Vilcabamba

Very pretty exterior of church on the town square

We spent my birthday at a small town near Loja called Vilcabamba. We had heard it was a town with a lot of expats and that it was a quaint town. I found it pleasant but not that interesting a town.

River

We did take a nice (except for the mosquitos) long walk along the river.

Apparently there are a lot of people from South Korea in the town, thus the Korean looking characters on the restroom at the tourist information office.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How many people does it take to paint a stripe on the road? Apparently 4 lot when you do it by hand.

It is common in Ecuador to see dogs that are on roofs of houses. They bark at everyone but seem to know it isn’t a good idea to jump down.

Lovely ride by bus

Wind Turbines

View from the area by the museum, the highest wind farm in the world, over 8900 feet

We visited the museum for wind turbines which is located up by the actual turbines. The taxi driver and the guide at the museum didn’t speak English so we got the gist of the explanations but not details. Still very interesting.

Wind turbines are usually good for about 20 years and then they have to be dismantled because the concrete foundation can become unstable. That was a surprise. The turbine itself could still be fine.

This demonstration project (11 Chinese made turbines) in Loja has been successful and they are planning to add additional turbines. Don’t remember the payoff period but I think it was something like 5-7 years. Pretty short time; very cost effective.

More information about the project can be found here.

Loja

Town square has huge, 4 sided monument

Loja is a fun city of almost 200,000 people at about the same altitude as Durango. We spent a few days there and enjoyed it all.

Highlights of the city which was founded in 1548:

We did a city walking tour by a company that had only been in business less than 6 months. The owner is very ambitious, starting the company in his mid 20’s, a few months before graduating from college. He has researched his subject well and we enjoyed the tour.

Leaf design in corner of church
Building with leaf design near roof

Most interesting were stories about the Jews who were among the early residents, shaping the town. There was a statue to one of them and he said that the leaf design in a Catholic church and on some buildings was Jewish in origin. I had never seen/known about this but perhaps it is so.

Man places his order for herbs; window rotates so that he can receive his purchase without direct contact with the nuns.

There is a monastery where the cloistered nuns have no contact with those who are outside the grounds. To earn money, they grow herbs which are sold via a rotating window to prevent contact with their customers. The medicinal herbs are very popular with the locals.

Ouch, that has to be tough on his neck. Look Ma, no hands.

People frequently carry very heavy loads on their heads. I would think that would be tough on their necks!

Random picture of a car in front of a more modern church; we couldn’t figure out how it got where it was parked.

Fun bridge that literally has sides of a bus mounted on the bridge!

Have wheelbarrow, have a chair!

Special parking for pregnant women next to handicapped parking.

Tile plaques are mounted on walls on streets in historic area.

Jipiro National Park

Located in Loja, Jipiro National Park is a relatively small area for a national park but quite enjoyable. Geared to children, we enjoyed many of the whimsical structures and the promotion of multiple cultures. Not quite sure why the cultures were chosen but interesting all the same.

Ingapirca Ruins

I had heard that the Ingapirca (Inca Wall in the Quechua language) Ruins, a couple of hours outside of Cuenca, were worth visiting and it’s true. Originally settled by the Cañari indigenous people, they were invaded by the Incas in the late 1400’s. Eventually they intermarried and got along, not requiring the Cañari to give up their culture which exists today.

Cañari stone work on the left, Inca stone work on the right. Image compliments of ancientorigins.net

The location of the ruins has been used by different peoples over the eons. When the Incas arrived and conquered the Cañari, they built a town over the existing settlement.  The Cañari  used random shaped stones and mud or something to hold the stones in place while the Incas used rectangle stones (often squares) and didn’t use any mortar to hold them in place.

Some highlights of the ruins and the day:

  • There are a number of burial tombs, including one that was of an important female who died and had 10 followers surrounding her in the grave to go with her into the next life. Apparently those individuals were chosen for this “adventure” and took some poison and were all in the fetal position.
Grave is under the flat round stones on the right. Image compliments of ancientorigins.net

There is a large stone marking the burial site as well as many small smooth stone directly over the grave. The large stone is lined up exactly with a pathway and on the summer and winter solstices, the sun shines directly on the stone as it rises on it during one of the solstices?

  • The Sun Temple rises high above the area and is the only oval shaped sun temple built by the Incas. This reflects the Cañari influence. The temple is aligned halfway between two mountains which are 24 KM apart. On good days they could use reflective metal to send messages to the temple and then pass them onto the next mountain. On days without sun, a runner would go from one mountain to the temple to pass on a message and another runner would take the message onto the next one. This would happen repeatedly as needed.

    Sun temple is large round building in back center of photo. Drainage is visible in straight and curved lines in foreground.
  • The Sun Temple was built over a very large stone which was considered sacred by the Cañari. This stone is no longer visible because of the temple structure.
  • On top of the Sun Temple there are two identical rooms which are back to back. They each have 3 small alcoves where the sun shines through the door opening into the corresponding alcove to indicate the solstices. There is also one larger area where apparently a mummified priest’s body was kept and could be seen by the current priest during ceremonies.
  • We had an English speaking guide who I’m sure is from the area, and probably Cañari based on his passion for the history and events. He taught himself English over the last 5 years and did an excellent job. The most interesting guide we have had yet!

