Saturday, 22 December 2007

Into the Highlands proper

A light rain began to fall as we were boarding the bus. With our bags stashed on the roof we took possession of our seats in anticipation of a full house. Gradually over the next hour a constant stream of indigenous families joined us having deposited their copious baggage on the roof. Thud followed thud as bags of onions, hi-fi systems, televisions and eventually an ornate, but thankfully empty coffin, were deposited on the roof. Eventually the driver called time and climbed onto the roof to cover the bags with a tarpaulin. The last of our fellow travelers were shepherded into the aisle, bridging boxes of eggs, bags of mangoes and the odd small child.

The first hour or so of the journey was smooth sailing as we passed from the relatively flat river valley that is home to Latacunga into the rolling hills to the west. As we passed over the first pass at 3300m the landscape changed from rolling hills to an increasingly precipitous series of valleys. The road, cut into the sides of the valley, twisted its way round the valley, sometimes dropping down to the river or cresting the passes to enter a new complex of peaks and valleys. Within half an hour the road had transitioned from potholed tarmac to lightly corrugated mud as the soft verges eroded away and deposited themselves on the road. As we reached the base of our second valley system I cast my gaze across the valley to see a road zig-zagging its way up the other side. As my mind reverted two years to our cycle tour in India the road transitioned from mud into cobblestones. All I could think about was how our friends Cass and Cara would be in their element touring around the Quilotoa loop. The cobblestoned climb must have been 15km in total finally bringing us out in the village of Sigchos.

In Sigchos half the bus disembarked, only to be replaced with around half as many again. As the conductor rounded up the last of the passengers two young brothers ended up in the aisle next to me. They couldn’t have been more than 7 and 4 years old. The youngest wore an oversized blue fleece jumper and ragged trousers all topped off with a grubby blue cap. As usual, I initially got a stunned stare that turned into a shy grin. As he became bored of staring he continued to lick his bright orange, mango lollipop that was gradually depositing sticky saliva all over his grubby hands. Within minutes of setting off he began to nod off whilst standing, wedged between me and his brother. He must have been standing asleep for ten minutes before a brief respite in the squeeze saw him gracefully flop to the floor at my feet. As the inspector negotiated his way down the aisle his brother yanked him up by his collar to avoid him being stepped on.

One thing that has amazed me over the last week is how hardy and self-sufficient the kids are in Ecuador. We have seen kids as young as four or five working the buses selling candy and CDs. Kids will be working the fields when they have finished school or helping their parents in the kitchen. That said, the family unit is very strong and the parents are far more tactile with their children and education is taken very seriously. In the mornings and afternoons you will see the children making their way to school with crisp laundered uniforms and backpacks fully laden with books.

We finally arrived in Chucchilán at around 4pm and were dropped off at the end of the drive to the Black Sheep Inn. First impressions suggest that we have fallen on our feet with our choice of location for Christmas but more on that in the next post.
One real bonus is that we have wireless internet access here so we will be able to be contacted over Christmas. We also managed to fix Sarah’s troublesome blog this morning so that should be working fine. I’m off to enjoy the wood fired sauna...

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