Saturday, March 12, 2011

Return From Cotacachi

Rachel's ready smile belied what I know to be a deep sadness as we departed our beloved Cotacachi.  Our relatively luxurious condo awaited in Cuenca and with it the creature comforts we've been accustomed to: American TV, all the hot water we wanted, high speed internet, our CD music, DVD's, Play Station 3, our super comfortable bed, our own cooking, and maybe most important of all, our bicycles.  These living elements are available everywhere in Cotacachi but limited in the hostels where we stayed.  With all of those comforts and familiarities awaiting us in Cuenca, it was still difficult to say good bye to our friends, Mt. Cotacachi (behind Rachel in the picture above), and Mt Imbabura, the 'mother' and 'father' of the city of Cotacachi.  Our trip home was smooth and without a hitch.  No we didn't take the bus home!  Quito to Cuenca is less than an hour by air (vs 10 hours by bus), worthy of the extra dollars.  We did however hook up with the Quito bus on the Pan Am highway just outside of Cotacachi where Rachel had a fun time with the toddler in front of us.
Those of you who have travelled in Ecuador know how well behaved the youngsters are here.  They simply don't carry on and make a nuisance of themselves.  They are sweet, a little shy, but inevitably engaging and interested in the gringos that come into their world.  Rachel has learned to keep a package of cookies at the ready in her leather bag so that every little smile that comes to us gets a sweet return.  In some countries such an exchange might not be permitted.  The people of Ecuador still trust us.  I hope we never do anything to lose that trust.

We met new friends in Cotacachi and reunited with Cuenca friends who for one reason or another were there at the same time we were there. 

In fact, at one point we shared a table with four of our very best friends from Cuenca who 'coincidentally?' were in the Imbabura province exploring.  We didn't arrange for the meeting.  It just happened.  Six friends from 300 miles away meet by chance.  Would you believe me if I told you that it was in the Serendipity Cafe in Cotacachi?  The serendipity that we experience in Ecuador is so profound and frequent that we have become accustomed to and even expect it.  Only with careful reflection do we then realize that indeed there is something special and magnificent going on in this place called Ecuador.  I'm pretty sure that the epicenter of this mystical and cosmic place is indeed Cotacachi.  If you've never been to Cotacachi, give your heart, your spirit, and your mind what they long for and visit.  Rachel even had an important birthday (it's impolite to ask) while we were in Cotacachi.  Our good friend Bo from Cuenca (a new transplant to Cotacachi) and Reggie (our new Canadian/American/Cotacachi friend) and I shared Rachel's delightful meal cooked in our hostel's self help kitchen.         

Bo even bought a birthday cake for Rachel.  The serendipity part was that he didn't KNOW it was her birthday!!!!

Our trip to northern Ecuador had a two fold purpose.  We hoped to receive those elusive residency cedulas while in Quito and we hoped to find our new home in Cotacachi.  I'm pretty sure we were at least 50% successful!  Our cedulas can wait.  

We revisted a home in the country between Otavalo and Cotacachi.

The home showed promise, had great privacy, plenty of room, and was in many ways a great 'fixer upper' with unique character.  In the end however, it was the concern over our desire to bike from our home to town that created an insurmountable negative.  The road that passed by was simply to treacherous for our two wheeled passion. 

We spent a lot of time with our friend and favorite developer in Cotacachi.  I met Miguel Mora a year ago when I first came to Cotacachi.  Rachel and I hooked up with him again a couple months ago in our last visit to Cotacachi.  What struck us most profoundly about Miguel in that visit is his respect and passion for Ecuador and the Imbabura province.  His building projects around Otavalo and Cotacachi are done with sensitive care and respect for the indigenous people and the interwoven Spanish colonial culture.  Miguel believes that a development that in any way takes away from the integrity of the countryside or causes concerns among the indigenous should never be built.  Not all developers have this commitment.   His family of highly educated historians, artists, engineers, architects, physicians and statesmen permeate his personality and his vibrant enthusiasm.  Miguel's family reads like the Who's Who of Ecuador.  To Miguel, his good name is more important than revenue.  Quality build, magnificent views, and customer satisfaction are the hallmarks of Miguel's nationally prominent architect, Patricio Galarza.  I was introduced to Miguel's and Patricio's latest project, Yana Pamba, a year ago before they even had permission to build and months before Rachel and I shared our commitment of love for each other.  I knew then there was something special in this project.  Little did I know that I might some day be able to share it with Rachel, the woman I met as a girl of 12.  Then again, I should expect serendipity in major proportions here.

Miguel is careful to explain how his construction methods deny water migration from the ground to the walls of his homes.

and how extra care in engineering assures earthquake resistance

two obvious enemies to homes built in Ecuador.

Foundations are built with aeration and strength in mind.  They are broader and deeper than any other construction in the area.   An impermeable rubber membrane between the foundation and the home walls keep water migration and necessary wall maintenance to a negligible level.  Patricio does extensive soil testing before construction to insure foundation stability and construction does not disturb the soil surface except in the foundation channels.

Fire brick is used in the walls of Miguel's construction.  It is more expensive but ultimately much stronger than the more commonly used adobe brick commonly found in other local construction.

 Open beam ceilings are beautiful, strong, and are treated for another enemy of construction in Ecuador....termites.

Even the porch roofs are built with beauty and structural integrity in mind.

Awe inspiring views from Yana Pamba include pastoral fields speckled with dairy cows

The river gorge below

and the sometimes shy father of Cotacachi, Mt. Imbabura

  We intended to be gone a week to 10 days.  Three plus weeks later we returned to Cuenca.  I'm amazed that our plants survived the neglect.  The Imbabura experience still lingers as a dream yet slowly fades as we reacclimate to the faster pace of city life in Cuenca.   Rachel, my anchor and gift from God, shares my surealistic feeling about our latest adventure.  God willing, we will return to the Imbabura to build our home.