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On a Magical Journey
to Ecuador

by Sheila Shalhevet

 

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postcardsforyou.comOn a Magical Journey to Ecuador 
Story and photos by Sheila Shalhevet
January 14, 2004

Reprinted with permission from www.postcardsforyou.com and the author, Sheila Shalhevet

josephs@netvision.net.il
(Sheila Shalhevet is an Israeli writer-photographer born in the United States.)

 
Dire warnings of rampant thievery, high altitude, mirages, and vast spaces -- these were only some of the things they told us about Ecuador before we departed. 

So when we arrived in the capital city of Quito at 10:30 in the night, we had no idea what lay in store for us. 

But let me backtrack and tell you how we made our preparations...

First of all, my husband was invited to give a seven-day seminar in the city of Guayaqil, the largest city in Ecuador, as well as a lecture at a soils conference in a city called Portoviejo in the province of Manabi. 

After reviewing several guidebooks and ascertaining that these two places were not exactly the epitome of tourism, we opted to take a seven-day vacation before the actual work began.  So we began to plan a visit to Quito and its environs. 

Having only seven days limited our time and what we wanted to see and do. Thus, we relied for the very first time on a travel agent we "met" on the web, and later cemented our friendship by telephone. 

I shall be beholden forever to Judy, that lovely "voice" on the telephone for an experience I never imagined in my life.  Judy insisted strongly that we go to La Mirage Spa in the village of Cotacacchi and stay at its sister bed and breakfast in Quito

Naturally I balked at what we thought were steep prices. Well, they were high, but in retrospect worth every penny spent, if not more. This was not our usual mode of travel, but what the heck. Maybe it was time to see how the other half lives.

So back to Quito...The airport was chaotic, with Spanish flying fast and furious. My husband Yosi had learned Spanish many years ago and in preparation for his work had brushed up on the language.  I shall be forever in his debt.
 

Through the Dark Streets of Quito

Luggage in hand, we went outside to meet our driver, part of the La Mirage package. Kevin came forth smiling broadly and in perfect American English greeted us, fended off the millions of drivers and hawkers, and led us to our vehicle. We drove through the dark, seemingly threatening streets and remembered all the warnings, while Kevin kept up a running monologue about Quito and Ecuador

Quito, only 22 kilometers from the equator, is built in a valley between beautiful mountains and two active volcanoes, which cause constant tremors. And so I became immediately aware of the rippling of the earth at uneven intervals the entire time we were in the area. 

Quito is the capital of Ecuador and the second highest capital in the world. I guess I could get on the Internet and find out which one is the highest, but I leave that to anyone who is curious enough to need to know this fact. 

The valley is four kilometers wide and 17 long. If you count all the new areas, it can be as long as 40 kilometers. It is indeed a unique city, making the act of getting from one end to the other a major excursion. 

Because Quito is above 2,800 meters, the surrounding mountains and volcanoes are even much higher and are permanently snowcapped, providing breathtaking views from every angle.  The weather is wonderfully balmy with cool evenings all year round, although there is more rain in "the winter" than in "the summer." 

The city is divided into three sections, the old town, which is a world national treasure in the center, and the newer areas of the city to the north, which is where major business takes place on wide streets and the affluent neighborhoods are located, and to the south where the working classes reside. 

The old town, or Centro as it is known, is a warren of narrow streets, old, picturesque buildings, markets and churches, and the hustle and bustle of humanity that does not seem to be apparent in the other areas. 

The Mariscal Sucre area where our bed and breakfast was located is the designated entertainment area of Quito. Here are the wonderful restaurants and coffee shops and many gift and bookshops.  It is the area frequented by the backpackers and budget travelers when they need a break and by language students, who come here to meet their friends and relax.

It is also near to the allegedly modern shops of the affluent new part of town and near the gleaming hotels of the major chains.  One finds narrow streets lined with restaurants and cafes as well as inexpensive but clean hotels, Internet cafes and the best mochachinno that I have ever tasted in my life. 

