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The Andes Highlands

Casita at Hacienda Pinsaqui
Casita at Hacienda Pinsaqui
It is amazing to me how much we packed into a 3 day tour of the Otavalo Valley area a couple of hours north of Quito. I loved that we had Luis, our guide, and Carlitos, our driver, completely to ourselves in the Adventure Life van. The flexibility we had to be spontaneous was amazing. ''Please stop, I want a picture!'' And with a visit to the Otavalo market and the Monument on the Equator our only ''must dos'' it was fun to put ourselves in their hands to enjoy the myriad sights they lined up.

The Piramides de Cochasqui is not normally on the list of sites for tourists to see. I am SO GLAD we stopped here. The 2 hour tour (because we asked so many questions!) of this site provided a foundation for the Ecuadorian history we added to over our entire trip. Cochasqui is a power place, and it was the perfect start for us.

The archeological site guide, Fatima, spoke in Spanish and Luis translated. We walked all over the hillsides petting llamas, viewing the covered mounds of still buried pyramids, marveling at the huge unearthed linear sun dials, and getting a real understanding for the pre-Inca history of Ecuador-stuff I sure did not get in my pre-trip reading! -And a real bonus--it turns out that our driver Carlitos grew up just down the road. The history of this place is his personal history. WOW

We drove by his family house and we stopped so he could say hello. (Our idea, not his - but how could he not stop?) On our way back we stopped again and got a tour of his cousin's rose greenhouse that was across the road. They were about to start harvesting beautiful long stemmed red roses in another week to ship the roses to the US for Valentines Day. Kathleen and I each bought a bouquet of two dozen roses. $1.00 for each bouquet. The hacienda staff gave us huge beautiful vases for our flowers.

We had a casita in the Hacienda Pinsaqui--our own little house! It had 3 bedrooms, a sala (living room) and a bathroom. We spread out into our own rooms for some solo down time and then headed to the bar for the welcome at 7 p.m. Hector, the manager, was delightful. He started us off with tea and ended with a shot of something stronger-we didn't know what it was, but when in Ecuador, ''Salud''! We both bought CD's from the band, the ''Waukis''. We listened to their music in the van the next day and I was dancing in the back seat!

I got up early the next day and walked the grounds and sketched. This hacienda was a favorite of Simon Bolivar's, a key leader in Latin America's struggle for independence. The hacienda architecture is wonderful and very familiar for a Californian. Fine weaving was produced here in the past, but there are no signs of that activity now. Some of the sprawling buildings are maintained beautifully and others are in a bit of disrepair, and it all seems ''right''. The view over the valley toward the Volcano with the contour farm fields marching up the slopes into the fog hovering on the mountain is mesmerizing. WOW.

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