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Intag II

Our last Ecuador Living Update introduced the Intag and explained that Ecuador was named by National Geographic Magazine as one of the top ten adventure destinations for 2007. One reason for this is a huge national forest called Intag not far from where we live in Cotacachi. This area is not only the home of excellent organic coffee, but is filled with adventure as you learn here in the second of this series on Intag from Steve, our man in Ecuador, about his recent journey to Intag.

The Intag – An Introduction

Few know it and even fewer go there, but just 15 miles away from temperate, warm Cotacachi lies the hidden, little known tropical valley of the Intag. It is almost a hidden valley, because though close, Intag is a bone-jarring two and a half hour ride by car. Intag is not easily accessed but those who make the effort and sample its delights return again and again.

Steve and two Ecuador Living readers arrived in Intag and immediately met a wonderful family who helped them buy handicrafts created by the Intag. Feeling enthused and blessed after such an impromptu buying experience, they headed to Apuela the first real town in the Intag. This is where Steve’s adventures continue. He writes:

“On the final approaches to Apuela, the first sizable town, (more large village) in the Intag valley we took a sharp curve hugging the steep upward slope to our right. To our left and below, we saw a remarkable view stretching in to the distance. Far below, on a spur of land above the valley floor was Apuela hemmed in by green cliffs on both sides. Here is this view.

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The valley floor has been carved by the rapid white waters of River Intag rushing headlong towards the Pacific. This valley appears to be no more than a quarter of a mile wide and much less in places. I have sat by this river many times and wondered how many gallons pass by each second. Lots!

I contemplated how many hundreds of similar rivers in Ecuador rush to the same destination. Here is the Intag River .

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Apuela itself is a mix of concrete and rustic buildings lining the main road into town. Local produce spills from little stores. Now and again a sign offers accommodations or lunch. Out taxi driver Isaak relaxes now that the mud holes are behind us. We stopped at the main square for lunch. This is Saturday and many of the shops and the few offices that exist are closed.

Sunday is market day in Apuela. Saturdays are always slow and to aggravate the situation, tomorrow is an election day throughout the country. This is a special election to decide whether Ecuador should have a people’s constitutional assembly. Voters will have a simple “yes” or “no” vote. This upcoming event seems enough for locals to stay inside and enjoy this Saturday as a day of rest.

We are not the only outsiders in town. Ecuador ’s voting laws require that it’s citizens return to their town of birth to vote. On days before elections, buses are full. Small towns like Apuela see their former inhabitants return, from the big cities like Quito , to cast their vote. Families re-unite. Beer and liquor flow despite laws forbidding alcohol sales around election time.

At the local square a young girl called Carla takes us under her wing. Perhaps we look lost. She appoints herself our guide and immediately shows us a restaurant we had passed on the way into town. Not all the returning locals are eating with their families because the restaurant is full. Many bowls of soup and plates of trout and chicken are being served as we tuck into our huge portions.

We are in Intag primarily for an excursion with Ecuador Living readers Bonnie Keogh and Jimmie Berg but whilst here I was determined to visit the Intag Coffee Company.

In El Meson we only serve the delicious, organic coffee from Intag. One of Gary ’s readers tested Intag coffee for acidity and it scored a remarkable 6.4 on the ph scale. Most coffee is very more acidic. I’m no expert on living healthily but I’m reliably informed that no diseases can flourish in an alkaline body, so in that respect a coffee with a ph value of 6.4 is not only a rarity but also is relatively healthy.

After eating her fill, our self appointed guide Carla was ready to show us the coffee ‘company’. I had no idea what to expect and discovered that the Intag Coffee Company is a cooperative located in a small cement and wood construction just off the main square. We could smell coffee aromas even before we entered the main door. Here are Carla and Isaak looking at the huge bags of raw beans brought to the roasting house by the farmers of this cooperative.

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Though a small operation Intag Coffee sales are steadily growing and demand often exceeds supply. The cooperative’s aim is fair trade and they pay far higher prices to local farmers than the Ecuador norm. The coop grades the beans In the roasting and packing centre. Then begin the roasting procedure. In Intag one can buy wholesale or retail, with packaging or without. Raw, white beans are available to roast or roasted whole or ground coffee is sold. There is a selection of three roasts; expresso, medium or fine. Here is the roaster machine and the beans

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Though small, this operation is seemingly very efficient. They export to Spain and Japan though not yet to the USA or Canada . Here´s a picture of ther Japanese Intag, fair trade, organic coffee packaged and ready to go.

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We left the roasting house desperate for a cup of coffee but ironically couldn’t find a place in Apuela that served Intag coffee. Sadly, many of the restaurants and cafes throughout Ecuador serve Nescafe instant coffee. I’ve seen Nescafe even served on silver trays, a beautiful presentation, but still Nescafe. If by some negligible chance you are a Nescafe marketing executive reading this, please allow yourself a pat on the back; you have achieved the equivalent of selling ice to the Eskimos or sand to the Saudis.

We decided to seek out the raw ingredient of Intag organic coffee. All around Apuela and scattered throughout the Intag are small farms that supply the cooperative with the raw beans. Having enjoyed thousands of cups of coffee in my lifetime I was more than a little curious to see a real, on the branch, coffee bean for the first time. Having seen the little red beans I’m now puzzled as to who was the first person to come up with the idea of cooking such beans for a beverage. Here is an Intag farmer picking coffee.

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After dropping Carla at her house we looked for accommodation for the night. Despite the influx of visitors who needed to vote the next day we found a beautiful place Nangulvi cabins and pools, just 3 miles from Apuela.

Nangulvi is a cluster of cabins and a restaurant/bar around some beautifully landscaped pools fed by hot springs . The River Intag rushes by outside the restaurant terrace. Here is Nangulvi Lodge.

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The springs are an absolute delight. After settling into our cabins we headed straight for a soak in the hot pools. There are many each with a different temperature. We were joined by Ecuadorians, Colombians and Spanish. The surroundings are beautiful with many varieties of plants growing in the gardens. We listened to the river crashing past and absorbed the green hillsides that surrounded us.

Here are the Nangulvi hot spring pools.

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Then the restaurant called our names so we went for a riverside dinner followed by an Intag coffee – Yes!!

After an excellent dinner we strolled. Here is Bonnie in the wonderful Nangulvi gardens.

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And some of the stunning colors there.

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Next morning we had a delightful riverside breakfast. After a few photos we climbed into Isaak’s taxi for the ride home and stopped in Apuela. The town was heaving with people. More so than many Ecuadorian market towns. The market in Apuela is a social event as much as a commercial gathering. Everywhere little groups huddled together talking, watching, playing cards or dominos.

Local produce is sold, organic marmalades, products made from Cabuye, the fiber of the agave cactus plant. There was even a German girl doing volunteer work selling a community newspaper written, edited and printed by an American lady, who it turns out has lived in the Intag for many years. Carla asked us if we wanted to be shown anything else. We sadly had to say “no” another time.

The route back to Cotacachi was as difficult as the journey in. Isaak drove wonderfully, balancing safety and progress. Coming over the pass and back into the central Andean valley and our home in Cotacachi calls for an adjustment to the senses. One moment we are in the tropics and another in a warm, temperate climate. Reflecting on this short trip I know I’m not done with the Intag. This is a magical place. I have just scratched its surface. Watch this space for more on Intag!

Steve

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