Quick lesson about my most recent destination.
Guamote is a small indigenous community 4-5 hours south of Quito. Google maps will tell you three hours but they obviously don’t travel by bus. I got here by jumping on a bus to Cuenca at Terminal Quitumbe (quite literally as I got to TQ at 10:40am and the bus left at 10:45am) and then asked to be let off at Guamote. No problem.
A four year old LP said Guamote’s population was 2,000 but now it’s more like 5,000 people. That’s a lot of growth. The surrounding valley has another 30,000 people. With 90% of the valley’s population indigenous, this the most concentrated indigenous community in Ecuador. So you’re more likely to hear Kichwa than Spanish on the street and everyone wears hats.
The feudal hacienda system was in place in Ecuador up until about 50 years ago. Much like the U.S.’s Jim Crow South, indigenous were virtual slaves to the hacienda owners with little rights of their own. A lot of progress has been made in the past fifty years. The communities in and around Guamote are organized–they hold elections, collect taxes, and complete community works projects. But the communities remain very poor.
Guamote is not the typical tourist stop (no hammocks for sale here) but a project by the name of Inti Sisa is starting to change that. Inti Sisa began fifteen years ago with badly needed educational programs and has absolutely blossomed. There are now three buildings, including an entire room full of computers donated by the English, another room full of sewing machines, a full fledged kindergarten, and the super nice hostel that I’m staying at.
Strangely, or maybe not so strangely, there is something about it all that reminds me strongly of rural Nepal. The local community’s strength and pride is similar to the communities I met in the Annapurna region. Then there is the abundant and bright colors worn by both the men and women.
Also–I think it’s the first time I’ve been able to see the milky way so clearly since the Annapurnas.