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DC’s Bananas

Today we left Quito  and headed for Samuels. We planned to meet him in a small mountain town at the market. We got started a little later than we had planned and this combined with a slightly wrong turn extended our travel into the evening.

We drove along the Pan American highway (this road goes all the way to Argentina) and took in some of the most beautiful scenery. Bright green mesas and plateaus. Gardens of all types. And indigenous people in their native dress – bright pink ponchos, long skirts, golden necklaces topped off with smart fedoras.

Samuel and his lovely wife Anita were waiting for us just outside of the Zumbahua market (about 10,000 feet above sea level) and by the time we arrived (after 1 o’clock) the market was beginning to close down. After quickly exchanging hugs and kisses with our friends, we walked through and bought some food. DC purchased a mixed bag of bananas. They were all about half the size of what we know as a banana and their colors varied. The first tasted like a cross between an apple and a banana. And once we all had one taste, we wanted more. So, DC’s bag of bananas was compromised – and thoroughly enjoyed. I think he got away with uno banana.

We meet our friends Samuel and Anita at the Zumhahua Market

We continued our travels up into the Andes to Lake Quilotoa, a beautiful volcanic crater we had planned to see. We passed through a kind of “toll booth” and drove a bit farther to a thoughtfully planned artisan market a stones throw from the crater.

Down to just one of DC’s bananas (none of us wanted to be “responsible” for eating the last one) – we were all grateful to see Anita laying out a delicious picnic as we tumbled out of the van. Tuna fish sandwiches, cheese, crusty bread and cured meat that was produced in Salinas, the next town we are planning to visit.

The crater reminded me of an alpine lake. A long windy trail leads down (an incline of well over 1,000 feet) and according to the German couple we encountered who were just completing it, it takes about two hours (round-trip) to hike down-and-back. There is also the option of hiking around the crater – which is a seven-hour round trip.

After a quick bite, we were on the road again heading for Quevedo and Samuel’s farm. We started our descent into the Amazon River basin and the air began to change immediately from arid and cool to sweet and heady. I was reminded of the contrast between the variety of climates in Ecuador, and was once again seduced by the sights and smells of the tropics.

It had been raining on and off throughout the trip and this time, I stuck my head out the window and let the rain drench me as we drove. I was struck by thinking about all that I was taking in with my eyes – and how it’s a much different thing to take in your experiences with your eyes and your heart. At that moment, descending into the tropics of the rainforest, I felt it. In my heart.

We turned into Samuel and Anita’s drive and after bottoming out a number of times, I am pretty certain our driver Fernando was glad when we opted to hop out and walk. We traversed the last ¼ mile through the grove of cacao trees, to Samuels casa with the van behind us – lighting the way.

Anita had prepared a delicious meal (chicken stew) for our group and we shared a lot of laughs and headed off to bed.

Looking forward to tomorrow – harvesting cacao, pruning the trees and discussing the difference between the CCN-51 variety of cacao and the Tradicional that Samuel cultivates.

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Off to the fields

As we motor through the rainy Andes Central Cordillera, navigating washed out roads and switchback after switchback, I know we’re in good hands
with our gentle but stalwart driver, Fernando. Today we’ll visit
one of the highest peaks in the Northern Andes Range, Cotopaxi:
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cotopaxi And then it’s off to learn
about the informal economy of Ecuador, largely an indigenous one,
at the Zumbahua market where you can purchase a llama (adult for
$40, baby for $20) and a quintal of potatoes for less than $.20. In
the afternoon we’ll visit a cacao collection station with our good
buddy, and cacao industry rogue, Samuel. He’s an ex-Nestle
agricultural scientist who, after leaving his post there, purchased
a poorly performing R&D coffee farm from Nestle only to
return it to viability and sell it back to them later for a
substantial profit. Samuel is the undisputed genius behind the
preservación and propagation of Ecuador’s Nacional cacao species,
purported as a much higher quality (although lower-yielding)
variety than the newly dominate hybrid species CCN–51.