Slowing Down // Colombia into Ecuador

Through the whispy grey clouds, a streak of sunshine broke through, revealing a burst of neon green, as we wound our way through the verdant peaks.  The Andes are a no joke mountain range, and we are just getting into them… the scale of it all is just breathtaking.  This portion of southern Colombia is quite rural, and a few times people would hold a rope across the highway, hoping Adam would slow down to make a donation for their ‘road maintenence.’
Laguna de la Concha, at 9,284 feet, sits hidden below the clouds in a misty haze; the glacially formed lake is the second largest in Colombia with a tiny La Carota Island Sanctuary National Park.
La Concha is as charmed as it is charming.  Set on the marshy shores of the river leading into the lake, this waterfront row, known as El Puerto, serves as a weekend escape from nearby Pasto & is famous for trout fishing.
Each of the homes lining the river were crafted by the owner, with some help from the community.  There was a beautiful pride of ownership the residents had for their unique homes-  in the days we were there, we saw numerous people painting windowsills, tending to the flowering gardens, and crafting new additions.

We arrived on a Sunday afternoon, as the last of the weekenders were leaving.  As the cold mountain evening set in, we found a bubbling cauldron of canelazo de mora –  freshly picked mountain blackberries, mixed with cane sugar and a dose of aguardiente, an anise tinted booze favored by Andean Colombians– which was JUST the thing to warm our hands and hearts.  And yes, we did go back for seconds…
The alpine band woke us up: birds sang their sweet songs, dogs barked, cars rambled by and roosters cackled announcing another rising of the sun.  In the light of morning, the fairy-tale town really dazzled.  Each home lining the narrow river was painted like a gingerbread house.  Our GoWesty! equipped base-camp on wheels fit right in amongst the unique architecture.
Colette loves to play fútbol with any willing amigos.  The town was filled with a bounty of buddies excited to hear the little gringa talk in English, which caused fits of laughter.
Ivan, a 9 year old local boy, sat with us in the van one evening.  “Does your family work on a farm?” Emily asked in Spanish.  “Yes, we OWN our own finca and we have TWO boats” he beamed.  His family grew potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, garlic, green onions, and had apple trees.  The bird-like boats lining the canal shift their business from ferrying weekend tourists to the island and around the lake, to bringing locals out to their farms, many of which are not accessible by road, like Ivans’.

Trout is farmed along the shores of the lake and is the livelihood of many residents.  Adam set out for an afternoon go and returned with no fish, but with a memory card full of gorgeous images.  He broke his standing rule to only eat trout he has caught, and enjoyed a local meal for the jaw-dropping tune of $2.50- a whole fried trout, french fries, rice, salad, soup, hot sauce and fresh made blackberry juice.  Surprisingly their sancocho –a stew made with plantains, potatoes and usually meat- was vegetarian, so Emily got to sample this local specialty as well.  A girl begins her day at sunrise with a walk to school.

