Laid Back Latacunga

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We tore ourselves away from the wonderful Hacienda Cusin with great difficulty, and took a taxi back to Otovalo to catch the bus to Latacunga, our next stop. Only one bus a day takes a route around Quito avoiding the necessity of going to the northern bus terminal, taking another bus through Quito to the southern terminal, and a third on to Latacunga. Quito is 35 kilometres long with terribly congested travel so we were relieved to find there was one bus “directo” though of course that didn’t mean no stops, just no changes.

We arrived after dark in Latacunga and took a taxi to our hotel — or so we thought, and I think the taxi driver did also. The hotel we were dropped at had a similar name, but it soon became obvious that this was not the hotel I had emailed. The owner was very disappointed when we said we had to go to our real hotel, as they had no other guests, but agreed that a reservation must be honoured. Or at least that is my best guess about our Spanish exchange.

On we went to find the very friendly, though unilingual, family run Hostel Endamo. The owner Enrique was a most enthusiastic soul, and spoke Spanish like a Gatling gun, all my pleading of “muy despacio, por favor” would slow him for two or three sentences and then he’d be off. But they were most kind and tried very had to help us in every way.

The hotel was interesting, in that they had been building it over the past 20 years, adding layers and wings, and in fact were still adding to one wing at present. We chose to climb 4 floors in order to have a room with a view of Mount Cotapaxi from our window. Good conditioning for the altitude. Enrique and his family lived on the third floor, with an elaborate front door with a decorative window in it opening off the third floor landing. He showed us through it after we’d been there a couple of days, very proudly showing off all its modern features. It was as immaculately clean and tidy as the rooms. I have never been anywhere so dry — we washed some clothes at about 4 in the afternoon, and though it was extremely chilly, the dry wind dried them by bedtime — in the dark!

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We spent a day just exploring the narrow, cobblestoned streets of Latacunga with its 5 rather impressive churches, unfortunately never seeming to be open when we went past. Three of them were built in the early 1500’s but what with all the volcanic eruptions and earthquakes had been extensively renovated. The female dress of this area is different again from the north. The women wear knee length accordion pleated skirts of a shiny or velvet black fabric embroidered at the edge. Thick white knee socks or ribbed stockings presumably fend off the chill, and the footgear of choice is black pumps — the younger women actually wear spike heels — imagine on cobblestoned streets, broken ankles waiting to happen. Some wear blouses, others sweaters, but all have a brightly coloured, elaborately fringed shawl, sometimes topped with a knitted blanket when it’s really chilly. The “topper” is a dark fedora with a feather in the ribbon. Even some little girls wear this outfit, and I must say the sight of a fedora on a 4 year old is pretty cute! Women dressed in this fashion in the dusty animal market, standing primly holding pigs or sheep on ropes, with their handbags over their arms seemed so incongruous to our eyes.

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We spent a day visiting Mount Cotopaxi, a temporarily dormant volcano which has erupted ten times over the past 4 hundred years. Each time the accompanying earthquake has levelled the town, but each time it has been rebuilt on the site. Cotopaxi is nearly 19000 feet and lots of travellers attempt the ascent, needless to say we were not tempted. Enrique drove us there and we climbed by car to the start of the ascent. At 16000 feet the wind was howling so fiercely that we could barely stand — it took two of us to open the car door. Far enough for us! The scenery of austere paramo, or moorland had a beauty all its own and we stopped at a lovely clear lake, Limpiopunga to view some of the 90 species of birds there. Alas the howling wind made it too rough for more than a few hardy ones, and we gave up our circumambulation half way as we thought our tiny park nature guide might blow right away.

Another day we went early to a small nearby village, Saquisili to view their enormous and very authentic Thursday market. The animal market was particularly spectacular. Sheep, pigs, llamas, horses, burros, as well as all the usual fowl and other animals were changing hands at a great rate. Again the older women seemed the only ones capable of leading a pig on a string with a minimum of fuss. People stuffed lambs and piglets they had bought into large bags and slung them over their shoulders to march off home. Animal rights activists would have been sickened by the way dozens of sheep were piled into the back of trucks, seemingly half dead by the time the trucks set off homeward. The whole rest of the town was covered with makeshift stalls selling everything the locals might need — food, used clothing, new clothing, toiletries, locks, tools, plastic ware, fruit, vegetables, all kinds of meat, full almuerzo meals, baby bonnets etc etc. Imagine a huge department store exploded with its contents for sale where they landed. Nothing aimed at tourists as we only sighted 6 or 8 besides ourselves in the whole huge conglomeration.

Next adventure – the Quilotoa Loop an area of small indigenous villages named for the gorgeous (on a clear day) crater lake in its midst. Our lovely hotel in Latacunga ($34 what a deal) was happy to keep our bags for us so we could take only day packs and a small folding bag with extra warm clothes in it. We will be at altitudes of 3800 metres (over 12000 feet I think) so dashed chilly at night, fingers crossed for fireplaces! More after we return to Latacunga — no internet on the Loop.

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