Horse back riding at the Black Sheep Inn..
Decided to go horseback riding today with Lisa, an English volunteer working at the BSI, and Peg and Barbara, with Umberto our guide. Set off at 9:30am, my horse is called Gardenia and likes to nip the other horses (hmmm a little worrying as her and i canter off together..). We went first to the local cheese factory (yes, thats right,in the middle of the highlands there is a wee cheese factory set up by Swiss AID in 1978). Queseria Quilotoa was one of the first established and is now locally owned and co-operatively operated by the people from the nearby villages. The factory makes Mozzarella, Emental, Tilsit and Andino. Who knew? And of course i had to try them all - delicious, of course!
We rode on some more and stopped for lunch at the edge of this beautiful canyon that is apparantly covered in millions of colorful flowers during the spring months - alas for us it was a little later in the year and a tad chillier so we didnt see the flowers but it was still lovely. Many of the plants and flowers that grow in the cloud forest have been used for years by the local people for medicinal purposes - Umberto picked a few different plants with incredible fragrances for us to smell - chocolate, mint, lemon and thyme!
After lunch, we headed into the cloud forest for a mini-hike! It is quite an interesting place for a number of reasons- obviously the amazing plants and flowers and bugs and stuff..... check out this wierd plant - and also because of the recent ecological strides that have been made to protest the cloud forest in this part of Ecuador! INEFAN, the Ecuadorian National Park Service, declared this area part of the Iliniza Ecological Reserve in 1996. The reserve is approx. 149,000 hectares including the Iliniza Twin Peaks, the Laguna Quilotoa and a huge track of cloud forest. Unfortunately, there is no control in the area and chain saws can still be heard most days on the parts of the forest that are not in the reserve. The cloud forest is caused by hot coastal weather which rises up into the mountains, technically called Andean Humid Forest (I´m becoming a nature geek i think!). Unfortunately, because of better road access and the local people´s increasing need for resources, much of the forest near the top has been cut down. It´s a shame there isn´t a way to give people what they need without having to destroy natural resources to get those things - but i know im being idealogical and of course it is happening all over the world, not just in Ecuador! It would be interesting to come back in 10 or 20 years time and see how much of this beautiful place is left!
A bitter-sweet story from today. Our guide, Umberto, told Peg about a terrible accident that had happened recently. Peg listened intently then translated for us non-Spanish speaking folks.... a wee boy had been riding his horse and was attacked by a bunch of killer sheep! The horse was killed and the little boy was rushed to intensive care (Umberto said he was out of danger now). We all looked slightly perplexed and said "killer sheep" - there are such animals in Ecuador??? Hmmn.. a little translation issue - sheep in Spanish is "oveja", bees are "abeja" so they are very very similar words in spelling and pronunciation, but it was actually a swarm of killer bees involved in this situation and not the sheep!!! We did have a giggle about it but only after checking the wee boy was ok...so dont think badly of us!!
Here are a couple of local children we saw at the end of our trek in Chugchulan - aren´t they cute! Chugchulan is a very interesting place.. only 100 people live in the village, but over 300 children attend school here! The parents all want their children to go here because they see it as the best! The Black Sheep Inn has become a big part of the community and is very involved in providing the school with materials including computers (you can go on their website and read more at http://www.blacksheepinn.com). There are so many children that the younger ones go to school for the morning session and the older ones who have "graduated" go in the afternoons. You should see these children, walking along the roads at 5 and 6am, perfectly turned out in immaculate uniforms - it is quite amazing to see how much they want to go to school (not sure if the wee children in the pic go to school - apparantly, it is a problem in Ecuador, especially in the Highlands, where parents need their children to work on the farms instead of going to school, but many do attend and there are tons of schools from Chugchulan through the Highlands and down into Latacunga!) And lots of the schools are bi-lingual too - with teachers having classes in both Quechua (the traditional language and Spanish!)...its quite amazing what you learn as you travel i have to say..
Well, that´s it for now, we have to go to bed as its an early day tomorrow - a 4am bus we have to catch - oh dear!!!!