At night it is teeming with light and life as everyone is out to enjoy oneself in the musical South American way.  But as we traveled through the night to our hotel, it all seemed threatening. There were guards with dogs and machine guns walking the streets and "suspicious characters" lurking in every doorway. 

I gripped my handbag and promptly decided that I was not walking outdoors alone. This fear was encouraged by Kevin, who warned us over and over to keep doors locked, not to go out after dark, not to wear jewelry or obvious watches, and not to carry valuables. 

He also advised to photocopy our passports and credit cards and to not carry the real thing, except one card and a bit of cash that may be needed to boost the Ecuador economy by buying gifts and handcrafts at all the places he suggested. 

He looked at my cameras and almost fainted, advising more than once to perhaps carry something smaller or less valuable.  Can one really photograph with throwaway cameras?  After what seemed like a long time, we realized that we had only traveled 20 minutes from airport to hotel.

Pulling up on the narrow, dark and shadowy street where many of the buildings seemed to be behind high gates topped with barbed wire and glass, we stopped in front of one of these gates.

I glanced miserably at the scene and wondered why I was stupid enough to listen to some nice telephone voice.  We were told to stay in the car until the gate was opened. At the same time, a guard with dog and gun positioned himself between the gate and us.

It took a long time for someone to open the doors, during which interval the guard moved further down the street to accost three people who were heading our way.  This caused the dog to strain at his leash and bark menacingly. 

This, in turn, caused screams and, I can only assume, curses from the way the words flew between guard and pedestrians.  I tried to get to my camera, which was in the baggage of the trunk, only to be told to stay in the car.  The gun was pointed, the people retreated, Kevin laughed nervously, the gate to the Inn was finally opened, and I firmly vowed not to walk outdoors at all. 
 

Welcome to Ecuador!

As the gates closed behind us, I became aware of the tinkling of water in a fountain and relaxed a tad. The doors opened, and we were treated to an entrance hall of Old World splendor, flowers everywhere and warm smiles.

I could relax more.  As we registered at an old-fashioned writing table, I glanced at the sitting room furnished in period furniture and saw the working fireplace.  I breathed a sigh of relief and knew that this is what I always wanted to experience… but until now, had never been able to do so. 

Engulfed in the splendor of yesteryears, we climbed the elegant stairway to a charming room with canopied bed, crystal chandelier, chaise, oriental carpet and totally modern bath with every amenity you could hope for. 

Since we were only staying for the night and continuing on the next day to the north, we showered the traveling away, enveloped ourselves in the perfect combination of mattress and pillows and fell fast asleep. 

In the morning we were directed to the breakfast room on the roof.  There, in a glass house overlooking what last night seemed so menacing, was the a collection of charming, pastel buildings in a city bustling with the energy of a city awakening.

We awaited our breakfast: fresh fruit in a crystal-stemmed glass, fresh squeezed fruit juices including the unbelievable delicious juice of the fruit known as the "tomate de arbol" (tree tomato), to which I became totally addicted and drank in great quantities whenever and wherever it was available, eggs and breakfast meats if you wished, breads, cakes, homemade jams, hot chocolate and endless coffee. 

They even made me a special fruit platter when they saw that I did not eat eggs.  The service was so wondrously unobtrusive that I was beginning to feel like the mistress of the mansion being served by her trusted staff. 

The name of this compelling place is Mansion del Angel, or the mansion of the angels.  It is truly heavenly.  Knowing that we were returning here in four days time boosted my spirits.  For whatever lay ahead, I knew that I had this to look forward to.

Fears of the dark fell away and the vacation started.  I even realized that I was having no problem with the altitude, was not out of breathe even after climbing the steps and was full of pep and energy. Yosi was the same.  I guess there is something to say for being a little bit compulsive about walking and exercising.  By the way, we are both well above age 60.
 

