungle.
Once we break below the clouds, Laguna de Cuicocha shows us its true colors.
Back at paradise, the Ali Shungu Retreat, is much like Canoa, in the sense that we could easily stay for a much longer time.
Alas, it’s time to prepare for tomorrow’s journey where we get even higher on the way to the unique town of Banos.
Thank you, Abundant Universe.