Spinning South: Ipiales to Otovalo. Biking in Ecuador.

Born on a different cloud. My soul feels stripped to the bone and my heart vibrates more open than ever.

Crossing the border with Ecuador reminds us of the impact of where you were born and raised. The freedom of living in Europe with its open borders. The freedom it brings of being an European, even when travelling abroad. The luck we have had to be born into our families and being raised in a free culture with education possibilities. People with the same capacities but born and raised at a different location, resulting in a total different life, for the better or the worse. Being at the border between Colombia and Ecuador at 6:30 on Sunday morning ensures we are just ahead of all the Venezuela refugees who stayed in the border refugee camp. Being homeless and depending on donations, not sure of the future ahead. Seems that people are already returning home because of the non welcoming attitude in South America. Stories of hours of waiting in line to cross from Colombia to Ecuador were not applicable to us. An early wake up call paid off with exit and entry in 60 minutes.

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Reason to not continue is the opportunity to visit the beautiful cemetery of Tulcan. How impressive is the impact of the caretaker of the city’s municipal cemetery Josè Maria Azael Franco. In 1936 he began sculpting the rows of cypress bushes under his care into a variety of shapes and designs. There are the archways and angular geometric shapes that can be found in topiary collections around the world, but Franco also created a number of unique natural sculptures all his own. The garden features animals, angels, Incan symbols, and bulbous, iconic creatures squatting in a row, they even have a mouse! Currently his 5 sons are taking care of continuing his lifework and it became not only a beautiful cemetery but also a place where people from around the world find some peaceful time.. 

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For the first time we see frailejones again, the sunflower related plant, which grows 1-1 ½ cm per year, captures moister out of the air and releases most to the earth, ensuring rivers to flow! Good thing is that they are removing non native trees. Turning corners the landscape is one endless field of this beautiful plant, sharing the earth with several different type of grasses, mosses and a plant with an amazing tall club-like flower of 6 meters tall. This is the Puya Clava-herculis, family of the bromelia of which the pineapple is also a sibling. It is native to Ecuador and south Colombia and only grows between 3.700 m and 4100 m in the grasslands we are now biking through, the paramo.

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Around 15:00 we arrive at the park office which offers us a place to sleep in one of their bunk beds. There is also some space to camp but Edwin prefers we sleep inside as there is rain coming and the camp space will flood during rain. As we still have time we hike to the lakes and get an amazing view over 16,000 hectares of this outer worldly place. With the frailejones standing as guarding soldiers at the hill tops and a thunderstorm releasing its energy in the distance. The climb to the mirador is recommended for “healthy hearths” only and we have to say it is only now that we really feel the impact of being at 3,800 m.

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Saturday is the day to visit not only the artisan market but also the animal market, that we like even more. Here we see quite a few other tourists and one asks us what we think of this. Well, if you have not visited animals markets in 3rd world countries or if you are a vegetarian it is probably not the place to visit. For us it is submerging in the real culture of this region, seeing and feeling the respect of how people treat their animals, how they negotiate with each other, is great. Only heart breaking is seeing old battery hens which are here sold to be butchered. You see they have had a terrible life, but that is not any different in our part of the world.


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