During Carnaval week you have to watch out for the guns. And the silly string. Water is a big part of the theme of Ecuador’s Carnaval celebrations. So squirt guns are in the hands of every child and everyone is fair game in the week’s squirt-and-run attacks! And since the majority of Ecuadorians are celebrating Carnaval in Baños, Ambato or west coast beaches, we seemed to be the obvious targets this weekend in Quito!!
While celebrations abound for Carnaval here in Ecuador, in the big picture it is a fairly new holiday not embraced by the original inhabitants of Ecuador. When Ruminahui and his brother Atahualpa—the young ruling king of the Incas, were welcoming the Spanish in the 1500’s they had no idea how much fun future generations would have with a Christian holiday. In fact when the Spanish kidnapped Atahualpa and ransomed him for a room full of gold and a room full of silver, the Incas were probably wishing they had never given such a kind welcome to the Spanish. When the Spanish chickened out and killed the young king before the ransom arrived, Ruminahui-who was in charge of the south-bound caravan of treasure, immediately turned and fled into the Llanganati and hid the treasure…never to be found again.
The Llanganati National Park is where we found ourselves this week; our last adventure before heading home (except for avoiding squirt guns). Fortunately we were able to use our vehicle to travel from Pillaro (the stepping stone for most modern day treasure hunts) to the Llanganati National Park. The original method of traveling by llamas would be slow haul!! And though we were only getting a feel for the territory—not ready to embark on a full-fledged treasure hunt, we still followed the same route as described in the famous Valverde’s Derrotero treasure map. Driving up to Ylanacocha Lake (cocha the quichua word for lake and ylana for black) we found ourselves winding our way up through a beautiful rural setting. The striking colors worn by the indigenous ladies working the potato fields are styles that date back to the Inca period. Hand hoeing the steep fields of potatoes looked like way too much work as we drove by!!
Climbing up to an altitude of about 3500 meters, we were soon surrounded by high-altitude paramo; the paramo is similar to the English moors—wet, swampy ground that is host to clumps of vegetation suited for intense sunlight and probably the most variable climate found anywhere. The night before we arrived, the area received twelve inches of rain in a matter of hours. The sunshine lulled us into the park just as it has many a treasure hunter since the first seekers of fame and fortune. But a warning: without notice the clouds can roll in and drop visibility to less than two feet.
Standing at a small lake feasting on peanut butter and tuna, we contemplated on what a shame is it that so few people take the opportunity to travel to the Llanganati Park. It is spectacular—and probably the park is the actual treasure, as Ruminahui’s lost treasure may never be found. Condors soar high above, snow capped volcanoes peek out from the craggy horizon line, and while we could not really see it, you are aware of the life that is thriving in the paramo.
We are leaving Ecuador for home. After four months away, it will be a pleasure to sleep in our own beds. But our time in Costa Rica and here in Ecuador is always very special. We leave behind good friends and family and great rivers in both countries!