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Intag Ecuador

Intag forest is one reason why Ecuador was named by National Geographic Magazine as one of the top ten adventure destinations for 2007. Intag, a huge Ecuador national forest is 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 first of a series 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.

Here in Cotacachi we feel well connected to the rest of Ecuador. There are two paved feeder roads that reach out and connect us to the Pan American Highway, just 5 miles from the village. We are only two hours from the airport in downtown Quito. Two other routes, more like country lanes, wind ambiguously out of Cotacachi to the north and the last route heads purposefully out of town to the southwest and up to Cuicocha Crater Lake, formed 3,000 years ago by a massive volcanic explosion.

Cuicocha is a marvel to behold and a wonderful hike can be made around the rim at 10,000 feet above sea-level. The photo below hasn’t been tampered with. The color of the lake really is this breathtaking.

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This is as far as most tourists get and indeed most Ecuadorians. There is a nip to the air up at this altitude, especially if the wind is blowing. Most visitors come to hike, enjoy the spectacular views, take a boat trip on the lake and then they return back to Cotacachi or Otavalo.

Yet a wonderful opportunity is lost by not following the dirt track that continues on from Cuicocha. Follow it and you pass haciendas for sale with wonderful panoramic vistas, a couple of remote but spectacularly located guest houses, (one is for sale), until after 5 miles, and a further 500 feet of altitude, there is a pass over a ridge of the western cordillera of the Andes. There the unpaved highway passes the occasional house, some with straw roofs, and starts down the Andes western slope.

As the road descends, the vegetation thickens. The few trees dotting the barren landscape either side of the pass turn into cloud forest. Lush vegetation sprouts everywhere, nourished by the moisture laden clouds that cling to these hillsides.

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The road follows torturous curves with sharp drop offs that create spectacular waterfalls.

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Often there are traffic delays created by land slides, occasional heavy rainfall and just the out and out ruggedness of the terrain. The engineers who maintain these parts are never short of work. In the photo below I had to give our driver, Issak, a helping hand.

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Finally past the worst stretch, there are signs of civilization; little cabins stretched along the roadside, one-classroom schools, mothers and children walking alongside the roadside inevitably carrying something and here and there the occasional burro used as beast of burden or mode of transport.

Cabuya, as it’s called here, is the thread extracted from the ubiquitous Agave plant here. This fiber is spread in fields to dry and then dyed to make handicrafts; baskets, table mats, sandals and many other handicrafts that the local ladies deftly sew. Still descending, the road passes through the small hamlet of Santa Rosa.

Here a small boy and his Alsatian came out to greet us.

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We asked the boy’s mother (Maria) about cabuya products and it turned out that she and her neighbor had some for sale. She acts as a sales agent who sells all the products from a woman’s collective in this area.

On this trip I was accompanied by two of our Ecuador export course delegates, Bonnie and Jimmie, as my traveling companions. They were looking for products to export and fell in love with Maria’s goods. They picked out purchases and Maria carefully noted which of her friends had made each. In the end we spent $50 and Maria overwhelmed us with her gratitude. Jimmie commented, “it’s almost secondary what you buy. You feel so good making a difference in their daily lives”.

Feeling enthused and blessed after such an impromptu buying experience, we hurried to our and headed to Apuela the first real town in the Intag.

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