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Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Hiking to the Cheese Factory and on the Paramo

This was our morning view from the Black Sheep Inn...

If you don't click on the pictures, you won't come anywhere near to understanding how much depth there is in the pictures. It's almost too much to take in, since the air is so clean and clear. It's an unreal view in person. We're on the inside flank of the western range of the Andes, looking to the east to the other side of the valley. In the center, out of view, is a river that flows through, hundreds of feet below the original valley floor. It's amazing.

After a hearty breakfast, we headed off on our hike. We had a map and we had a plan.

This pig was hanging out at the intersection where we had to make a left. We (I) were busy with the pig and we didn't make the turn...so after a while we passed by some men who were friendly. They asked where we were going, just being polite and making conversation...and when they learned we were heading to the cheese factory, they sent us back down the road. We made a right at the pig and went uphill. Way uphill. It was some of the most breathtaking hiking we'd done yet. Breathtakingly beautiful and breathtaking. We were chuffing up the hill. Whew!

Just walking along the road, we'd stop every now and then to marvel at the views. The pictures can't do it justice. We kept pinching ourselves to make sure it was real.

Where we were staying was still at a very high altitude, so walking was plenty of activity. You have to pace yourself and not get too carried away. It's the strangest feeling to feel fine otherwise, but to be very short of breath. It feels like there's something wrong, since you ARE breathing in and out...but it doesn't FEEL like everything is working. It's very different from exercising so strenuously that you ARE out of breath. You feel like your body has betrayed you somehow!

Here is a good picture, not just of Susan, Chris, and Sharon, but also of the valley behind them. I had to get up on the hill a bit to be able to see down below the road.

At this stage in the hike we were all pretty warm, as you can see by the clothes. You have to dress in layers, since the temperature changes not only according to the time of day, but also how high up you are as you hike. On this one hike we went from sweating profusely to wishing we had warmer clothes when we were at the top.

These are such great pictures that I had to include them. Chris and Sharon have been so much fun to visit and to be our travel companions, too. We were both thrilled to be able to come with them on this trip, since they are just beginning to explore Ecuador. They both work in Quito, but have full work schedules and haven't had the luxury of being able to just pick up and go wandering.

They both enjoy being outside and hiking so much that it made us more excited about this trip, too. It's also such a treat to be with a couple that are so happy with each other, where they are in life, and where they are living. Ecuador has been such an amazing place to visit and explore, and they both chose to come here and are so excited to call this country their home.

Chris and Sharon planned our trip to the Black Sheep Inn and our hikes that we took...and although we were a bit hesitant (OK, I was: it's a vegetarian inn) it turned out to be a highlight of our trip. The people we met while we were staying there were icing on the cake, too! (You know who you are!)

OK, enough of that. Back to the story!

Our first destination was the Cheese Factory. These flowers on the right were growing in a tree alongside the road. They don't have anything to do with the story, but they were pretty.

As we understand, Peace Corps volunteers set up a number of European style cheese factories back in the 1970's, as a way of turning locally produced milk into a saleable product outside of their area. They make four types of cheese here, and we bought a wheel of an Emmenthal-type cheese to take back to Quito.

We took one of the round wheels, wrapped it up and stuffed it into the backpack. Off we went, higher up onto the mountain ridge trail...

The thick fog made it difficult to sense what direction you were traveling in at times, but we just kept following the road. Our directions and map were a little unclear...but we weren't really worried about being LOST, as we couldn't go any higher up, and we knew which way was down. There were a few places where, if you were to do a little roll down the hill, well, you'd just go for about a mile before you stopped. That was a little eerie.

Even though we were covered in clouds, the sun was still shining very brightly, so sometimes there was a very odd glow on everything. It was bright, but diffused light, which made everything feel like it was part of a dream.

There aren't any giant trees or fierce animals lurking around up there, just a lot of small details. Click on all three of the pictures above and take a look at the small things.

At the top of the ridge, we were walking along the path while the clouds were sweeping over into the valley, or at least trying to sweep into the valley. Sometimes we'd be walking along in clear skies, and then we'd be back in the clouds, back and forth.

The sounds were muted in the fog, so we could hear the animals before we saw them, sometimes. It was a little strange to be walking around and then suddenly have a big cow appear out of nowhere. The sheep largely ignored us unless we got too close.

While I was paying attention to the sheep, the shepherd showed up:

If it weren't for the wind, you could hear the sheep munching on the grass. That's actually why I took the video, because they were SO LOUD!

Our hike back took us down to the main road to the north of where we were staying, so we got to see a little more of the countryside.

Here is a picture of a very handsome chicken. He's got a little extra feathers there on his head and legs.

This little girl is standing in front of her family's home, which looks like most others in this area. The family can be seen behind her in the background, working in their fields. The families we saw had crops of potatos, beans of different types, and sometimes corn.

The wages are very low and most homes grow food for themselves along with some chickens, goats or maybe sheep. We saw cows grazing, but I can't remember seeing a single home with a cow.

We did see llamas, though. Not too many, though.

After we got back to Black Sheep, we were just sitting around relaxing a bit...and then we hear a little commotion. A troupe of girls came up to the Inn to perform some traditional dances.

As you can see from the pictures, they were in the traditional clothing and they performed at least four dances for everyone, accompanied by music from a portable CD player.

The girls did a fantastic job and were just beautiful, all decked out in their finery. They looked like little ladies. They worked the crowd very well, too. They kept bringing more and more people in to the circle with them, getting them started and then going back for more.

Once everyone was in who was going in, they finished the next song and then went around to collect donations. Very smart.


FernanDoylet said...

That was a wonderful trip you had to my homeland Ecuador. I would like to take my 16yo Son in December to a trip similar to yours. What are your plans for December?

Piera said...

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