Community Tourism in Saraguro

Of all the different types of tourism out there, community tourism can be of particular interest to foreigners coming to a country that has a diverse set of long-standing cultures. In Ecuador, there are many opportunities for community tourism, but the one being run by Fundación Kawsay in Saraguro is especially interesting, though more catered to groups or families.

Saraguro's Main Plaza

Saraguro refers to both the town located between Cuenca and Loja and to its surrounding canton, which consists of many small communities that inhabit a total of 31,000 people. Some of these communities include Ilincho, Namarín, Tuncarta and Las Lagunas. The town and canton is named for the indigenous group (also called Saraguro) who inhabits the area, the only indigenous group in the province of Loja to survive the Spanish conquest. Saraguro is a primarily agricultural-based community; each family has its own organic garden and animals and live off of their own land for sustenance.

Saraguro Woman Walking Through Her Organic Garden

Some attribute the Saraguros’ ability to preserve their culture so well to their strong nuclear families, their alternative education system where kids learn about traditions and culture before they learn how to recite the alphabet, and purity, as most do not marry outside of their communities. Saraguros are also known for their distinct dress, where men where cropped pants and ponchos and women wear long black pleated skirts, black shawls and intricate beaded necklaces, and both wear brimmed black hats and their hair in one long braid.

Visiting the communities is not possible independently, so if you have an interest in touring them or arranging a home stay with a local family, you need to contact the only tour operator in town, Sararku, which works closely with Fundación Kawsay. Staying with a family is a unique experience to peek into the lives of Ecuador’s best-preserved indigenous culture and share in some of the family’s daily tasks. The people in Saraguro are very friendly and open to answering questions about their lifestyle. Alternatively, you can stay in the community-run hostel, Hostal Achik Wasi, which has pretty views of Saraguro from above.

The Community-Run Hostal Achik Wasi

All home stays cost $27 and include accommodation, three meals a day, and family activities such as tending to the farm, cooking together or making local artisan products. The rooms where guests stay are comfortable and have bathrooms with hot water. Meals tend to be vegetarian and grain-based, including mote (hominy), potatoes, rice, quinoa, cheese empanadas and salads. Money from the home stays is funneled back into the individual communities to assist with completing community projects.

Making Cheese Empanadas During Home Stay

Besides family activities, visitors can arrange to visit some of the interesting sites in the community, which give insight into the communities’ way of life. Options include visiting a weaving workshop or traditional hat workshop, visiting organic medicinal gardens and learning about various curative plants, participating in local rituals with music, water and fire, and visiting sacred waterfalls. An especially interesting time to visit is during the town’s Inti Raymi celebration, or Festival of the Sun, the town’s biggest celebration.

Visiting Traditional Hat Workshop in Village of Tuncarta

To get to Saraguro from Cuenca, take any Loja-bound bus and ask to be let off in Saraguro. The ride costs $5 to and from Cuenca (3-4 hr) and $1.75 to and from Loja (1.5 hr).

Three Other Impressive Colombian Archaeological Sites

Colombia’s three most famous ancient archaeological sites are the impressive lost city, Teyuna, in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta on the country’s Caribbean Coast, and the enigmatic statues of San Agustín and the wondrous tombs of Tierradentro in the southern part of the nation.

 

Scattered throughout the country, though, are other, lesser-known ruins that travelers should add to their itineraries:

 

El Pueblito. Photo by Andrea Davoust.

  • Also on the Caribbean Coast, on a hilltop within Parque Nacional Tayrona, is another impressive city of the Tayrona people, called Chairama or El Pueblito. A stone road through the lush jungle leads up to these ruins that still preserve the engineering marvels of this nation. Also within Tayrona National Park are other ruins near Cañaveral and Bahía Neguanje.

 

  • Heading inland towards Bogotá, you arrive at the beautifully preserved colonial village of Villa de Leyva. Just to the north is one of Colombia’s most mysterious – and thought-provoking – archaeological ruins: El Infiernito. The main features of this site, officially called Parque Arqueológico de Monquirá, are two stone “forests.” One is an observatory that was used to track the sun’s course throughout the year. The other is a phallic forest that was used for fertility rites. Also on the grounds is an ancient tomb.

 

Muisca phallic monoliths at "El Infiernito" by Erik Cleves Kristensen http://www.flickr.com/photos/erikkristensen/4568477436/

  • Not all of Colombia’s archaeological riches are monuments. The country also has a plethora of petroglyphs, or rock paintings, and ancient stone roads. Near the village of Güicán and Parque Nacional El Cocuy, hikers can explore both. The Camino Deshecho leads past dozens of petroglyphs painted on rock out croppings, before arriving at some delicious hot springs.