To Cotacachi and La Mirage Garden Hotel and Spa

Kevin arrived on time, luggage was reloaded, and we made it safely from the gate to the car. This wasn't so bad. Fears were falling away.  We sat back and relaxed as Kevin continued his monologue. 

La Mirage Garden Hotel and Spa - Cotacachi, EcuadorWe passed through a series of small towns and villages with exotic names on our way to Cotacachi and La Mirage Garden Hotel and Spa.  Our first stop was in the town of Calderon, fairly close to Quito on the Pan American Highway and the first of our arts and crafts stops.

As with every village we saw, it is built around a square with wonderful gardens and flowers and with the church occupying the dominant place on one side. The buildings are either one- or two-stories, made of plaster with tile roofs. Most are painted white, but more and more people are choosing to paint their homes and small businesses a pastel shade of pink, blue or yellow.  Others are even painting their buildings bright purple, ochre and green with clashing trims of reds, oranges and blues.

It all has a rather unreal effect.  Small shops as well as private homes occupy the other sides of the square, and it was here we were taken.  Calderon is noted for its unique craft of making figures and other artifacts from bread dough.  So this is the place to stock up on small, inexpensive gifts for those people you need to give something, but don't necessarily want to waste the space in your luggage or the weight. 

It also keeps Kevin happy… as well as the shopkeepers.  Truth is that some of these figures were charming, and we happily parted with five dollars for a bunch of them.  Anyone want a dough lama? 

In looking around we realized that every shop sold bread dough figures, but that each had different wares.  It was then explained to us that each village in the region specialized in a craft.  This was the dough bread village.
 

On to the Equator

We then headed for the equator, where we stopped for the requisite tourist picture so that we could say we were there and then headed for the region known as the Andean Highlands and the Province of Imbabura

At each turn in the road the scenery was more spectacular than the last. We were treated to lush green valleys, snow covered mountains, crisp blue lakes and people in native Indian dress. While the mountains and valleys stood still for us, we quickly learned that the people did not want to be photographed and were able to spot a camera no matter what ploy we tried. 

And so at this point and for the entire trip, I made a decision at the beginning only to photograph if I could respect the person's wishes and dignity. Next stop was Cayambe, about 70 kilometers from Quito. Here we stopped for coffee and learned that we were in the town of cheeses and their own form of crackers. 

Here, too, we got our first glimpse of the Cayambe Volcano. Reaching a height of 5790 meters, it is the third highest peak in Ecuador and the highest peak in the world through which the equator passes. It was in our sight for the entire time we were in the region, and I grew to treasure its beauty as I watched the shadows of the clouds pass over it. 

We skipped stopping on Otavalo, as we knew we wanted to return here on Saturday for the market and continued on to the villages of Peguche and Agato, both known for their embroideries and weavings.  It was here that Kevin used his influence with the locals and our wallets to take us into some of the homes of the artesian. We met several families, drank cups of strong coffee, ate cookies and enjoyed being shown how the designs are woven. 

Both villages were almost devoid of people walking around outdoors.  The smells of cooking came from kitchens, and children's voices could be heard. 

We walked the dusty streets and the square, poked into workshops and enjoyed the atmosphere.  I was beginning to realize that because of the low buildings and the high mountains there was a wonderful feeling of spaciousness surrounding me. 

This was a feeling that stayed all the way back to Quito. How glorious the endless sky, the huge cloud formations, the rising mountains and the pastels of the low buildings.  It felt as if the world went on forever.  The air was so clear that the world took on crispness and a sparkle the likes of which I had never seen. 

Our last stop was in the village of San Antonio De Imbarra known for its woodcarvings.  The wood is brought in from the jungles and carved by the artists of the town.  Each shop is a replica of the one before, and we were not tempted.

For those who are not being catered to by Kevin, each of these villages is easily accessible by bus from Otavalo and is worth the visit just to be there.  For the adventurous, you can even get to a few by walking.  The people are wondrously friendly (even if they do not like being photographed), and especially if you speak Spanish it can be a lovely few days of wandering.  If you are a "craft person," it is even better!

