It’s been a magical few weeks but without great wifi so here is a belated post.
We spent a few days together as a family of 4 in Guayaquil, southern Ecuador, before Naomi went off to start her sophomore year at a new college, Gonzaga University in Washington State. We enjoyed the modern city of Guayaquil of 2 million people and hundreds of iguanas. It lacked the barbed wire and glass shards on top of concrete walls that were the norm in Quito (1.5 million people). Guayaquil has a modern esplanade along the Rio Guyas, a large fast moving river that empties into the Pacific and changes it’s flow depending on the tides.
Our walking tour guide explained how Guayaquil, originally part of New Granada, was the first city to gain permanent independence from Spain on August 9th in 1820. The city’s strong anti-colonial sentiment had them destroy all the colonial buildings and churches. The city erected a monument to the city’s liberators Simon Bolivar and San Martin, which was ironically designed by a Spanish artist. The monument became the center of attention for reasons other than the history. The original statue of Bolivar and San Martin portrayed Bolivar as too short (he was short) so they had the statue redone. The final and current statue portrays them holding hands, which made people upset because it seemed to convey them as being gay. Also there is an acoustic feature where sound can be heard easily from one corner to the other which superstitious Ecuadorians interpreted as being evil rather than a feature of the shape of the monument.
Guayaquil was hot and humid however the locals were wearing sweaters because this was the coldest time of year. We had to duck into air-conditioning to stop us from sweating despite our light and loose clothing. The weather only made Naomi more steadfast in her excitement to go to snowy Spokane. Our goodbye to her was sad but also triumphant as we had just spent an amazing and memorable 4 months together as a tight knit unit. The day after Naomi started her journey back to the States the three of us flew to Peru.
We spent a day of travelling via air to Lima and then to Cusco where we were immediately whisked off by a driver to the town of Ollantaytambo. It was a beautiful drive through a canyon to the green hills of this special town. Ollantaytambo is at the center of three valleys and is part of the larger Sacred Valley of the Incas which contains Machu Picchu. We got situated into our humble accommodations and looked for a lavanderia for our clothes. Immediately we were aware of the sound of marching bands and then we saw parades of people in costumes and masks. It turns out we had landed in the one town in Peru known for their 3 day celebration of La Bajada de Los Reyes (Three Kings Day).
We had been aware of the January 6th holiday when we were in Guayaquil as we saw what looked like a world record sized display of the Roscón de Reyes, a circular cake decorated with fruits that symbolize the precious stones that adorned the elaborate clothes of the regal trio. Our walking tour guide explained the basics of this January 6th holiday and that it was also the day everyone took down their Christmas decorations. In Ollantaytambo, however, it was an incredible cultural treat, clearly of great importance to the locals. The celebrations were like the frosting on the cake as we were immediately taken with this town surrounded by beautiful mountains dotted with Incan ruins and filled with pedestrian only cobblestone streets. Really the pictures say it all.
The Incan ruins surrounding the town are mixed with pre-Incan, Wari terraces that the Incas built upon. They are considered some of the best preserved ruins and are impressive not only for their age, built in the 1400’s, but also for their ingenuity of bringing pink granite from 7 kilometers away and building earthquake proof walls, doors and temples by puzzle piecing HUGE rocks together on a mountain slope. The Incan engineering ingenuity is still a mystery. The current belief is that they were able to patiently cut these huge stones using some sort of wire and then fit them perfectly together.
We were urged by our friend Marley to do an Awamaki tour while we were in Ollantaytambo. Her college friends had loved their experience interning with this non profit organization. So the three of us spent a morning travelling to a village in the high mountains with our Awamaki guide to spend time with rural women artisans. We learned about how they spin the wool of alpacas and llamas (Keegan was good at this) and then color them using local plants and worms. They demonstrated their traditional Andean weaving technique and also taught us how to do some simple weaving. Of course they had to dress us in their handmade traditional dress, which makes for some entertaining pictures.
In addition to the rich cultural experiences, immense history and beautiful scenery of Ollantaytambo we were able to find a couple amazing restaurants. Our first night we ate at Chuncho, a restaurant serving only local food farmed within 5 kilometers of Ollantaytambo. They had creative cocktails made with liquor from a local distillery and tasty food. The next night I chose a renowned organic restaurant with their own farm right next to the train station, El Albergue. We quickly learned that Chuncho was their new sister restaurant and that El Abergue has been around for 40 years along with their farm.
After a couple nights here we were off to meet our Seattle friends, the Arboricos (Brian, Val, Brynn and Marley) at the town of Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu where we would all take a bus early in the morning together to see the famed Mayan ruins. We were taking the easy route: arriving by train from Ollantaytambo, they were arriving by foot after a 4 day trek through the Andes.
Details of our Machu Picchu trip will be in my next post!