The sense of color, balance and design of each house kept Adam delighted as he walked about the village, seemingly snapping a shot of every house.A soft rain would fall each afternoon, break for a spell in the evening and resume later in the night.  In town, gardens burst with flowers of every color, on the surrounding hills rows of green onion, blackberries and potatoe plants blooming with purple flowers thrived.
… and speaking of farms- the hair farm Adam had been cultivating needed some serious maintenance.  Emily set to work taming the beast one afternoon, much to the locals delight.  
Short hair is the favored look for guys in this region and this kid asked “Why does he have long hair?”
Departing Colombia and entering Ecuador was the most pain-free border crossing thus far.  There were no lines for customs, we paid only $8 for the mandatory car insurance, and there were no other fees- woohoo!  In Ecuador, the Pan-American Highway turned into a raucous affair as Carnival de Coangue, the Ecuadorian Mardi Gras, celebrated on the same Fat Tuesday as New Orleans and Rio de Janiero, was going on.  The Ecuadorian party is a day of music, dancing and water… from the roadside buckets of water were being tossed at passersby.  We followed a truck, in which passengers sat in the back with a 50 gallon drum of water and small buckets. They would patiently time their attack until a bus, taxi or car in the opposite direction came by with their window down- and then boom!, splash an entire bucket of water with an amazing accuracy which would render the recipient soaked, most were amused, but some did not see the humor…  we quickly learned to roll up our windows…  
Except as it was quite warm and we were in bumper to bumper traffic, Emily rolled down the window for some fresh air…and got totally worked by some celebrants with foam cans!So Adam, defending the honor of his woman, bought a can to fight back.  It was the most fun we have ever had in a traffic jam!
In Otavalo, the recently upgraded town square had music softly playing and free wifi.  The Ecuadorian elections took place on Sunday, February 17th; the night proceeding, we witnessed a march of the Pachakutik Plurinational Unity Movement.  This leftist party which represents the indigenous population, has been quite successful since the inception in 1996.   Their platform is anti-capitalism, pro-socialism and indigenism.  While their candidate did not win for president, they continue to grow their presence in congress and on the national stage. Meet Manuel & Laura Morales.  They are both first generation weavers, working for the past 35 years mastering their craft. Their children are following in their footsteps and are weavers as well.  Inspired by the breadth of artisan crafted items we have seen on the road, we have begun to offer a curated selection for purchase.  We are calling this venture 24 Hour Bazaar.  We have been told by readers they are “living vicariously through our adventures,” well- we are glad to say we have figured out a way to shop vicariously for you!  If you would like to be added to the mailing list for the next and future markets, please email us at contact@ouropenroad.comThe Otavaleño women are easily recognizable by their gold necklaces, embroidered and ruffled white blouses, long dark wool skirts, slingback espadrilles and fedora hats.   The swaths of gold at their necks represent prosperity and giving voice to their culture; when red coral is worn, it represents the heriarchal system and feminine fertility.  Most women we saw choose to wear gold…

Below- the exemplification of three interesting notes. 1) Without a purse or pockets, the bra is the favored storage location for ladies. 2) Another example of the very popular folded-blanket as hat style.  3) Yes, this super-traditionally dressed woman’s husband has not a lick of traditional style: short hair not a long braid, baseball hat not a fedora and sneakers not espadrilles.  Throughout our travels, we have found it is the women who’s attire still holds their cultural identity, and the men who widely adopt the ‘western’ wear.Here is another Laura, who along with her husband and family, craft the most stunning wooden catchall trays and picture frames.

We escaped the markets and went to Cascada de Peguche for an afternoon in the forest.
The waterfalls and surrounding areas are sacred to the Inca, and visitors are restricted in June.  Below, women gather the fallen eucalyptus branches and bark for firewood.
Rincon del Viajero has both a hostal in the bustling center of town and the muy tranquilo camp site where we have been posted for almost a week now.  Forging onward to reach Tierra Del Fuego by early April, crossing 4 countries in 8 weeks is just too much-  we have decided to slow our roll.  Though we dearly miss our friends and family, we are elated to be able to spend more time on this amazing journey.With orders received from 24 Hour Bazaar, we headed to the home of Manuel and Laura, as they are only at market Wednesday thru Saturday, where he excitedly showed off their workshop.   They have 4 looms on which they weave an amazing variety of ponchos, rugs, tablecloths and scarves.  Emily’s Grandmother Arline has a loom, and as Manuel explained the process, Emily so wished she could transport Arline right beside her.3-5-4-5-3-5-4-5-3-5-4-5-3-5 is row one… the pattern, coded in numbers, reads front to back, then back to front, which creates a design that is uniquely their own.The time came to finalize the purchase, and when they lowered the price only minimally from what was quoted at the market a few days prior, the Morales’ (including their 7 children) awaited for the bartering to begin.  The price they had given was an amazing deal, and it just did not feel right to barter, considering the time, energy and expertise needed to create these rugs.  After we made our purchase on behalf of our fabulous friends & family, Laura grabbed a handmade poncho and draped it on Colette.  She nimbly threaded a needle and with the soothing voice of an experienced mother, explained in Kichwa to Colette to hold still while she sewed on a button for her.
Colette spun like a whirling dervish, and like that, we were ready for the next chapter…