Andes to Amazon  
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Dispatch 6 - Salasacas
       
After enjoying a couple of days mostly away from the Pan American, we had no choice but to rejoined the Pan Americana highway, after Pujila, actually Latacunga.   Several times the roadside turned from rural to urban and back again.  The biggest and busiest town in route is Latacunga (a pre-colonial city favored by Incan royalty because of its hot springs.)
 
Ice cream shops, San Miguel de Salcedo, "Ice Cream Capitol of Ecuador" The town that is most memorable is San Miguel de Salcedo, the self-proclaimed "Ice Cream Capitol of Ecuador" -- we won't argue with that.  Based on several conversations with Ecuadorians since we left Quito, it seems to be a national tradition to stop for ice cream in San Miguel de Salcedo when you are traveling the Pan Americana.  Where I don't recall see a single ice cream shop in other towns San  Miguel de Salcedo had dozens and dozens. It has more ice cream shops per Ice cream statue, San Miguel de Salcedo, "Ice Cream Capitol of Ecuador" capita than any town I have ever seen.  They go so far as to have an ice cream cone sculpture at the entrance to town (left).

We obliged the tradition --"Hedalgo, the breakfast of champions." (right)
 

San Miguel de Salcedo, "Ice Cream Capitol of Ecuador"
  Ecuador, Pansaleo, meat restaurant While San Miguel de Salcedo was all about ice cream, the next much smaller town, Pansaleo, was all about meat restaurants.  There wasn't a single ice cream store in town, but there were a half dozen meat restaurants.  It looks like more testing of the theory on the 'economy of agglomeration.' Ecuador, Pansaleo, meat restaurant
  Ecuador, Holguin: Andes highlands Between the intermittent commercial areas there was a lot of open agricultural, rural and natural areas.

The Pan Americana was generally four lanes wide, with wide lanes and paved shoulders and not very crowded.  Generally we didn't feel endangered, but at times it was loud and smelled of exhaust so less pleasant than the back roads -- unfortunately there are no practical alternative for this section.

Ecuador: Pan American highway under repair
  Ecuador, Ambato: restaurant Along with the sparser population there is generally a dearth of restaurants along this section of road. Our timing for lunch was impeccable.  We pulled into a restaurant with one empty table and no one was eating.  After making some observations about what system was at play, we bought lunch tickets (less than $2) and sat down again.  By this time it was standing room only.  All of a sudden, in a flurry the serving began.  We all got a large tasty bowl of soup.  Good enough.  We got our monies worth.  But there is more.  Next, we were presented with a plate of chicken, rice and salad.  At twice the price that alone would have been a great deal.  We not only were getting our monies worth, but we would be filled up.  But there is more.  A large glass of fruit juice followed.  At least a $2 value by itself in the U.S., Canada and Europe.  But there is more -- a tasty dessert.  The large crowd seemed to come from an industrial area tucked in down an un assuming road across the highway. Ecuador, Ambato: restaurant
  Ecuador: decorative garbage can, clown Ecuador: decorative garbage can, clown Ecuador: decorative garbage can, mouse Ecuador: decorative garbage can, clown Ecuador: decorative garbage can, clown Ecuador: decorative garbage can, duck
  Ecuador: decorative garbage can, rabbit  A curious phenomenon between Latacunga and Ambato is clown and animal head garbage cans.  There is a smattering of them all through the country, but I always seem to notice a higher concentration in this region of the central highlands.  They are not just the same character painted uniquely.  They almost all seem to be uniquely molded and different.  There must be dozens of molds.  It seems like a particularly labor intensive way to create something whose main purpose is to be filled with garbage. Ecuador: decorative garbage can, pig
Ecuador, Ambato area


Ambato doesn't have the high rises or the high end economy that Quito has but is is a large city with what looked to be a near complete offering of goods and services.  It is part of the urbanization of the Ecuadorian population.  The city is sprawling and spreading to further hills and valleys.
 

