Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Quito and Yunguilla

Happy New Year! We're back from an amazing 10 day trip to Ecuador. It was the first significant amount of time away from Quinn for both of us (she stayed with my parents and picked up several new words!) And while it didn't kill us, the last few days were tough. At any rate we are all happily reunited and have pictures! This post is the first of three -- the next two will have much more about the Amazon rain forest.

We went on a trip organized by Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based group that does socially responsible tourism among other activisty things. The goal was to learn about social and environmental justice issues in Ecuador, particularly around the issues of fair trade, oil extraction and indigenous rights.

We flew into Quito, perched at 9,300 feet above sea level (you definitely feel the altitude). The city is hilly and sprawled across a long narrow valley (in the shadow of an active volcano) and reminds me at least a little of San Francisco. Quito used to be one of the Incan capitals, although they burned it to the ground to prevent the Spaniards from taking it. As a result it doesn't have the astounding architectural history that you see in Mexico City or Rome, but the people, the descendants of the Incas and others, are still there and still holding tightly to their culture.

Our first morning in Quito we had breakfast at a coffee shop run by the Kallari cooperative. In addition to handicrafts and coffee, the Quichua-run cooperative makes particularly delicious chocolate bars which they have begun directly marketing to Whole Foods in the U.S. The filtered coffee they served was also a rarity -- in Ecuador the good coffee typically leaves on boats and the locals mostly drink instant.

That afternoon we visited Yunguilla, a rural community north of Quito overlooking a dramatically beautiful valley, that decided in the 90s to move toward ecotourism and away from logging as a means of making a living. Gallindo, a young community leader, gave us the story of their project, as well as a tour of their community projects and the lush cloud forest that draws in visitors. Ecotourism seems to have brought the community some level of self-sufficiency, although from Gallindo's story it was apparent that the path was not always easy. On the ride back to Quito we stopped to take photos at the Mitad del Mundo - the monument marking the (approximate) location of the equator.

After many adventures (stay tuned), we returned to Quito for one last day before our flight out. In the morning we visited the Capilla del Hombre, a museum featuring the work of Oswaldo Guayasamin, one of Ecuador's most famous and influential modern artists, and spent the afternoon wandering around the Old Town.

Anyway, here are the pictures:

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