It was the Face of the Inca that greeted us on the descent into Apuela. I still don't know whether the Face was sculpted by man or by nature, but it is an amazing likeness none the less.
Apuela is a functional, no frills Andean farm town. A general store sells fertilizer, cement, fencing supplies, veterinary medicines, paint and nails. Another store sells sandpaper and light bulbs. Like many other pueblos in Ecuador, the tiendas in Apuela don't necessarily sell a logical array of goods. It's just what the vendor decides to sell. Once you get used to this system of commerce you have made your first step in acclimating to Ecuadorian retail.
Likewise, the transportation system fits the roads or the lack of them. Buses from Cotacachi and Otavalo reach Apuela once or twice a day subject to washouts and rock slides. Once in Apuela your transportation locally is in a truck-bus (see above picture) when a sufficient number of pasajeros induce the local conductor to fire up the engine. Uncle Juan may also be able to offer a ride in his pickup. Otherwise caballos are an excellent choice if the distance is long, the grade is steep, and the roads are missing. If you're not fortunate to have access to a horse, then your God-given feet do just fine.
When the work is done Ecuadorians like to play. They are as good at play as they are at work. I'd put this local team against some of the best college teams in the US. Their teamwork and athleticism is amazing.
After about four blocks we reach the other side of Apuela and are headed again to the campo (countryside). Our next stop is the smaller pueblo of Cuellaje.
Cuellaje is laid back, neat, and clean. Everyone says Ecuador is like the US in the 1950s. I beg to differ. Every city and town is different. Cuenca is uber-modern with some wonderful historic architecture. Cuellaje is more like 1930's or 1940's Midwestern USA with a Latin twist. Since cell phones don't work here there's a bit of an isolation factor. Even the road doesn't get you to the big time (Cotacachi) in a hurry. Nobody is in a hurry anyway, so what's the point. Let's face it, technology, communication, and infrastructure changes culture. I like the culture here just fine.
Even the residential areas of Cuellaje are tidy albeit weathered. All things man-made have a story, a history, and a bit of soul. Would I live here? Well, not yet. If the world comes tumbling down, definitely. Cuellaje doesn't need the rest of the world.
So now we're on the short leg of the trip from Cuellaje to Lee's little casita in the campo.
The views along the road are like that in Fellowship of the Rings. I kept expecting Bilbo Baggins to step out on the road at any time. Instead it was Juan Valdez' son Juanito. Well, use your imagination. If you go on this trip and don't fall a little more in love with Ecuador then you don't have a heart anyway.
So now we're off to Lee's casita with the floor tile and the unloading process.
We can only get so close to the casita with the truck
So I finally get to contribute a little to Lee's adventure in Andean homesteading.
Lee's slippery little dug out steps down to his house weren't the best match for carrying 50 lb packages of tile. We all wanted the tile and our limbs to be unbroken so using the grassy slope was the better bet to achieve our mission.
Lee and Susan's casita will soon be the 'weekend retreat' where guys go to tell tall tales, drink cerveza, listen to the roaring river, catch trucha (trout) and help Lee plant his many thousands of coffee plants and bananas. I'm pretty sure Susan is going to be a willing weekend sojourner as well, but I think we'll have to do a few updates in the kitchen first.
Lee turns dreams into reality though and you can see the makings of something really fun happening soon.
From Lee's little outpost near Cuellaje we all jumped in Patricio's truck and headed to an oasis of food and comfort at Nalgunvi Restaurante and Hostel.
Lauren, Patricio and Lee were ready for some delicious food by the time we got to Nalgunvi.
We didn't even have to catch our own trucha
Los frijoles fueron enormemente deliciosos también. The beans were enormously delicious also.
Nalgunvi is also home to some wonderful hot baths from the natural volcanic hot water sources. People from Quito have discovered this and have taken the bumpy and sometimes treacherous road all the way from the capital city to enjoy a relaxing weekend.
For Lee and Patricio and me this was male bonding time. Patricio built Lee and Susan's house nearly a year ago. He is nearly finished with Rachel's and my house now. Patricio has made our life in Ecuador just a little closer to Heaven.
After lunch our journey continued to the second goal of our trip: to see if Patricio could build a bridge across a raging river for Lauren. Along the way we encounter a few more granjas (farms)
and a few young granjeros (farmers).
Lauren was excited to show Patricio the river by her property that she had been telling him about.
Just a little river......
Once on the other side of the river we walked up a steep trail that led us ultimately to Lauren's land.
Patricio kept sizing up the river and the banks on both sides. He knew that torrential rains would swell the river to three times the size it was this day. A well built bridge could be swept away in an instant if not anchored by heroic engineering means......
To find out about the rest of this story tune in next year at this time!
Patricio took us next to his own land in the Intag. His land lies directly adjacent to Rio Apuela. You could tell that this land meant more to him than any other earthly possession, including his beautiful Mercedes!
Our trip home was without much chatter. We were all tired. Patricio is a wonderful driver and he made a dangerous and surly road pleasant and beautiful. I'm sure in his mind Patricio was contemplating all the challenges that lay ahead in designing and building a bridge over that raucous river. What materials and equipment will he use? How will he get them there? Can he get the skilled labor he needs within walking distance? Will the bridge be a blessing or a curse?
Patricio can build you a house in Yanapamba II much easier.