Spectacular Hospitality on Ecuador Trek
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!
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!