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where is laura? Live your questions now, and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into your answers. Rainer Maria Rilke

weekend in Isinlivi

ECUADOR | Tuesday, 20 December 2005 | Views [4160] | Comments [2]

The first question I was asked when I told  the director at the school that I was going to Isinlivi, was Where is that? and second, ¨How do you pronounce that?  well the first I can now answer.. the second still remains unclear exactly.

I decide to take the weekend and travel with another laura (the other student at the school) to find out about this mysterious place.

friday morning I take the bus from Quito to Latacunga, a small city on the panamerica highway south about 2 hours. Leaving Quito felt very exciting, a new adventure...we soon quickly left the dense sprawl of the city  and headed into the rich valley of Cotapaxi Cotapaxi is the jewel of Ecuador, a majestic snowcapped volcano which looms in the landscape, when it´s not too cloudy....

Arriving in Latacunga I had 2 hours to kill after I bought my bus ticket for the next leg of the trip to Isinlivi. The bus terminal was surprisinly orderly compared to others I  had tried to nativage. Above each bus hung a sign with the destination, and plenty of drivers and such standing around outsider eager to help you. And wouldnt you know this town no one has heard of has 2 buses taking off, one at noon and one at 1pm. That was the problem I had read about this region where I was headed, known as the Quilatoa circuit (a network of small indiginous towns... tied together with a series of trails) transport was sparse and limited due to the bad dirt roads and remote location.

It´s 10:30, I buy my bus ticket for 12:45 and walk into town, a hustling center, narrow streets, forcing you to pass single file on the side walk. I found a place for fried chicken, fried potatoes and cola for $1. done, this will tie me over until dinner... I buy a copy of Super Diaro on my way back to the bus (the local sensational paper with the headline story announcing  how much the price of potatoe has risen, and inside nothing but all the muders and scandals of the day).

On the bus I sit next to an older indiginous woman, wearing a beige sweater and traditional black small brimmed felt hat. Her fingers were swollen and cooked. In her lap she held a woven basket full of mangos, and a sac full of rice and grains rested between her legs on the floor. Somehow she managed to sleep on what would turn out to be a typically very bumpy ride on dirt and cobblestone roads...

The ride itself was its own experience. We are in the middle of nowhere, green hilly landscapes engulf us. Around each turn, there is another valley, another hillside divided into small plots of land and small structures which function as houses, some more sophisticated than others.. but all very very basic. Throughout the trip the passengers yell ¨gracias¨ and that signals the driver to stop and a family would exit the bus and start the walk to their house, which in most cases was completely out of view from the road, tucked away somewhere in the near distance.  The driver controls the music, a loud selection of standard radio fare (and by that I mean spanish pop radio).. its the only sign that we havent really been transported back in time...

The bus was full when we started and when we arrive at the final destination it´s about 1-3 full. 2 and a half hours later we arrive. I ask the bus driver where the hostel is (by this time it´s clear there is only 1 in town), and he tells me one block over, and one block up. The town itself is about 4 blocks square. 1 chuch, always, 1 school, a concrete playground in the middle for sports, and 1 tienda which sells batteries, bread, tunafish and cheese puffs. Later I found out there are 2 phones in the whole village, and only 1 works. But rest assured in case of emergency there is a walkie talkie system set up in the church... however it only calls other churches. There are 2 cars, one donkey, and a few horses.  Welcome to Isinlivi.

Yet somehow there is this hostel llullu llama, in the middle of it all. 2 German guys (yoyo and  york) and myself  and laura exit the bus and make our way there.I read about this place in the guidebook, and I would recommend it to anyone. Inside we are greeted by this dark skinned girl (andrea), who turns out to be from Canada and her boyfriend patrick. They are working as volunteers for 6 months in exchange for lodging and food.. its a bit like house sitting, since it´s never very crowded. On this friday night, the three of us are the only guests. (well, and andrea´s parents who are visiting from canada). It´s a cozy remodeled house, bamboo woven ceilings, lots of well crafted details, a nice herb and vegetable garden, composting tolilet, lots of hammock chairs, an amazing view and a very hot shower.

 We decide to sleep in the attic ¨dormitory¨for $5 a piece per night. It´s all very very  charming. After we get settled we all chat over tea and popcorn in the sitting room which has a nice cozy fireplace. We peruse the books of trails in the surrounding area and decide on our activities for tomorrow.

