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The Ecuador Chronicles - 2010-17
The Northeren Sierra - A Different Perspective;
                                        San Antonio - A Woodcarving Village;
                                                                        And Cuy - An Andean Delicacy?
by Ray Almand 
This week we begin a two part series on the Northern Sierra.  There have already been a couple of Chronicles about this region, but there is a lot to see and do - here we will be covering new ground.  The Chronicle will be built around a trip Dalynda and I made a while back to stay at the Hosteria Pantavi, a Country Lodge about 20 kiliometers or so northwest of the city of Ibarra.
The Trip North from Quito - We Caught a Ride
We had heard that the Hosteria Pantavi, while off the beaten path, was a cool place to stay in the Northern Sierra.  We had planned to take the bus up to Ibarra and then a taxi out to the Hosteria.  We mentioned our plans to my partner and Live Well Ecuador principal, Mathieu Guillory, and he said he was headed that way in his pick-up truck (very comfortable, with a back seat) with his friend Roberto the same day - why don't we just go with them - we agreed.  Matt always has something interesting going on.

 Matt's Truck - a Nice Ride  
Matt was headed to the woodcarving village of San Antonio de Ibarra, just south of the city of Ibarra - Capital of Imbabura province.  He had a client who wanted to have some woodcarvings made of religious figures.  Exporting statuary art objects is part of our business.  We went around with Matt as he reviewed the requirements with several of the woodcarving artisans. Here are some photos of statuary art and artisans at work.

 A lot of Carving Knives - The Artisan Appears to be
Looking at the Magazine for the Design of his Carving
 Old Man with Guitar
A Statue often Seen around Ecuador
 Cuy - An Andean Delicacy


After Matt finished his business with the woodcarving artisans we went for lunch at a restaurant that Matt knew about in the countryside just outside of San Antonio.  Cuy was on the Menu, so I decided to give it a try.  Cuy is roasted Guinea Pig - Quite a popular dish in Ecuador.
A Restaurant Outside of San Antonio - Cuy on the Menu
I did not know very much about Cuy, so later on I decided to ask an expert about it - none other than Don Juan.  Regular readers may remember the normally conservative Live Well Ecuador associate, Juan, who occasionally goes into Art of Fiesta mode, taking on the fascinating persona of Don Juan.  I found him in full Art of Fiesta mode - I asked Don Juan about Cuy.

Don Juan Explains


Cuy - Don Juan Explains 
Don Juan Explains:  Cuy is a culinary tradition that goes back into the mists of time - or at least 5,000 years.  Guinea Pigs are actually members of the rodent family.  They eat grass - they will also eat left over vegetable table scraps.  This was an important source of protien for the pre-Columbian indigenious people of the entire Andean region of South America.  Cuy is still quite popular, growing more popular in Ecuador.  Some restaurants prepare it in a gourmet manner, but regular people also raise and eat Cuy - even in urban settings.  The little animals are cute and friendly, and easy to keep - people often treat them as household pets.  But eventually comes the day of reckoning - they are roasted for dinner. 
Well thanks again Don Juan for your insight into Ecuadorian culture.  This brings to mind growing up on a farm in Georgia.  We had pets - dogs, cats, even horses and donkeys - with cute names.  But my father would not allow us to name the livestock - cows, pigs, goats, chickens, etc.  These were animals that we would eventually either slaughter and eat ourselves, or sell at the livestock market - after all, this was business.  Occasionally us kids did manage to bestow a name upon a favorite goat - thereby saving the lucky animal from its fate.
So, how was my Cuy?  Well, it was good - but I really don't have a frame of reference to describe it.  People often say strange foods taste like chicken - but it was not like chicken (or goat, for that matter) at all to me -  but perhaps a bit chewy, like goat.  And I'm sure the flavor has a lot to do with how it is prepared - and whether you can get the thought of that cute little furry creature out of your mind.  I think it actually tastes like - well - Cuy.  You will just have to come to Ecuador and try it yourself.
Matt dropped Dalynda and I back on the plaza at San Antonio, where there are shops selling all manner of wooden items, from tiny objects to all types and sizes of statuary to furniture.  Matt headed back to Quito, with Roberto relieving him at the wheel.  We grabbed a taxi, negoaited a price, and headed for our hotel - Hosteria Pantavi - about 30 minutes away.
The Plaza at San Antonio de Ibarra
Stay Tuned Next Week as the Adventure Continues - Dalynda and Ray find a cool hotel and explore Chota, an unusual center of Afro-ecuadorian culture. 

Would you like to visit Ecuador and Try Gormet Cuy -  

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