Chimborazo and Salami

On Tuesday we left the fertile green fields of Banos, elevation 1800 meters, and quickly ascended to 4000 meters where the wind swept hillsides are nothing by dust, rocks, and wild packs of Vicuna, a cousin to the llama. Our bus passed within 1 kilometer of Volcan Chimborazo, a volcanic glacier and the farthest point from the center of the earth due to the equatorial bulge. I’ve never seen such dramatic landscape change over just a few hours of travel. 

Barren field at the base of Volcan Chimborazo, elev. 4000 mLush

Lush hillside in Banos, elev. 1800 m

We got dropped off on the side of a dusty unpaved section of the highway, backpacks and all, and waited for the local bus or first pickup to pass that would take us the 30 minutes up the dirt road to the town of Salinas (Salinas de Guaranda, not to  be confused with the Salinas on the coast). Salinas is in our guidebooks, known for a well run cooperative that makes cheese, chocolate, and salami. As soon as we boarded the bus it became very obvious that this was not a common tourist destination. In places like Quito and Banos, foreign backpackers are a common sight and the locals don’t looks twice at the pale giants with huge backpacks piled on. But in Salinas, we were obviously a sight to be seen. In fact, one day while we were mulling around the central square, a group of high school girls who were visiting Salinas from a  nearby town on a school trip shyly approached us to see if we would be so kind as to have our photo taken with them. Over the next 30 minutes we took individual photos with each one of the girls. Oh, the life of a minor celebrity! 

Salinas's church in the central park.

We rented a tiny room in the upstairs of one of the only two hostals for $6/person. The owner, Victor, is from a local family known for their knowledge of local medicinal plants. His brother can heal “any kind of snake bite” with natural methods. Outside our room was a small common area with a wood burning fire place where we’d gather at night to play cards and feast. All we ate for two days was local cheeses (Gouda, Gruyère, Mozarella…all very rare finds for Latin America!), delicious salami, dark chocolate, and boxed wine. It would be a logical assumption that things like dark chocolate and good coffee were easy to come by in South America. But actually, all the good stuff is exported and 95% of the time we are left with instant coffee and nestle milk chocolate. So Salinas was true luxury for us. 

Cristian, a local 18 year old kid, gave us the official Salinas tour for $3/person, organized by the Salinas tourist office. He took us around to see the different enterprises in the cooperative, which besides the famed food items included dried mushrooms, textiles, a local herb/essential oil factory, and soccer ball fabrication (complete with child labor and toxic fumes). he even gave us the special tour that included instructions on how to make hallucinogenic drugs from the seeds of this flower (see below) 

Flowers that make you “fly”. Just soak the seeds in water for 6 months…

Now we’re in Cuenca, a fairly sedate colonial town in the South. Sedate except for the dozen of bars down the street, ALL specializing in karaoke, shwarma, and hookah. Go figure….

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5 Comments

Filed under 3) Ecuador, Uncategorized

5 responses to “Chimborazo and Salami

  1. Courtney Day

    This place sounds amazing. It sounds like you guys are having a great time.

  2. Margo O'Connell

    What kind of guidebook are you using? Cool places, off the beaten track…

  3. What a great business opportunity, someone should open a Starbucks there.

    Dave

  4. julie robertson

    This truly sounds like heaven! Dark chocolate ( sorry cam I know you like milk chocolate) and cheese—Yum. Sounds like quite the smorgasbord of flavors. Coffee and wine too what more could you want. So you had your 30 minutes of instant fame and made those young ladies smile for the rest of the day. I hope you got a picture with them too! Life on the edge–what unique experiences you are having. keep on writing ! love mom/julie

  5. Paxton

    “dried mushrooms” Wow! What kind, wild or cultivated? I assume edible not magic. I am always on the lookout in travels for new mushroom stories and would like more information.

    Sounds like a very nice stop in a very interesting trip. It is fun to read. Good luck in your travels.

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