Dinner is an additional $5 (or you can opt to go to a woman´s house in town and she cooks you chicken and rice... the germans opted for this). I heard (in my book) the dinner was wonderful, and it was. A full vegetarian meal complete with soup, cornmeal pancakes filled with guacamole, brocolli salad, heart of palm sauce... and chocolate carrot cake for desert. Que rico!

The next morning I embark on a day hike to the next ¨town¨ of Guantalo and loop around back to the hostel. The whole day I pass about 10 people in the fields working and a large group of boys in the town playing socer. I passed one man on a horse, and a woman walking with her burro. no cars as I can remember, and I spent a good deal of time on the road. Lots of farm animals, sheep, horses, cows, pigs... from a short distance I may see a few kids at a house nearby, I would greet them, and they just giggle and laugh.. its fun to fee like some type of space alien who landed in their village.

The hike was amazing, uphill, down hill, uphill, down hill.. the next day my legs and butt were reminding me. fields, farms, green, green, green.. little houses spotting the country side (see photos). Eventually I make it back and I´m pooped, it´s only 1pm, but I got an early start, because it´s been raining every afternoon around 2pm.I spend the rest of the day, reading misc books and wandering around town watching the kids play volley-soccer ball in the square. At 6pm the chuch bell rings and everyone goes.

We had another wonderful meal at that time... the night was full of rum drinking and talking politics. we talked about east-german  west-german living (yoyo is from hamburg in the west- and york is from east berlin) and history... language, culture, the ever popular, are you an idealist or a realist when thinking about the world we live in, economics, social change, etc. it was quite lively, and interesting... esp to see the parallels between the ¨lesser of 2 evils¨ kerry -bush debate translate into curent german elections.. where now  seemingly opposite parties are being forced to work together in a new coaltion. we talked a lot about travelling, work, whatever we could muster up between the long pauses and bottle passing.

the next day we say our goodbyes. we take some pictures with anica, the crazy old woman who lives next door. she has 3 identical white dogs of different ages, and apparently loves to be in pictures. she doesn´t really seem to speak any particular language, but you can communicate with her nonetheless... she just seems to grunt, bahh, etc. she´s very cute.see the photo. (inside her house patrick tells us she has an inflatable nexk pillow, the kind used on an airplace, and a  jesus collage abover her bed.

It´s 8¨30 and I head for Sigchos on foot, the nearest town where I can get a bus to Latacunga. It´s all fairly downhill and flat, I´m told, until the last  2miles (feels like 10) which are all uphill, but >I can probably get a ride since there are trucks which go to the markets on sundays and pick up people at the b ottom of the hill. of course by the time I make it to where the hill starts its 11, and people are already coming back in the other direction.  in total this walk took about 3 and half hours on the road mostly. I was supposed to ¨just¨follow the river... instead I followed a trail which brought me the road.. after asking whoever I passed along the way (again, all 4 people) they confirmed i was headed in the right direction. there is only one road, this I knew, it was just a matter of going the right way... it was quite a beautful, but exhasting walk, I was very glad when I made it to Sigchos and found a bus right away to latacunga. was not even interested in spending time in the market at that point, I just wanted to sit down.

The bus takes off, a steven segal movie starts to play, and a light drizzle begins to fall... I doze on and off until I arrive back in latacunga. finally arrive in quito  by 5pm, sleep until dinner.. eat.. then go right back to sleep  by 8:30.

what a wonderful time I had.. it was a bit sad to come back to the hustle, the smog, all the people.. no sheep around. but hey if I ever want the full experience.. 6 months of working there, I´m sure it could be arranged...


Tags: The Great Outdoors



Laura I enjoyed your posting and pictures. We were at the hostel in January and really enjoyed it. Patrick and Andrea are now off to another location in Ecuador. We miss them and they miss Isinlivi. Nancy (Patrick's mother)

  Nancy Johnson Feb 1, 2006 2:45 AM


Hi Laura,
Great story? Your writing makes me really exited to go there. In January I will start as a volunteer in Isinlivi, teaching children a the schools around, for 3 months. Only the bus trip seems scary, but the peacefull living you describe is exactly the atmosfere I am looking for!
Kind Regards, Georgie (The Netherlands)

  Marjoleine Nov 5, 2006 2:59 AM



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