 

 

Find out more about Colombia’s hidden archaeological riches in VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guideavailable in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. See why award-winning environmental-travel journalist, Tracy Barnett, says, “This edition of Viva Colombia! Adventure Guide does not disappoint; the insiders’ perspective, the detailed listings, the descriptive writing all add up to a guide you can count on.”

Survivors of Andes plane crash mark 40th anniversary

The surviving members of a Uruguayan rugby team have marked the 40th anniversary of the Andes plane crash that killed their teammates by finally taking part in the match they should have played four decades ago. The 16 survivors were among 45 passengers – including members of the Old Christian Club rugby team from Montevideo, Uruguay – who, on October 13th 1972, were on a flight from Uruguay to Santiago, Chile, where the rugby team were due to play a match against a Chilean side.

Roberto Canessa, one of the men who trekked for 10 days to find help (Photo: 100 primeros dias de la Primera Dama by Gobierno de Chile)

They never made the match, however, as their plane crashed on the remote mountain border between Argentina and Chile. The 16 famously survived for for 72 days in the mountains by eating the bodies of the dead passengers, before finally being rescued after two of the 16 trekked for 10 days to find help. To mark the 40th anniversary, the remaining team members once again traveled to Santiago, where they played Old Gregorian, the Chilean team they would have played back in 1972, drawing 1-1. They also met with Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, and held a minute’s silence to remember those who died.

Why are Panama Hats Called Panama Hats if They are Made in Ecuador?

Panama hats are Ecuador’s most iconic souvenir, yet their name is attached to the country whose strip of land connects Central and South America. The handwoven hats, made with straw from the toquilla palm plant that is endemic to Ecuador’s Pacific coast, have been made in Ecuador for centuries and can be traced back to the Incas. So why, then, are they called Panama hats?

There are several theories as to why, and it is probably true that each theory has contributed to its reputation in some way. One major factor was Panama’s position as a center for trade and transport, especially in the mid-1850s during the Gold Rush in the United States. At the time, Ecuador did not see much tourism or trade, so it exported its hats to Panama to sell from there. Additionally, Ecuador did not have the technology to be able to mark the hats with a stamp or label that said “Made in Ecuador,” so people assumed the hats were made in the the same country they were bought in.

"Panama Hats," by capelle79 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/51252776@N04/5655872438/)

When thousands of North Americans on the east coast went in search of gold in California, many traveled by boat through Panama to get there, as it was a quicker option than traveling across the United States via land. Many of these American travelers bought the straw hats while passing through Panama and returned to the United States with their new accessory. When asked where they got their fine woven hats, people said Panama.

In 1881, the 23-year project to build the Panama Canal began. Many of the workers who constructed the Panama Canal wore the hats to fend off the strong sun, adding to its association with Panama. These hats were perfect for the job since they are lightweight and breathable. The Panama hat gained even more fame when President Theodore Roosevelt was photographed in one of the straw hats while visiting the Panama Canal in 1906. The photo was widely published in the U.S. and was mistakenly called a Panama hat; from that point on, the name “Panama hat” really stuck.

President Theodore Roosevelt in a Panama Hat

Others claim that the travelers passing through the Panama Canal over time who wore the hat gave it its name, rather than the canal workers or President Teddy Roosevelt. No matter what you believe the real origin or continued use of the term “Panama hat” for the Ecuadorian-made product is, there is no doubt that these hats are made in Ecuador,  primarily in and around Cuenca and on the coast in towns like Montecristi and Jipijapa (which is why the hat was actually technically called a Jipijapa hat).

New Species Discovered in Peru

National Geographic reports that a new species of night monkey has been discovered in a cloud forest in northern Peru.

The as-yet unnamed species was found by a team of Peruvian and Mexican scientists during a 2009-2011 expedition in Tabaconas Namballe National Sanctuary, which lies east of Huancabamba, near the Euadorian border.

In total, the biologists found eight new species of mammals related to the common shrew opossum, enigmatic porcupine, small-eared shrew, gray fox, olingo (related to raccoons), and four types of rodents. Additionally, three new varieties of frogs were encountered, including Pristimantis bustamante.

The 28,000-hectare (70,000-acre) Santuario Nacional Tabaconas Namballe protects not only cloud forest, but also páramo grasslands. It is home to an estimated 326 species of bird, 85 species of mammals and 23 species of amphibians and reptiles. The threat of deforestation endangers this reserve, which is also habitat for the mountain tapir and the spectacled bear, both endangered species.

The team of researchers will be returning to Tabaconas Namballe National Sanctuary this November to continue their explorations for more new species, including an orange-skinned porcupine that locals report seeing.

To get a look at these new discoveries, check out the photos at Mongabay.