We finally came to the town of Cotacachi, where we would be staying.  As we drove down the main street, I realized that every shop for three or four blocks had leather goods.  We were obviously in the leather crafts town, and what goods they were!

Bags, backpacks, suitcases, purses, briefcases, saddles, belts, jackets, and clothing were displayed artfully in windows.  I was hooked.  I knew that this town deserved much exploring. 
 

A Magical World of Perfection and Hospitality

At the other end of town (which is not very large and can be walked in 20 minutes), we turned onto a dirt lane and stopped in front of an electric fence.  This was to be our "open sesame" to La Mirage Spa, a magical world of perfection and hospitality par excellence.  We were greeted on the rounded staircase doorstep of an elegant white building by the staff as well as the both the American and Israeli flags in our honor and ushered inside. 

We were presented with cold drinks and fluent English. Our eyes were treated to flower arrangements, elegant furniture, antiques, and a glimpse of a dining room garnished with candles, fireplaces, and alcoves that were too beautiful to be true. 

We were also informed that we were the only guests and were being given a large suite instead of the room we had reserved.  As our bags were taken to our suite, we were given a tour of the grounds. 

There are magnificent gardens complete with humming birds and peacocks, paths decorated with mosaics, a glass breakfast room, an opulent indoor pool and spa, tennis courts, horseback riding facilities and a series of one-story buildings housing the various suites and rooms so artfully designed and placed that every entrance is private. 

No two rooms are decorated the same.  The keys to the rooms are inset with semi-precious stones, and the beds are strewn with rose petals.  The first impression, which is the lasting impression, is that of a dream. We had landed in utter perfection. 

Dinner that evening only confirmed this. And to add to this dream, when we returned to our room after four courses of exquisite food (the cook actually came out to meet us), we found that our fireplace had been lit and hot water bottles encased in satin covers had been placed in our canopied bed. 

For those who cannot stand the thought of being out of touch with the world, you can also go to a wonderfully cozy lounge, where you can watch CNN in any language while having a drink.  And if you are so inclined, you can be married in the charming chapel hidden in the garden. 

We were truly immerged in a mirage, all run by a staff of local residents and Indian women, who are truly lovely and gracious.

We spent the next three days exploring the area. Hiring a taxi for a ridiculously small price, we drove to Laguna De Cuicocha, a volcanic crater about 20 kilometers from where we were staying.  As we climbed even higher than the 2,600 meters of Cotacachi, each turn revealed stunning scenery, and a sky so blue and large and clouds so white and puffy that the entire world felt dwarfed. 

The lake was cold, the water so blue and deep, the surrounding forests so green; it seemed as if nature were trying to prove just how perfect she could be.  I stood in awe and actually did not photograph this beauty.  I just could not limit perfection to fit into the confines of a slide. 

Returning to Cotacachi, we wandered the town, saw the lovely city museum, visited the town square, and had coffee and cookies in an ice cream shop where the owner immediately became our best friend. 

It seemed we were probably the only tourists in town and thus a rare species to be coddled. Hearing music blaring, we looked outside and saw what was obviously election campaigning.  Yes, indeed, on October 20, Ecuador was to hold elections and its 24 parties and eight presidential candidates were going at it full blast. 

We felt very much at home, thinking of our own Israeli electioneering. We even got to meet the mayor of Cotacachi, Auki Tituna, who is an Otavalenos Indian and runs on the communist party ticket.

Retuning to paradise, we were greeted by the owner of La Mirage, George Espinosa, who invited us to his home for cocktails and meet his partner, Michel Duer.  Once again, we were treated to an elegance of grace and beauty in the candlelit Espinosa's home.  We talked about subjects far and wide, previous guests from Israel (there have been a few), the roots of Espinosa's name.

