We've left the big city behind and spent the day on the Pan American Highway. The section we were on today is known as the Avenue of Volcanos for obvious reasons: the area is loaded with them in various states of dormancy. Usually when you face a long day of driving, it's not something you look forward to, but we have learned with OAT trips, that it means you have a day filled with surprises and new experiences. We had some nice views of Cotopaxi, the highest volcano in Ecuador at 19,000 feet. Our guide argued that you are farther from the center of the earth here than you are on Mt. Everest, because the earth bulges in the middle. But most experienced climbers can summit Cotopaxi in two days; Everest takes a month to adjust to. We also stopped at an overlook for a final panoramic view of Quito. As the city grows, residents build their homes higher and higher up the mountainsides, disregarding the likelihood that some of these volcanos will erupt again one of these days as they have not too long ago.
Then we stopped at La Cienéga, a 400-year old hacienda where many important people have stayed and partied. The entrance drive was flanked with eucalyptus trees. Inside we admired its thick walls and elegant guest rooms. The chapel was also beautiful. This would be a great spot for a wedding. The bullet riddled church bells were on display. Lots of history took place here. It's been a hotel since 1982 and served a delicious cheese empañada.
A major industry in Ecuador is the export of roses. We visited a green house complex to see how it is done. Because the volcanic soil is so rich and the sun is directly overhead all year long with a regular cycle of 12-hours off, 12-hours on, the roses here regularly grow to have stems five to six feet long. American prefer their long-stemmed roses to be more like two feet long, but the Russian market prefers those big boys. When a big holiday like Valentine's Day or Mother's Day is coming, they snip off the current blossoms secure in the knowledge that in three months new buds will be ready for the big event. Once the roses are cut, they travel on conveyors to a sorting room, where the workers size and grade them. They are packed in different ways, depending on what the customer prefers. Red is by far the most popular color, but people like the white ones, too, because they can be dyed other colors. Yellows and pinks are trendy colors whose popularity ebbs and flows. A flower cut today, could be in my home tomorrow. Locals buy the left-overs for a song: 25 long-stemmed roses for $1. I wish that I could have taken an armful home. They were gorgeous.
Lunch was a three-course meal in an adobe home designed by an artist who worked mainly in wood. His wife was a master of stained glass. We were free to wander around the home, which was decorated in an eclectic and artistic manner. Many old odds and ends were repurposed in clever ways. I was so impressed, I was ready to move in on the spot. Many of the items gracing the walls were for sale. I was sorely tempted, but the blank spots on the walls of our house are few and far between.
As we drove higher and higher into the Andes, the volcanos disappeared into the clouds and it got cold. We stopped to visit with a Kichwa man who had taken over his father-in-law's business. He takes two donkeys into the mountains to a glacier where he carves four huge blocks of ice out of the glacier and brings it back down. In the old days there were many folks doing this, because there was no other refrigeration. Today the ice is served in special drinks as kind of a throwback in the local markets.