    Guide passionately explaining some history.
  • The entrance fee to the park is $2 per person and no charge for the guide however there is no charge for seniors…what a deal!
  • This is one of the very few places where we have seen signs in Quechua (pronounced ketch you wa). This is the native language of many people in Ecuador and Peru.

    No smoking sign in Spanish, English, and Quechua
  • It was a full day event to get there and back via 3 buses there and one bus and one taxi back. We left at about 8:10 in the morning and didn’t return until about 7 that night.
  • Our hostess, Miriam, went with us which helped to navigate the buses immensely. She had never been there before and enjoyed herself as well. She took the Spanish version of the tour.

Parque National Cajas

Near Cuenca is the Cajas National Park.  According to WIKI, the name “Cajas” is derived from the Quichua word “cassa” meaning “gateway to the snowy mountains”.or “caxa” (Quichua:cold). It has also been linked to the Spanish word “cajas” (boxes). We took the bus from the terminal, the same route we would later take to Guayaquil and got off about an hour later at the park entrance.

Lake we walked around
Some of the trail was a bit tricky; Lindie in the middle

I don’t remember the exact height where we went around the lake which is relatively flat but I believe it was about 13,000 feet.

Lindie and friends

The day was somewhat overcast so it wasn’t as pretty as it could have been (probably greener at other times of year as well) but we had an enjoyable hike by the lake and saw some interesting flowers.

Interesting flower by the lake

Then caught the bus back to Cuenca.

View of the valley

Pumapongo Museum

The Pumapongo Museum is a free museum dedicated to the development of Ecuador in general and a lot of information about the indigenous people as well. The museum has a main building as well as partially excavated grounds directly behind the museum.  There is a small area for live birds on display too.

Not only is there no charge to go into the museum, I never even saw a donation box!

There are wonderful small dioramas showing life for the indigenous and early settlers. They are so detailed that they even show plants growing on the roof of a house…something that you do see sometimes even today.

Most of the museum is only in Spanish which we can read mas or menos (somewhat) but occasionally there was English.

There is a section of money. Originally things from nature were used as money, shells and such. Later coins and then later paper money were used. Starting in 1830, the Peso was used. The Franco was used from 1856-1871. Then they used the Peso again until 1884 when the Sucre was used until 2000 when they went to using the United States dollar because the sucre had been so devalued.

Today although we mostly see paper bills of $5 to $20 and the presidential dollar coins as well as other US coins, there are still occasional Ecuador coins that we receive in change, but not often.

The archeological site has ruins from the Inca Kanari civilization. I couldn’t find much online about the museum and archeological site (guess that is the down side of a free museum) but I did find this. If you are interested in more, you can do an online search and find bits and pieces about the area.

This is a sacred area below the museum and archeological area.

In the lower section there is an area of sacred corn that was planted as well as information on various medicinal plants and other plants which are used in the area.

There was a final area with a few birds in cages. Not all of them were named. The two most interesting to me were this blueish/greenish bird  (unnamed) and Black Chested Buzzard Eagles which are much larger than they appear in this picture.

Cuenca

According to WIKI, the city of Cuenca is located at about 8,200 feet with an urban population of approximately 400,000 rising to 700,000 inhabitants in the larger metropolitan area. The centre of the city is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Trust site due to its many historical buildings.

The air is crisp and much cleaner than the other large cities like Quito or Medellin. And the air is very dry even though we are fast approaching the rainy season. We were the first AirBnB guests of Marco and Miriam. They are a retired couple who built what I would call a hacienda on the edge of town 8 years ago. The U shaped house has 4 bedrooms along the legs of the U with a large covered area in between and the living, dining, and laundry rooms and kitchen along the base of the U. There is a separate structure on the property where Miriam’s mother lives.

We took the bus to the center of town most days, $0.25 total for both of us each way. The bus stops within 100 feet or so of their property.

We took 2 tours in one day early on in our stay. One to the North part of town, the other to the South. The architecture in Cuenca shows Spanish, French, and Arabian influence. At least one building shows all 3 in the same building exterior.

There are 4 rivers in Cuenca. Along one street, the houses look like they are 2 story houses but when you drive along the street parallel to this street which fronts one of the rivers you can see that those houses are actually up to 7 stories high.

On the South tour, we went up to a viewpoint and then spent some extra time going to a famous ceramic workshop and bought 4 mugs, a small vase, and a number “7” to go on the manufactured home when we move back to Durango.

During the North tour we stopped at what I believe is the original “Panama hat” factory. All true Panama hats are made in Ecuador. The story about the name of the hats is that they were worn by the workers who were digging out the Panama Canal. When Teddy Roosevelt was photographed wearing one while he inspected the work, the name became “Panama” hat. These hats are lightweight and breathable which makes them very comfortable. More on them in another post.