We discovered that there was a Marrano lurking in the background. The Marranos were Jews who practiced Judaism in secret in post-Inquisition Spain.  Espinosa was born in Lucha in the south, where many Jews first settled. 

George even treated us to stories of some of the Jews of the area, interesting places to go and see, such as the festival to be held in Cotacachi the next day, museums in Quito, food (he actually called the cook at La Mirage to have him prepare us a traditional soup made of potatoes and served with avocado), and many of the customs of the area. 

Corn is at the center of Indian life here.  Everything depends on corn, the main staple of the diet.  It is ground, dried and eaten on the cob.  It is made into polenta, puddings, cakes and breads, hard liquor, and is the reason for the Festival of the Year of the Jura (a non-alcoholic corn drink which if left to stand will quickly ferment to a powerful alcoholic potion) and celebrates the planting of the corn. 

The potato also has a place of importance and comes in all sizes, shapes and colors. The higher they are grown in the mountains, the smaller they are.  Another culinary treat is the cuy or chinchilla, the sacred food of the Incas, the forefathers of the Indians in Ecuador and as such is eaten on special occasions. 

The chinchilla is raised in the Indian home in the kitchen where it is warm.  He is not caged and allowed to run loose. It is so sacred and important to the culture that in the Church of Saint Francis in Quito in the painting of The Last Supper, a chinchilla is painted on the Last Supper plate instead of the lamb. 

To prove a point, George arranged for us to go into a kitchen in one of the villages and see these phenomena. It made me even happier to be a vegetarian.

The next day, after wandering the town and browsing the leather shops purchasing a wonderful backpack, we went to the square to see the festival and parade. Forgetting that this was South America, we arrived on time.  No action and only few people seemed to get ready for something later on. 

We went to our already favorite ice cream shop for another coffee, cakes and information and then traipsed over to the other side of town, where it was all to begin, as opposed to the town square, where it would all end. 

Such frenzy and excitement, but it would not begin for at least another hour.  We stayed and waited and observed the people.  It was as much fun as was the parade of horses, beauty queens, and groups of people representing every village and interest group in the province of Imbabura dancing and singing and having a grand time in their costumes and make up.
 

Bargaining in Otavalo

The next day we went to Otavalo to the crafts fair for which the region is famous. We finally were not the only non-natives in sight.  British and Israelis dominated the spectator scene, as we wandered the market looking at the colors and shapes of the weavings, scarves, rugs, clothing, jewelry, hats and other merchandise for sale. 

Bargaining is de rigueur.  Photography is difficult. Food was dubious, but what the heck. We were here and needed the experience. Drinks were cold and coffee as usual was delicious. We wandered the town square, visited the church, and returned to the market to browse some more. 

It was pleasant and laid back, but no photography, please. Markets always give me a feeling of insight into the people.  Here they were very sophisticated and savvy and knew just how to handle us.  However, from the look on other tourist faces and our own, we tried to convince ourselves that we had really gotten a low price for a quality item. 

In reality, we paid what each merchant knew he was going to get in advance and still had lovely things to show for it.  We returned to La Mirage for a massage in one of the luxurious rooms scented with candles and heated by roaring fireplace, a dip in the pool, a shower, no CNN, and our fourth diet-defying four course dinner.  This was our last night in La Mirage. 

Tomorrow we would be returning to Quito for two days of touring before Yosi had to go to work.  But before Kevin came to pick us up, we quickly ran to see the weekly market held close by behind the bus terminal.  Everyone had set their wares on the ground or on tables.  It is a food market, so, of course, corn was the dominant feature.

There were some wonderful sights, like the ice cream vendor with his portable cart and motor.  He was pleased to be photographed and treated us to free ice cream.  He was not pleased when I handed mine to a large-eyed child standing by my side.  Yosi being a gentleman ate his and earned brownie points in manners. 