 

The new edition of V!VA Travel Guides Peru will soon be hitting bookshelves! Be sure to pick up yours – in print of e-book format – before heading out to Peru’s great national parks and ruins.

A New Season in Torres del Paine

After closing last year’s tourism season with a devastating wildfire, Torres del Paine National Park is gearing up for another high season. The thousands of tourists that will be arriving should expect changes.

 

The wildfire began at the end of December 2011, and raged for nearly two months. By the end of February 2012, an estimated 17,606 hectares (43,505 acres) of Parque Nacional Torres del Paine had been destroyed, according to Conaf, the national forest service. The entire park was forced closed until the blaze could be contained. Eventually the northern sector reopened.

 

The Puerto Natales hostel, erratic rock, informs V!VA Travel Guides that burned areas include along the trails in the Las Carretas, Paine Grande Italiano and Paine Grande Grey sectors. Ruth, an erratic rock volunteer says, “There is already new green grass growing, which makes the black even darker, so it is pretty impressive.”

 

Reforestation of the burnt areas of Parque Nacional Torres del Paine has been slow. Thus far, only 10,000 native lenga beech (Nothofagus pumilio) have been planted. Conaf takes national and international volunteers in a variety of positions.

 

The high season opened on October 1. Since then, regular bus service has begun and most refuges opened. The ones at Los Cuernos and Chileno are slated to open October 15, and Refugio Dikson, which forms part of the circuit, will be online November 1. Catamaran service also has begun once daily; at the end of October, it will run twice daily, and as of November 5, three times per day.

 

Prices for the 2012-2013 season are:

* Park entry: 18,000 Chilean pesos (CLP) or $36 USD

* Public bus from Puerto Natales: 15,000 CLP ($30 USD) round trip

* Lago Pehoe catamaran: 12,000 CLP ($24 USD) one way; 22,000 CLP ($44 USD) round trip

* Refuges: 22,500 CLP ($45 USD) per bed, without sheets or meals

* Meals: breakfast 5,500 CLP ($11 USD), lunch 8,000 CLP ($16 USD), dinner 11,000 CLP ($22 USD)

 

Tourists will face many more regulations, especially concerning camping, and more education about park rules. Also, many more patrols will be on the lookout for people who camp in non-designated areas. Drop by erratic rock’s free daily information sessions at 3 p.m. to learn about new changes and about all the challenges you’ll face in Torres del Paine National Park.

 

 

A big thank you to the staff of erratic rock for the above information. Pack along your V!VA Travel Guides Chile for the most complete coverage of Parque Nacional Torres del Paine and the other wonder destinations of the region than any other guidebook on the market.

Earthquake Shakes Colombia

Sunday morning, a 7.3 earthquake struck southern Colombia. The epicenter was at La Vega (Cauca Department), a small village located nine kilometers (six miles) north-northwest of San Agustín, a tourist destination popular for its archaeological statuary sites.

 

For centuries, San Agustín's statues have silently watched the earth move many times. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

The quake, which occurred at 11:31 a.m. local time, was felt in virtually all of Colombia, as well as the northern 10 provinces of Ecuador and in Quito. No deaths have been reported.

 

Fernando Alegría, secretary of the government of La Vega, stated to the newspaper El País (Colombia) that there was no destruction in that village.

 

In Cali, damages were a bit more extensive. Two clinics – Santillana and Rey David – suffered cracks in their walls. One woman was hurt while escaping from her home. In Timbiquí (Cauca Department), near the Pacific Coast, 20 homes were damaged. Popayán, 64 kilometers (40 miles) south-southeast of the epicenter, was only shaken.

 

Bouselahane Amid, general director of Magdalena Rafting in San Agustín, said people felt it very lightly in that town. René Suter, owner of Finca El Maco, states there have been no reports of damages in Colombia’s Archaeological Capital. Apparently none of the region’s numerous ancient sites were affected. The tremor was also slightly felt in Mocoa, 259 kilometers (158 miles) east of San Agustín, according to Felipe Goforit of Hostal Casa del Río.

 

Damage from the strong earthquake was minimal because of the depth of the seismic event –168.3 kilometers (104.6 miles) beneath the surface of the earth.

 

Find out more about Colombia in VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guideavailable in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. See why award-winning environmental-travel journalist, Tracy Barnett, says, “This edition of Viva Colombia! Adventure Guide does not disappoint; the insiders’ perspective, the detailed listings, the descriptive writing all add up to a guide you can count on.”

Ecuador and the U.K fail to reach an agreement over Julian Assange

Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino met with British Foreign Secretary William Hague this week at the United Nations in New York, to discuss the case of WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange. Assange has been living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since June of this year, and he was officially granted diplomatic asylum by Ecuador on 16th August. He has been unable to leave the embassy however, as he faces immediate arrest by the British authorities.

