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Published: July 31st 2009
JULY 15. GUARANDA. 2500m. PARQUE SIMON BOLIVAR. PEOPLE WATCHING. TIME TO KILL. "Took advantage of a straight believing town, tore the bandage..look who is bleeding now" -SILVERCHAIR
I said goodbye to Latacunga and jumped on a bus to Ambato where I would make a connecting bus to Guaranda. I had no intitial plans on visiting Guaranda but it was on the way to Guayaquil and it also appeased my new found desire for getting lost in small mountain towns. Although my collective bus experience may as yet be limited to three bus rides, if there is one trip I would recommend it would be the journey between Ambato and Guaranda. Spectacular views and compelling interactions between the locals. The most interesting aspect of this trip for me though was observing the sometimes subtle and often dramatic changes in the mountainous environment.
In my biological studies in high school, I remember learning that at one stage South America, Australia and South Africa once shared the same pre-historic land mass known as Gondwanaland. As such, similiar plant species can be found among all three continents. I was still stunned though, to find my bus climbing up from Ambato, winding
its way through groves of eucalyptus and proteacae. If a Koala had of fallen out of one of the gum trees I wouldn't at all have been surprised...I could have easily been driving through the Blue Mountains in Australia.
Passing even higher the scenery quietly changed into cloudy paramo..Andean high altitude grasslands and scrublands. The soil here is wet and peaty and the shrubbery stands no taller than a metre high. Although a highly specialized habitat there still appeared to be agricultural work practiced on these slopes...quite impressive considering that some fields lie on more than a 45 degree angle...the pastural lands looked like they had been draped across the rolling mountains.
We were now on the highest paved road in Ecuador. At 4000m the air began to thin and so did the vegetation. With Mt. Chimbarozo (The closest point to the sun and furthest from the centre of the earth) coming into view, I felt like I was passing through some martian landscape. Bleak, desolate and strikingly beautiful. At a glance you would not expect anything to be living up here. Look closely though and you would notice that life does exist and indeed thrive...lichens, mosses, lizards,
insects, falcons and the Great Andean Condor all call this other-worldy ecosystem home. I find places like this very special...a true testament to the persistance of life, given half a chance it will find a way to cling on in even the most inhospitable of places. The crosses that lined the shoulder of the highway marking the drop off, a sombre reminder of the fragility of our own existence.
Just as quickly as we came over the mountains, we now descended once again through the Eucalyptus groves on our way down to Guaranda. Unfortuntately there was no terminal stop for this bus and no sign to let this gringo know that he had arrived. It wasnt until the bus was halfway out of town that it dawned on me that I had missed my stop..the driver wasn´t too impressed but he let me off and I hiked the 3 kms back into town. For the first time on this trip I felt lost in the truest sense of the word. Not sure if it was exhaustion, but in the smallest town I had visited yet, I couldnt make head or tails of my map and it took me an
hour to find the hostal I was looking for.
After a quick nap at the hostal, I stepped out on to the cobbled streets to see what Guaranda, the capital of Bolivar province had to to offer. Centred around Parque Simon Bolivar the town is small enough to walk around and see the sights in half a day...the surrounding hills offering brilliant views of the valley town and Vulcan Chimbarozo. The people although very stately and elegantly dressed in their Andean mountain attire, didnt seem the most open to travellers...yet polite and dignified all the same. Tucked into one of the old adobe buildings I came across probably the best reason to come to Guaranda...an artists cafe called 7 Los Santos. Stepping through into the central garden courtyard was beautiful enough, but walking through into the rooms behind was like falling down the rabbit hole. An eclectic mix of art, instruments and plants kept me intrigued for hours...dining tables set up as if ready to recieve Alice herself.
I would have liked to have taken more photos on this trip. I didnt alltogether feel comfortable taking my camera out on the bus and when I did it was
rushed..which is unfortunate beacause the photo opportunities here were amazing. In Guaranda itself, it seemed as if the whole town turned out to pay respect and mourn the death of some local dignitary..the funeral procession lasted all afternoon and there was a definite mood blanketing the town...I didnt want to be "that" guy sticking my camera in peoples faces.
The last three days have been spent getting up close and personal with the locals. Having completely thrown myself into the deep end, I now feel a lot more comfortable with my surroundings and excited for the adventures ahead. For the moment though I am looking forward to getting to Guayaquil...a friend from high school is now living there and it will be great to catch up...we havent seen each other in over 10 years. I am quickly finding out though that here in South America, there is just as much, if not more to experience getting somewhere as there is once you finally get there...tomorrow, another 5 hour bus trip.
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