We got to see the vast variety of potatoes, vegetables and fruits, some of which I could not identify, and in an adjacent permanent structure food being cooked, meat being sold and business being conducted.  This was made livelier by the colorful native dress, children running around, and of course, the crowds electioneering, giving our pamphlets, waving flags against jingles blaring over loudspeaker systems.

It was with regret that we took our leave of La Mirage, and amid hugs and kisses, we all promised to keep in touch.

On our way back to Quito, Kevin kept up his running monologue.  But this time he also wanted to know about Israel.  It seems that he is quite the traveler and we are on his itinerary.  We stopped at a restaurant, which is a Quito tradition called El Tipico Locro (the typical potato soup) in a town called Guayalbambe and ate just that. 

It was wonderful, and I will have to find the recipe. The atmosphere was akin to a steak house in Israel with families on Sunday outings enjoying themselves.  Since we arrived back to Quito and Mansion del Angel in daylight, we were spared the trauma of the dogs and machine guns.

A quick shower, a bit of wandering the neighborhood and scouting the restaurants, a browse in the bookstore for a cookbook which was so expensive I decided that I would try the web when I return home, a typical non-gourmet dinner and an evening of relaxation since we were good campers.  On this night, we stayed in after dark.
 

You Can See Forever in El Panecillo

The next morning we immediately went through the winding, steep streets to El Panecillo, which is topped by a huge statue of The Virgin of Quito. From this high place above the old town, we were treated to breathtaking views of Quito under the blue, white-clouded sky. 

Indigenous people (Indians) in Quito, EcuadorWe could see forever.  Below us lay a colorful city nestled in a valley and taking on miniature proportions because of the height of this summit. The volcanoes surrounding Quito were clear to our view. 

We stayed and stayed, always discovering something new in the vista before us and below us.  We then went to tour the Old Town, a warren of winding, narrow streets not large enough for the amount of people who try to crowd through, bustling with energy and life, crowded and loud as opposed to the calm four days we had spent up in the Andes.  This was teeming city life: shops, markets, traffic, policemen every 50 meters... motion, motion, motion. 

Although we did not suffer from the altitude, the constant cacophony took our breath away.  We saw church after church, our favorite being the Church of La Campania de Jesus, a symphony of gold and Moorish filigree dating back to 1605. 

It is said to be the most elaborate church in all of Ecuador.  We had to return several times to gain entrance.  Opening hours of public places are most unpredictable, and a lot depends literally in being in the right place at the right time. 

We toured the Cathedral, and the Monastery of St. Frances on a square of the same name.  We could not find the picture of the chinchilla on the Last Supper plate, and no one knew what we were talking about.  We tried to see many more places, but it was Monday, and all over the world it seems that tourist sights and museums are closed on Mondays.

One interesting fact that is important to know, at all these places you are treated to a free guide, who takes you through the site with full explanation in a variety of languages.  What a wonderful idea.  It is part of the training process for students of history and culture at the university and a treat for all who take advantage of this service.  They won't even take a tip. 

After a traditional lunch at La Cueva del Oso, (more potato soup and avocado for me) a charming restaurant in the heart of the Old City, we felt revived and moved on to the New Town.  We walked through Independence Square seeing the Presidential Buildings and then a bit on the modern streets, but could not see what all the fuss was about. 

Shops are shops, and these were just shops. We visited two museums that were open and are a must, located in the new part of Quito.  One is Folklore, which is actually a gallery and owned by the legendary, but now deceased, Olga Fish, an amazing Jewish woman from Hungary who settled in Ecuador.  Here one can find a wonderful display of modern artist's crafts, weavings and artwork that is interpreted from original Indian designs. 

The second is Museo Guayasamin, located in the actual home of the late Oswaldo Guayasamin, a famous Ecuadorian Indian painter who died in 1999.  Aside from his astonishing and forceful work, there is also a grand collection of pre-Columbian pieces.  A free tour is included in the admission price, which is great if you speak Spanish. 