    Being that Ambato is a miniature of Quito, leaving Ambato has some of the same qualities as leaving Quito.  We had been a little spoiled by the low traffic volumes in the rural areas so there seemed like there was a lot of traffic for a time, but it was nothing in comparison to Quito.

Fifteen kiometers east is the small town of Salasaca.  It is another of Ecuador's pockets of indigenous culture.  Unlike most other places on the main road, there is still a strong tradition here of both men and women continuing to wear traditional clothing styles.  There is also a traditional crafts market and for reason that aren't apparent, other than a nice environment, there is a large store selling bonsai.
 

 
  Ecuador, Salasaca: Woman spinning wool yarn Salasaca is a historic center for weaving.  In the 19th century their weavers wove fine wool textiles, waist bands and ponchos.  Arriving in town the first indication is subtle but as you tune into the behavior you will start to see it almost everywhere -- women spin wool as they are walking, talking and otherwise passing time.  Often the unspun wool is covered with a red handkerchief to keep it clean. Ecuador, Salasaca: Woman spinning wool yarn
  Ecuador, Salasaca: Woman spinning wool yarn

The art had almost died out by the mid twentieth century.  The resurgence of weaving dates to 1957 or shortly there after. Through development programs and the formation of a cooperative the number of weavers started to grow.  In the 1960s, Peace Corps volunteers recognized the value of the tradition and encouraged the weavers and helped increase sales.

Ecuador, Salasaca: Woman cleaning wool
  Ecuador, Salasaca: Woman carding or combing wool   Ecuador, Salasaca: Woman spinning wool yarn Ecuador, Salasaca: Woman winding yarn on frame Ecuador, Salasaca: Women twisting yarn skein Ecuador, Salasaca: woven cloth
    A lot of the processing or preparing of the wool yarn is done at homes.  The wool is cleaned (seed, grass and other foreign materials are picked out), carded (combed so the fibers are more aligned, parallel), spun (twisted in to yarn or thread), wind the yarn on a frame, twisted into a skein and then woven into fabric or items like ponchos and  belts. Some of the wool is felted and formed into hats.  
  Ecuador, Salasaca: traditional dress; hat and poncho Ecuador, Salasaca: traditional dress; hat and poncho        Ecuador, Salasaca: weaving a belt on a loom Ecuador, Salasaca: weaving a belt on a loom         Ecuador, Salasaca: felted hat
  Ecuador, Salasaca: sacred place, shrine Ecuador, Salasaca: sacred place, shrineThe Salasaca are descendents of the Inca, speaking Salasaca Highland Quichua.  It is said that here, the Incas came to ask their gods to improve their musical ability and their voices so that they would be the best messenger among the villages.  There are several sacred places and shrines in the community where people come to pray for health relationships and families, or to improve there skills for an undertaking. Ecuador, Salasaca: sacred place, shrine
  Ecuador, Salasaca: agriculture Another economic foundation of Salasaca is agriculture; staples, vegetable, fruits, berries, etc.  Of the staple crops it is common to see the healthy practice inter-cropping -- corn and beans grown together. 

Local farmers are starting to grow agave, also know as a century plant.  Chiefly Mexican, agaves are also native to the southern and western United States and central and tropical South America, but not the Andes highlands.  With the expanding market for agave sweeteners the local farmers are looking at the economic viability of becoming producers.

Ecuador agriculture: corn and beans farmed together

Ecuador agriculture, agave

  Ecuador, Salasaca: Alonso Pilla, playing flute Our host and guide in Salasaca was Alonso Pilla.  His resume includes being a pan pipe troubadour in Europe with an Ecuadorian band, master weave, innkeeper, cultural guide and village elder.  It is in part fascinating to travel in the community with him because he know almost every body and has friends at every turn. Ecuador, Salasaca: Alonso Pilla, talking with friends
 
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