Julian Assange (by acidpolly)

Assange is wanted in Sweden, where officials have issued a European Arrest Warrant for him with regard to allegations of sex offences, which he denies. Assange believes that, if he does return to Sweden, he will be extradited to the United States to face questioning over the 2010 publishing of classified war documents and diplomatic cables, which he fears could result in a lengthy prison sentence or even the death penalty.

Foreign Secretary William Hague by Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Hague and Patino failed to come to an agreement however during their meeting on last Thursday, 27th September. The British Foreign Secretary’s spokesman reported that Hague told Patino how “the UK was under an obligation to extradite Mr Assange to Sweden.” Patino told reporters after the meeting that “we still do not see, of course, an immediate solution, but we understand that there is a willingness to discuss the topic.”

Three Argentine Authors to Read

In the Northern hemisphere, autumn has officially arrived. It is now time to prepare for either hunkering down for the winter, or be like a snowbird and head to warmer climes.

 

Whether you looking for a book to curl up with in front of the fireplace, or a tome to toss into your knapsack before hitting the open road, here are a few classic Argentine authors to read. Their works are available in English and other languages.

 

The epitome of gaucho literature is José Hernández’ Martín Fierro. This slim volume recounts the struggle of the gaucho underclass against the powerful ranch owners. The story is recounted in poetry.

 

Nahuel Sanata con Jorge Luis Borges, por Nahuel Santana http://www.arteyfotografia.com.ar/10319/fotos/177169/

The most famous of Argentina’s 20th century writers is Jorge Luis Borges. This Buenos Aires native wrote not only poetry, but also short stories. Borges often wove elements of the Kabbalah and other mysticism into his literature, in a pre-Magical Realism style. His opus includes Ficciones, El Aleph and Other Stories and Labyrinths.

 

A contemporary of Borges was Julio Cortázar, who went into exile during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship. His internationally acclaimed novel, Hopscotch (Rayuela) is an avant-garde reading adventure. Readers may choose to read the chapters in any order they wish—much like tossing a stone in the children’s game and skipping from block to block. If that proves a bit mind-boggling, try a collection of his short stories, which are wonderful vignettes of life’s bizarre adventures. Those published in English include Blow-Up: And Other Stories and All Fires the Fire and Other Stories.

Julio Cortázar por anastacia http://www.arteyfotografia.com.ar/4940/fotos/116440/

 

Pick up a copy of V!VA Travel Guides Argentina and venture through that remarkable country with our writers. It is loaded with special articles on the history and culture of Argentina—as well as the best places to go, from de rigueur Buenos Aires to off-the-beaten track pueblos. V!VA Travel Guides Argentina is available in print and e-book formats.

 

Galapagos for the Whole Family

Thinking of taking young kids to the Galapagos? Many parents have doubts of taking their kids to a country so adventurous and exotic as Ecuador, and cruising around the Galapagos Islands, but if your kids can handle a few basic requirements, the Galapagos are sure to become your kids’ all time favorite vacation.

How old should children be?

Eric Sheets, owner of Galapagos Expeditions, a tour operator specialized for in Galapagos for families says, “Usually, as soon as children are old enough to appreciate animals, the beach, the ocean, walk for an hour or so in the heat, and stay on a boat, they’re old enough and mature enough to go on a Galapagos cruise. So, depending on your children, kids as young as three can have an amazing experience in the Galapagos.”

If that sounds like a challenge for your little ones, the option of staying in a hotel on the Galapagos and doing land based tours or day trips is even easier on kids than taking a cruise.

The daily routine if you’re on a boat consists of getting up around 6am, having a buffet breakfast, boarding a dingy to an island to go on a morning hike, coming back for lunch on the boat, then doing a second afternoon excursion to an island or sometimes snorkeling. But, you can always skip an excursion if the kids (or parents) get tired.

If your child can snorkel, it opens a whole new world under the sea. So if possible, it’s recommendable to buy snorkel gear ahead of time and practice snorkeling in a pool or the tub first to get used to the mask.  The boats usually provide snorkel gear, but not usually small sizes for small children. The water is normally quite cold and wet suits are used.

An unforgettable family vacation

My own son, who has gone to the Galapagos three times between the age of 3 and 8 claims to have been there four times, the first time being when his mother was seven months pregnant claims, “I remember, I could see the animals through my mama’s belly button, I swear!” If you ask any of my kids which they prefer, Galapagos or Disney World, they unhesitatingly say Galapagos, always.

For more about traveling to the Galapagos with kids, pick up a copy of  VIVA Travel Guides Galapagos book, and eBook, by  Crit Minster, whom is the father of two preschoolers and is married to a guide in the Galapagos