If you are lucky enough to get there with others who speak English, they will offer a tour in English.  We were not so lucky.  Getting to the museum was a tour in itself, as we had to go up a residential area called Bellavista, obviously for people of means, and got to see how another segment of the population lives. 

Also, the view and the sunset from the top were stunning.  But it was getting dark and time to head to our cocoon in the Mansion del Angel. After a hot shower in the massive bath, we were revived and off to find a place to eat... and after dark too. 

Despite all the warnings, walking in the streets after dark in our area did not feel that threatening anymore.  What with all the guards at the entrances of the hotels, shops cafes and restaurants, it almost felt like Israel. How brave we have become. 

Having had our fill of gourmet food and local food (I didn't want to see another potato today), we went to a charming café recommended by the hotel. It is called The Magic Bean and provides all the comfort food one yearns for after month's away form home. 

I have neglected to tell you that we had not been in Israel for three months at this point, having had both family obligations and commitments in other countries.  When I saw falafel salad on the menu, I almost cried.  Yosi went with a hamburger and chips. 

Heaven!  The falafel was of Arabic descent, the salad was fresh and crisp, and there was even a small pieta and humus.  Topped off with a cafe hafuch (Latte to the uninformed), I sat back and realized that tomorrow was our "last day" before we headed back to the reality of obligations.

Kevin came and got us bright and early to take us to Pujili, a remote Andes village south of Quito.  Situated about 100 kilometers south of Quito, the drive there is exhilarating.  It was a clear day, and all around us were the snow-capped peaks of nine of Ecuador's' highest mountains and volcanoes, including Cotapaxi and Chimborazo.

We drove through village after village, the city of Latacunga, and finally arrived at our destination, the village of Pujili, located 2,900 meters above the sea.  We had been promised a non-tourist market with animals, but by the time we arrived, either all the animals had been sold or had returned home. 

We toured the food market, which was just that, a food market... corn, potatoes, fruit, veggies, food cooking to be eaten at small wooden tables, and lo and behold, one forlorn lama standing in front of election posters.  The costumes were different from those in Cotacachi, and the very colorful outfits were completed with a hat, the same for men and women, which looks like the hats worn by men in the Thirties, a fedora or sorts. 

We also visited the town square, cathedral and city hall, which has an amazing series of murals honoring all the people that became famous from this town -- and there were quite a few.  Many had achieved religious prominence, but some were famous writers and professors. 

Perhaps I have not mentioned it, but in almost every village and town we visited in this part of Ecuador, we were totally enchanted by the displays in the municipal museums and public buildings. 

Pujili and its vicinity is actually an area that needs lots of time for exploration, as it is truly off the well-worn tourist path. We shall have to save it for another time. 

On our way back, we went through a village that seems to be the terra cotta capitol of Ecuador. There the terra cotta was waiting for us, beautifully arranged.  The proprietress of the place where we stopped was most annoyed that I photographed and did not buy and so told us there was no water to use the facilities. 

Another place was more cooperative, and the proprietor enjoyed having his picture taken... a first. Ditching Kevin back in Quito, we quickly ran to Museo Banco Central, a repository of archeology spanning the centuries of Ecuador history and geography. 

Next a quick glance at the Amazonian Museum and we were suddenly out of time.  Yosi and I glanced at each other like two kids who were just informed that the party was over but who were not ready to leave yet as they were having too much fun. 

We opted for another traditional meal in a small restaurant with no name that we happened by and were happily surprised with another grand meal.  I would describe the foods more, but although they all looked fairly familiar, I am not quite sure what they were - just lots of soups and stews. 

We spent our last night in the luxury of our hotel, ate our four-course breakfast, and said our goodbyes with more promises to keep in touch. 

For more information about La Mirage, visit:  http://www.larc1.com/ecuador/lamirage/index.asp
 

For more information about Mansion del Angel, visit http://www.larc1.com/ecuador/angel/index.asp
 

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