Llamas, and Guinea pigs, and lambs, oh my!

We started yesterday with an early departure from Cuenca via the Pan-American highway, which runs from Patagonia, in Argentina, all the way up to Alaska! The countryside is beautiful with bright green fields, snow-capped mountains, and very simple dwellings. Over thirty percent of the population here are indigenous people. Everywhere we go, we see women in traditional dress wearing brightly colored shawls and black or brown bowler-style hats selling things by the side of the road. What they wear is determined by what part of Ecuador they are from.

Seeing how other people live is always a highlight for me when traveling. I love that as we walked on a path through the fields in the village of Palazio Real (with Manuela, the llama, in tow :-)) we passed an 86-year-old woman dressed in traditional clothing harvesting plants which she then proceeded to hoist onto her back. And then 5 min further up the road was another old woman sitting on a rock, with her sheep, spinning wool into yarn. Then, to cap off an already memorable walk, the weather cleared up completely so we could see the tallest mountain, Chimborazo, as well as the other surrounding volcanos. Apparently, this doesn’t happen often as evidenced by the local village guide taking just as many pictures as me!

Today, we hit the jackpot with a little spontaneity. On our way to one market, we passed dozens of trucks filled with vegetables lined up along the side of the road to enter another market. So we pulled over, hopped the guardrail, and descended into what was the most authentic market yet! Men and women, in both traditional and Western dress, ran back and forth, with huge bundles of vegetables strapped to their backs. Others were busy negotiating a price while still others, loaded their trucks with their purchases and headed out. It was apparent they don’t often see tourists as evidenced by the stares as we walked by. They were especially intrigued by Eric who is 6’5’ with blond hair and blue eyes.

We finished today with a visit to Quilotoa Lake (Kailyn and Eric did the hike all the way down and back up again) and a stop at an indigenous couple’s traditional adobe home, made out of a combination of straw grass and cow poop. While it was fascinating to see how they live, the Guinea pigs they raise (they are a delicacy here), and the crops they grow, the highlight was definitely holding the 3-day old lamb!

I can’t say the kids are loving all of these experiences. They are totally out of their comfort zone and are often embarrassed that we have inserted ourselves into these people’s lives. For me, this is exactly WHY I want them to have these experiences! I’m glad they are out of their Bay Area bubble and experiencing something totally different than what they are used to at home.