Ever since my sister Julie visited Ecuador last summer, she’s been saying she wanted to come back.  So, in February, she stole away for two weeks and this time, brought my niece Allison.  With only a little direction regarding their desire to enjoy a little culture, a little nature and a little of my family, I put together a 10-day itinerary for a fantastic “girl’s trip”!  Come along for a quick photo summary of our great vacation! 
Ibarra and my Ecuadorian Family
Julie and Allison spent their first four days with my friends and family in Ibarra.  We wandered my daily paths, visited my schools, met many of my fellow teachers and Peace Corps Volunteers, and hung out with my Ecuadorian family.  They were amazed at how connected I was around town; it seemed everybody we met shouted a greeting to “Teacher Becky”!
Julie loved cooking and learning about plants from Margarita, while Allison (who studied marine biology) loved surprising all my cousins with underwater photos from her scuba diving adventures.  
Since Julie’s last trip to Ecuador, she has been busy doing some research on behalf of
Margarita.  Julie, being an artist herself, has hatched a plan to sell some of Margarita’s
beautifully created Christmas decorations in the US.  So, with Margarita’s consent, Julie
packed up many of her creations to carry them back to the US and start selling them in
craft shows and on-line.  Margarita is thrilled at the idea of becoming an international artist!  
Stay-tuned for more about this future business venture!
On another day, Jose took us to a small community festival where he was being honored for electrifying their village.  When we arrived, we were whisked off to the community center where they served all of us a special lunch… including the three Gringas that arrived with the Angamarca Family!  Then, during the lunch, several community members arrived to bestow gifts on Jose and his family: two large fruit baskets and a chicken to take home!  Margarita just rolled her eyes when she saw the chicken.  I was surprised, and inquired if she had ever received a chicken before.  She turned to me and said “Becky, this happens all the time.  We just drop the chicken off at the grandparent’s house before we get home.  That’s why you’ve never seen one at the house before!”  Well, I thought it was great fun to be gifted a live chicken! 
But thanks to 4H and a childhood love of chickens, Allison was the only person
who knew how to hold a chicken and eat her platter of chicken at the same time.  
While Jose went off to give his appreciations to the community, 
us Gringas loved all the attention for the Angamarca Family!  
 We also spent a memorable day at nearby Laguna Cuicocha, 
and the Indigenous Market in Otavalo where Alli found instuments, 
jewelry, paintings, linens, t-shirts and a scarf to take home.  
She couldn’t take home the special sorbet: Helado de Paila!
Then, we spent a memorable evening at a lookout over the city of Ibarra, while Allison
entertained us all with her musicality.  My Ecuadorian family and friends had no idea
what Alli was singing about, but they sure appreciated her beautiful voice!  
The Intag Valley and Mindo (more on the Intag Valley in the next post)

My favorite part of traveling with my sister and her family is that they’re willing
to ride a bus for hours… it’s all part of the adventure in Ecuador! 
Mindo… just the mention of the name sets all Ecuadorians and visitors into a dreamy 
sigh for this vacation paradise in the cloud forest.  Mindo is always on my touring 
circuit because the waterfalls, butterflies, adventure sports and beautiful forests offer 
a little something for everyone!  
After a great day exploring all Mindo had to offer, we opted
for an evening of Scrabble by the river.  Perfect!

After Mindo, we flew to the central-southern part of Ecuador to visit the colonial city of Cuenca.

On our first morning there, we took a walking tour of the historic city center and met a tinsmith… just like Julie.  She had a great time learning a few techniques from him and shopping his treasures.

We also went to the famous hat museum in Cuenca and learned all about 
the history of the Panama Hat… which has always been made in Ecuador! 
Afterwards, we spent a lot of time enjoying the many churches 
and the Colonial architecture of the city. 
By this time, it was Thursday night of Carnaval weekend, and we headed out to see 
how the people of Cuenca celebrated… with espuma!  Espuma comes in a can and it 
smells and  feels like shaving cream.  Carnaval revelers can get really aggressive, 
spraying it in your face or in your ears.  Allison loved the party-in-the-streets and all the fun!

The next day, was our designated “nature day” and we spent it hiking in the beautiful Cajas National Park.  Because this park is situated at over 11,000 feet, we wandered slow and breathed deeply to enjoy all the area had to offer.  On our way back to town, Julie treated us to an evening at a spa complete with mud baths, a chinese “torture” box, and drinks in the hot-tub.  No pictures of the spa, but what a great memory for us all!

In the central highlands of Ecuador lies an ancient astronomical complex created by the Cañari people.  Because it was such a spectacular site, when the Incas arrived to take over the region, they decided to expand on this unique site rather than destroy it.  This is Ingapirca.  It’s Ecuador’s only Incan archeological site, similar to Peru’s Machu Picchu with a fraction of the crowds!  Ingapirca is thought to have been an important site for rituals as well as home to the high priests of the community.  In this site, it is interesting to see the archeological remains of both the Cañari and Incan constructed temples.  Historically, the Cañari used mortar to bind rocks together, but the Incans cut the rocks to precisely fit together.  At this site, there exists a Moon and a Sun Temple used for ritual ceremonies, especially during the time of the solstices when the sunlight shines precisely through a doorway to light up the temple of the Sun.  We had a great day exploring and learning about the history and symbolism of this beautiful place. 
Celebrating Carnaval in Guaranda
In the last few days of our trip, we bussed back up the spine of Ecuador and headed out to the small city of Guaranda, a mountainous town famous for its annual celebration of Carnaval!  Ofcourse, Carnaval is celebrated for several days all over Ecuador, but if a traditional celebration is what you crave, then heading to Guaranda is just the ticket.  Despite a lot of rain and fog, we enjoyed “playing Carnaval” with all the locals.  They too, like their cans of espuma.  But even more so, the locals of Guaranda like to shower unknowing guests with direct spray from their garden hoses and buckets of water dropped from their roofs.  We learned to pile on our raincoats and laugh at all the good fun!
 The streets of Guaranda were all decked out and 
the parade was not to be missed!  
Ecuador, during Carnaval, is extra, extra colorful!
 After the parade, there was lots of music and revelry in the streets.  Allison was armed 
for the party!  She and a local kid had a great time tagging each other all evening long. 
 It really didn’t matter who won!  
Great party!  Great fun!  Always great to have family in Ecuador!