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Spectacular Hospitality on Ecuador Trek

August 21

This is a guest blog by Mark Gun­log­son’s sister.

Yes­ter­day start­ed at a leisure­ly pace — we are on vaca­tion, after all, we remind­ed our­selves — an all-pur­pose excuse for sleep­ing in, indulging in the fab­u­lous Rumilo­ma break­fast, and shopping…more on that to come.

We left Quito at around noon, with our van­load of girls, women, Mark, and Gio­van­ni, our trust­ed dri­ver. Our first des­ti­na­tion: Lagu­na Cuic­ocha, a favorite acclima­ti­za­tion spot for Moun­tain Mad­ness climb­ing expe­di­tions and treks. This ancient lake-filled crater reminds us of why they call the long val­ley we are trav­el­ing the Avenue of the Vol­ca­noes.” We’re greet­ed with a breath­tak­ing view as we arrive at the crater rim, a deep lake with steep-sloped forest­ed islands, inhab­it­ed only by a pair of spec­ta­cled bears, native to the area although not to the islands. We hike along the crater rim paus­ing to enjoy the var­ied and spec­tac­u­lar flow­ers, includ­ing orchids and a kind of cen­tu­ry plant that blooms…well, not once every 100 years but not very often. It’s the most amaz­ing shade of turquoise. Think about it, how often have you seen a turquoise flower?

After the hike we return to the town of Otava­lo, famous for its col­or­ful mar­kets. By this time it was around 5 pm — a lit­tle late for the full mar­ket crush but a good time for bar­gain­ing. Not that I did much of that. It’s hard for a first-time vis­i­tor to Ecuador to believe that the prices go even low­er than what they first tell you. Pon­chos, jew­el­ry, blan­kets, sweaters, won­der­ful hats.…I end­ed up with two large bags, but after all — I’m on vacation!

Next stop —the his­toric Hacien­da Pin­saqui. The gra­cious man­ag­er, Hec­tor Aloir­con, went out of his way to make our stay extra­or­di­nary. He’s the man if you go here and will share his enthu­si­asm about this place! The oth­er guy who real­ly deserves to be remem­bered has a room named after him at Pin­saqui — Simon Boli­var. In case you’re rusty on your his­to­ry, he (near­ly) sin­gle-hand­ed­ly lib­er­at­ed much of South Amer­i­ca from Span­ish colo­nial­ism. He’s the man! And I got to sleep in the man’s bed. Amaz­ing! Thanks to Hec­tor and my friends for the upgrade from a love­ly room to the best room in the house.

And that’s not all. We were treat­ed to live Andean folk­lore music, first in the bar, one of the old­est parts of the hacien­da and a sur­vivor of the 1868 earth­quake, and then in a pri­vate encore at La Cabana, where those of us not in Simon Boli­var’s room were staying.

A per­son­al note: Fri­day the 21st was my birth­day, and a rather sig­nif­i­cant one at that — 29 is such a mile­stone [Ed. note: +21 give or take]. Mark and Amber and Hec­tor and co. con­spired to make it an extreme­ly mem­o­rable occa­sion. My thanks to all of you, and espe­cial­ly to Mark, who cajoled me into mak­ing this trip. I can’t believe I even con­sid­ered miss­ing it. Mark, you’re the man!

August 22nd

By Mark Gunlogson

Yet anoth­er long day for the kids yes­ter­day would nor­mal­ly sug­gest they be allowed to sleep in, but not to be. Alarm clocks ring­ing at 6 in the morn­ing got us up for the Sat­ur­day morn­ing live ani­mal mar­ket. Grumpy kids would soon see the rea­son for our mad­ness as we walked amongst the locals, some Otavolan women dressed in their beau­ti­ful tra­di­tion­al garb, that were hawk­ing their duck­lings, baby pigs, guinea pigs, chick­en, cows, kit­tens, and dogs. The girl’s eyes sparkled with excite­ment as they paw through var­i­ous bas­kets of pup­pies. Can we get one, can we get, por favor ?” Grace pleads, throw­ing in some prac­tice Span­ish to but­ter me up, which she knows I will appre­ci­ate as we try to per­suade our girls to learn Spanish.

Damn you,” I say jok­ing­ly to Amber whose idea to come here offered a great chance for every­one to see this amaz­ing dis­play of ani­mals. Not today girls.” And so with bro­ken hearts we move through the remain­der of the mar­ket to sounds of squeal­ing pigs being sold and dragged off with their new own­ers, cows mew­ing, and lots of chat­ter as peo­ple nego­ti­ate prices for new ani­mals. Last, but not least, we come across sev­er­al hors­es for sale, one which Amber locked eyes with across a mud­dy field crowd­ed with cows. It’s an excel­lent horse, with good lines,” she says, ” and with a good demeanor, and amaz­ing­ly being offered at $230,” Amber states, clear­ly tak­en by the horse. Not today,” she pro­claims, the mantra reinforced. 

Mean­while Chris and I con­spire to buy the horse as a token of our appre­ci­a­tion to the hos­pi­tal­i­ty we’ve all enjoyed. We expect no resis­tance from the girls, but not sure if rea­son would pre­vail or the love of hors­es would rule the day for Amber. Offer accept­ed to the over­joyed Freire fam­i­ly. Dou­ble damn you,” Amber jokes with a huge smile on her face and four of the hap­pi­est girls imag­in­able! And so the day began!

Next stop Hacien­da Zule­ta, arguably Ecuador’s most unique hacien­da and a def­i­nite stop for future Moun­tain Mad­ness groups!