I saw two little girls (maybe 5-7) on the bus with their hair braided from one side across their head to the other side. I wasn’t close enough to get a good picture but what might look like a headband is actually braided hair. Really cute!

Speaking of hair, not as many women have long hair here as in many places we have been although there are still lots who do. Guys aren’t always as well groomed as other places but they aren’t dirty or messy…just not as many with very recent haircuts.

Here are a couple of nice murals we have seen. One is probably the Devil vs God with earth in between. The other is a guy playing an electric guitar sitting in a field so that is a bit odd but nicely done.

Lots of dogs here, many loose. Loved this vendor who had their dogs dressed from paws to heads and in between.

Here is a good picture of what I have mentioned in the past…that commas and decimals are used differently in Latin America (and elsewhere maybe?). This is a sign for a building project with the cost down to the penny (cents are after the comma).

And finally, it is not uncommon to see people dressed up as a living statue for money. This was an especially interesting one because the man is only balanced on his arm. He must have a support under his clothes but nothing is visible from the outside.

Here is a random small mural I saw on a building. Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria maybe?

Waste water systems in Latin America can’t usually handle toilet paper so you throw your used paper in a trash can. Not my favorite thing but I am used to it. This is the most graphic sign have I seen on the subject.

Panama Hat Factory

As part of our city tour, we went to a Panama hat factory. This was much more interesting than I would have expected.

Leaves are harvested
Curled
Boiling leaves

Long leaves are picked and rolled a little to curl them. Then they are boiled and then dried and dyed. There are a lot of colors that they use.

Once the leaves are dried again, they are woven by hand into the shape for the hat. Cheap hats start at $35 at the factory, much more other places, although there are vendors on the street that offer them for less…and you can even watch them working on a hat.

More expensive hats use smaller “threads” of leaves to weave so that they are softer and have a more finished look.

Weaving finished, needs trimming, washing, drying, shaping, and hat band.
One machine for shaping; you can see shapes on the shelves.

Once the hat is woven and trimmed, it is washed in large vats and then dried. Then there are a number of steps to shape the brim and head part with steam.

Hat bands are added in this room.

The final step is to add the hat band.

This same process is used for bags and even clothing. Here is a wedding dress  and flowers which were made in the same way.

Many famous people wear hats from this factory including Madonna, Morgan Freeman, Johnny Depp, and others. (Sorry the pictures aren’t very good.)

Alausí Devil’s Nose Train

Alausí is a small town between Baños and Cuenca. We wanted somewhere to stay to break up the long bus ride between the two cities.

Nestled in a valley in the Andes mountains. It’s altitude is 7,696 feet and in 2001, the population was around 5,000 people. There are lot of indigenous people there and it was enjoyable to see them when we walked around town.

The town itself is doesn’t have much else for tourists than the train although we had a very enjoyable evening talking with a retired couple from Germany. They have done tons of traveling and talked about some of the places they recommended, especially Africa and Europe. Not likely to get to either of those places but you never know with us!

The Devil’s Nose train is likely another governmental project similar to the Tren de Libertad to Salinas that we took a month or so ago. The scenery is beautiful along the way.

Sign indicating the train will back up and change direction.

The Devil’s Nose train takes track that was extremely challenging to build, climbing more than 500 meters (more than 1,500 feet) in 12 kilometers (7.2 miles). This was accomplished by having zig zags in the tracks where the train backs up in an area and changes direction because the brakeman throws a switch on the tracks!

The whole peak is considered the “Devil’s Nose” however I think the little point on the left side of the peak looks more like a nose on a face.

The ride itself is not that long, about 30-45 minutes each way. On the way there, we stopped briefly for pictures of “Devil’s Nose”. The mountain looks to some like the pointed part of the nose of a person laying down. To me, not so much.

The second stop has a modern covered pavillion, cafe, and museum where the indigenous people perform dances (see the videos by clicking on the link), sell crafts, feed you, and explain some of their culture. Although their actual work day is fairly short (2 performances of maybe 30 minutes each), they walk 2 hours per day TO work and 2 1/2 hours back home. That’s dedication!

One of the men spoke fairly good English and he explained a number of things about their culture. Their hats and women’s colored necklaces indicated that the person is married although there was one of his friends there without her colored bead necklace on and he couldn’t explain why since she is married (and divorce is not part of their culture).

This tool is hooked over the neck of two oxen or other animals. If they are equally strong, it is placed symmetrically over their necks however if one is stronger than the other, they can vary where on the tool it is placed to make the pulling equal between the two animals.

When the tool is shaken, it makes a noise., kind of like a tambourine.

The animals are trained to auditory signals using this tool. They shake it with different noises to indicate whether the animal should start or stop.

Sugar cane stalk goes through the two horizontal pieces of wood above the piece of tin and the juice is rung out like in the old fashioned washing machines.

This is a press to get the juice out of sugar cane.

The entire tour took 2 1/2 hours and was $22 each for seniors or $33 each for other adults. Very affordable and worth it in our book.