The Ecuador Chronicles - 2010-18
The Northeren Sierra - A Different Perspective;
Hosteria Pantavi - A Country Inn;
Chota - Afro-Ecuador, Now and Way Back When
by Ray Almand
This week we finish our 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. These Chronicles are built around a trip Dalynda and I made a while back to stay at the Hosteria Pantavi, a Country Lodge about 20 kilometers or so northwest of the city of Ibarra.
Last week we left off with Dalynda and I negotiating a taxi ride to our Hotel, Hosteria Pantavi, a country inn located about 20 kilometers from Ibarra. The Pantavi is a neat place to stay; the owner is a Ecuadorian artist and his art is displayed throuthout the hotel. The rooms open out onto a wide veranda. The main building has a lounge and a restaurant. The service at the hotel is great and the food is incredible.
The Rooms Open onto a Wide Veranda
Main Building on a Foggy Morning
The hotel bar offers a free Canelaso cocktail each evening. This is an Ecuador favorite made from Canelo, a sweet herb, with high proof Cana - Sugar Cane Liquor. There was a United Nations contingent of about ten people using the hotel as a base of operations while we were there. This was an international group doing some kind of census / study on Columbian refugees in Northern Ecuador. They were interesting in conversation - somewhat boisterous after a few Canalaso's.
They had several large UN SUV's with gigantic antennas parked at the hotel; I could not resist making a little UFO remark about their strange vehicles. The German leader of the group (who was not amused) explained that these vehicles allowed communication with each other even in a war zone when all other communication was down - up to 100 kilometers. I think my attempt at humor was not translating well from my (admittedly strange) North American mind through Spanish into his German mind - although others in the group seemed to find my conversation with their boss quite amusing.
Art at Hosteria Pantavi
Chota - Almost 40 Years Ago and Now
The Pantavi offers activities including horseback riding, mountain biking, and day trips around the area. Dalynda and I chose to make a day trip to Chota, an African-Ecuadorian area in the Sierra - it is unusual because most African-Ecuadorians live in the coastal province of Esmeraldas.
I was interested in visiting Chota because I had stumbled upon the area almost 40 years ago during my hitch-hiking days as a student. At the time I was amazed to find African culture in the Andes. I was told these were the descendents of a group of slaves who had escaped from from a slave ship that had wrecked just off the coast - they had managed to get ashore and escape into the mountains. In my young, impressionable mind I was seeing almost pure African culture transplanted into the Andes. The homes in the villages were called chozas - a Wattle and Daub construction with thatch roofs which I imagined to be quite African. I suppose I fancied myself some kind of anthropologist even back then. I found a few old photos I had taken of Chota from that trip.
Wattle at Daub Construction, Thatch Roofs
Cobblestone Road - Carry the Load on Your Head
The cobblestone road in the picture above traversed the Northern Sierra - while rough it was much better than the mud roads I had traveled on through most of Columbia. It was built through a huge communal effort. Parts of it can still be seen in the Norhtern Sierra today.
So, how is Chota now? Well, I was disappointed. The area seems quite poor, no more picturesque chozas and the cobblestone road has been replaced by a major asphalt highway. We went to the village of Mascara where there is a small shop that sells African masks. And certainly the people of the village were African-Ecuadorian. We did purchase a couple of interesting masks.
African Mask in a Small Shop
Village Scene Today - No More Chozas
I asked around about the wattle and daub chozas - they had been gone for years; few people even remembered them. I felt that I needed to understand the Chota area better - so, of course, I turned to Don Juan.
Regular readers may remember the normally conservative Live Well Ecuador associate, Juan, who occasionally takes on an alter-ego - the fascinating persona of Don Juan. I found him in full Art of Fiesta mode - I asked Don Juan about Chota, and what I had experienced almost 40 years earlier.
Chota - Don Juan Explains
Don Juan Explains: Yes, you were very young and impressionable, but not completely off base. There is certainly Ecuador historical lore about slaves escaping from slave ship wrecks - some of these could have made it to Chota. There were also slaves who escaped from lowland plantations into the mountains - maybe even some who came south from Columbia. The area was not very desirable - it is in the Sierra, but at a relatively low altitude and therefore hot and dry - but perhaps a good place to live in freedom and go un-noticed.
Wattle and Daub construction has been used in Africa since ancient times - it has also been a form of construction in Asia, North America, etc......and South America. I'm not sure you could trace the construction style back to Africa. But the mask making certainly does seem to be an African tradition. The Chota area also has a unique form of music - Bomba - that may have African roots. There is a move now in the Chota region to revive some of the old traditions before they are completely forgotten.
Thank you Don Juan - We will call upon you again in the future.
The photo below is of your correspondent as an impressionable young student. It was taken on the same trip as those above, but at Machu Picchu. The two Chilean girls did make quite an impression on me, but as I recall, they were not so impressed with the long haired North American boy in Buddy Holly glasses - staying at the cheapest flea-bag hotel in Cuzco.
Machu Picchu - A Pleasant Place to sit
Left - Buddy Holly - Reportedly Died in an Iowa Plane Crash
Right - Mysterious Photo Taken a Few Years Later in Peru
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