After packing what we needed for the next 4 days into Mike's pack and sending mine into storage, we met Cindy and headed back to the Magic Bean for breakfast. Susan had a “squidgy tummy”. I love English colloquialisms. :)
At 10 am we loaded into a van and headed for the bus station to catch the bus for Ibarra. The views again were gorgeous. The mountains are less rugged and there is more farmland than trees on the way north of Quito. We saw the new airport in the distance and the unfinished road. With the terrain they have to deal with, it's no wonder it takes so long to finish.
As we were about to disembark, Erin stood up and frantically said “where's my shoes?|”. Several of us searched but nope, they were gone. She had taken them off but had her toes resting in them and fell asleep. Apparently someone stole them. She couldn't believe her 4 year old size 10 running shoes would fit an Ecuadorian but someone must have needed them. Good thing she brought flip flops.
We walked to another bus station where we found the bus to San Clemente completely packed. Even the aisle was full. So phone calls were made and two trucks showed up. The two oldest ladies got the front seats and the rest of us loaded into the back. No benches. Now we know how cows feel. We all agreed that it's actually more comfortable than a crowded bus. You can see at all angles, move about quite freely AND my feet don't swell.
Upon arrival we spit into groups and set off to meet our host families. Cindy, Susan, Giovanny, Mike and I stayed with Juan and Soyla, their son, two dogs and a cat. The setting is beautiful and looks like something from the movie "Babe". The home is comfortable with concrete floors and rustic interior with eucalyptus posts, painted concrete walls, lots of wood and tile. Views from most of the big windows are gorgeous.
Juan and Soyla made us lunch with a sweet potato appetizer, tree tomato juice, then pork chops, corn with cheese, beans, potatos and tomatoes with onions. For desert we had pears in juice seasoned with cloves.
We went exploring and found the house Larry, John and Chris were staying in. There are various animals tied up everywhere, a rabbit and guinea pig pen and chickens run free. Everything is uphill as we're in the Andes and at 3,000 metres above sea level, even a short walk is exhausting.
After meeting with everyone on Juan's lawn, we discussed what we'll be doing for the next few days and the options. Some are going hiking and biking which all involves steep slopes so I'm out. This altitude kills me. Juan and two of the ladies took us on a walk where he taught us about the uses of various plants in the area (with Giovanny interpreting) I actually understood a lot of Juan's Spanish so he must speak very clearly as I rarely understand much around here. Two hours later we gathered for tea at our house where Soyla had a nice fire going. Houses aren't insulated or heated and the heat from the fire doesn't go far so one must be always dressed for the weather.
Giovanny came up with the bright idea that we should see where the others were staying so Mike and I joined him. Cindy and Susan were smart enough not to go. We took a “short cut” which ended up being a goat path across a gorge down, then up rocks and rugged steps and it was getting dark. We saw where Sophie, Kaya and Lilly were staying and decided that was enough. The “road” is cobble stone and very hard on your feet. Walking down was hard enough and walking up, exhausting. Larry and Giovanny had flash lights but we hadn't thought of that. After sitting with the girls and chatting for a bit at the fire, we all headed off for bed and were asleep by 9:30 pm.
Thursday, February 28
Despite the use of ear plugs, I was awake by 5 am but managed to stay in bed till 6:30. I got up to wander but it was raining so thought it was a good time to journal and upload photos.
After a delicious breakfast of fruit, eggs, tortillas with home made jam, thick coffee and mora juice, we again braved the “short cut” to the other side of the gorge. The sun had come out and the temperature rose enough to shed some layers and even the pant legs. There we learned how to plow a field using two cows who understand only quechua and using a one furrow plow. It's a lot harder than it looks and we had a lot of fun with it. Our host ladies start doing needlepoint as soon as they sit down and take it with them where ever go.
Next we walked back across the gorge to an area where they've built an Andean calendar which one of our hosts explained. It's interesting how they plant around the solstices and the moons and which crops go in when. They do a lot of companion planting as well with corn, beans and potatoes in the same field with quinoa on the outside.
We headed up the hill to another house where we helped shell broad beans and learned how to get the grains off the quinoa plant, wash it and prepare it for cooking. Contrary to what we've heard recently, there's been no surge in quinoa prices. It's still dirt cheap here and most who use it, just grow it or trade for something else.
Other host families began arriving with their contributions to the pot luck lunch. Wow! What a pile of different food! Each family disbursed dishes and cutlery to their guests and, after thanking the the Pachimama (mother earth) we dug in.
Back down to our house, Juan brought up the llamas and we all got a chance to “meet” them and sit on the biggest male. After that was siesta time so some went “home” and we just laid outside on the lush grass reading, hanging with the llamas and enjoying the view.
Again we crossed the gorge. The hills are getting a little easier but that path is still a killer. In another field we dug up potatoes. My job ended up taking the grubs that got dug up with the spuds and passing them to one lady who squeezed the guts out of them and put them in a pot. Lots of joking and carrying on and only one hoe injury happened. Kaya started talking about her gas problem and most of us noted an issue due to a high fibre diet after such a low fibre diet on the beach. There may be many minor explosions later.
After looking at some of the needle work the ladies have done, many purchased some and again we headed across the gorge. By this time the sun had disappeared and it suddenly got cold. Mike started a fire. Juan came in later to start it and was surprised to see it going and thanked him.
After another delicious meal (no one is losing weight here!), Soyla outfitted Susan and I and we prepared for the party. The others slowly arrived, also in traditional dress. Lots of comments were exchanged and photos taken and the power went out. Oh well. Candles were lit and the band arrived. We danced to Quechua music and had a few glasses of sugar cane liquor which is incredibly sweet.
What a beautiful day on Imbambura mountain! It's another place in Ecuador I'd love to spend more time.