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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Guamote

Guamote was the surprise star of this trip to South America. I had no awareness this place until a couple of weeks prior to going there and finding it was a total fluke. I'd resolved to take one of Ecuador's iconic train rides on this trip to Ecuador. It's one of the "must dos", called El Nariz del Diablo, The Devils Nose, and is part of a much longer train trip that has been running for many years. As is the case with most rail travel in the Western Hemisphere, Ecuador has divested itself of most of its passenger rail travel but has invested in a few short tourist rail excursions and one longer, four day run from Quito to Guayaquil on the coast. The Devils Nose is a short section of that run and famous for the amazing engineering feat and the beauty of the landscape. When I was looking for accommodations in the town of Aluasí, the departure point for the ride, there seemed to be only crummy, cheap places or better expensive ones. Reading trip advisor reviews about one of the expensive places, someone noted that it wasn't worth the money and they were going to stay at Inti Sisa in Guamote and take a bus from there to the train. I went to their website and learned that Inti Sisa is actually a foundation started by a Belgian woman fifteen years ago to provide educational resources to indigenous children and adults in Guamote and had opened a hotel a few years ago to provide funding for their programs. There were nothing but rave reviews so I booked a few nights there. Guamote is about five hours south of Quito on the Pan American highway, nestled in the typical lovely Andean landscape. The first thing that struck me was the almost totally indigenous makeup of the population and the almost total lack of foreigners with the exception of the guests at Inti Sisa. It's the first place I've been openly gawked at for a long time. An interesting feature of the town is that it's very prominantly divided right through the middle by train tracks for the tourist train.

Run by a Belgian woman, Eve, the hotel was a bit of a surprise too in its relative luxury. My room was very comfy with big windows looking over the roofs of town to the surrounding hills.

On the main floor were cozy common areas and dining room where a hearty breakfast was served every morning.

The classrooms, where there is a kindergarten,

A computer lab for adult learning

And a classroom where sewing is taught,

are next door to the hotel.

My original plan was to do the train ride the day after I got there but then I learned about the Thursday market which was the next day. This was reputed to be one of the best markets around so I changed plans. It more than lived up to its billing. This rather quiet little place of just under 2,000 inhabitants was transformed into one big market and a huge influx of people came from all over the Guamote Canton of which Guamote is the seat, to buy and sell. The main plaza was where the produce and meat was concentrated though stalls could be found all over town with it.

There were the usual stalls of crappy, Chinese products, backpacks, runners, smartphone cases, small appliances, bootlegged CDs and movies, housewares and there were stalls with odds and ends, padlocks, soap, sponges, light bulbs, pretty much anything you might need.

 

There were food stalls interspersed through it all.

There were stalls selling chicks and stalls selling food for them and other livestock, and an astonishing amount of different types of grains and beans sold all over town.

There were many fabric/textile stalls and lots of local jewelry.

A few blocks out of downtown small animals were sold, chicken, ducks, turkeys, guinea pigs and more produce, immense piles of green bananas.

Another few blocks along were the horses and a couple of kilometres further was the main livestock market. On a plaza about a large square block in size, pigs, sheep and cattle were sold.

There were hundreds of animals, pigs squealing, sheep baaaaing, cattle mooing and hundreds of very colourfully dressed people buying selling and manhandling the animals.

The deal is done
 

An astonishing a scene. I hung around there for a time then got a collectivo back to town.

One thing that they don't have in Guamote is an ATM. I learned about that from Eva when we discussed payment for my stay. Quite a surprise. It's a small town but not that small. Eva explained that the form of cash machine used by the locals is the livestock market. To take out cash, you sell an animal. To put in cash, you buy one. Luckily I was going to Alausí next day were there are ATMs.

I'd made the acquaintance of Simon at the hotel, a Brit living in Ecuador to do his PhD thesis on the migration to the city of the indigenous people from this area and the attendant issues around that phenomenon. Simon and I had made a plan to do a hike after the morning spent at the market. The peace and quiet of the lovely countryside was a contrast to the bustling market. All the folks from the country were at the market

Simon was a font of information about these folks who live in the Chimborazo province and, to a lesser degree about the entire country. Something I found interesting was that evangelical Protestantism was pretty much the dominant form of religious practice around Guamote. These sects can be found all over Latin America, and the world in general I suppose. I personally don't find this to be a positive trend but at least they've kicked out the foreign evangelists and now control the churches themselves.

After our hike we went out to dinner, the set menu thing. There weren't a lot of options in town and it was pretty much a variation on the potato based soup, fried chicken, rice and french fries or nothing. It was cheap, I'll say that.

The obligatory colonial style church

 

 

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