On Tuesday and Wednesday, June 21 and 22, 2023, Terra Ecuador was invited by Inti Sisa to the inauguration of the irrigation system at the Tio Cajas school. It was also an opportunity for the team to discover the town of Guamote and its large market. An adventure rich in emotions…
Tio Cajas College and the inauguration of the irrigation system
Departure at 7 a.m. for the Terra Ecuador team. Accompanied by driver Walter, whom you may well meet on a trip to Ecuador, Nicolas, Mélanie, Viviana, Florentine and Tessa set off for the small town of Guamote. We were invited to the inauguration of Tiocajas College agricultural development project, which the agency financed this year thanks to the participation of each of our travellers in socio-environmental projects.
On the Pan-American Highway, which crosses the country from north to south and links the countries of Latin America, we hope to catch a glimpse of the volcanoes that punctuate the Andean landscape. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t as favorable as it had been over the past few days. The vagaries of the Andean weather hid many of the volcanoes. We were able to observe Cotopaxi almost perfectly, we saw the eternal snows of Antisana and the beginnings of the Chimborazo glaciers. Despite the months and years each of us has lived in Quito, we’ll never tire of the spectacular scenery Ecuador has to offer.
After a stop to buy Bizcochos, Cayambe’s famous little cookies, we make a second stop to discover Ecuador’s first Catholic church. Dating back to 1534, La Balbanera church was built in the town of Colta, bordering the Chimborazo volcano, by Spanish conquistadores from Riobamba. The first Catholic archive of Spanish colonization in Ecuador.
Only a few minutes to go before we reach Guamote. We head for the Inti Sisa guesthouse in the heart of the village. Inti Sisa is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping the local indigenous population.
There, we meet Encarnación, one of the foundation’s “compañeras”, before setting off for the Tio Cajas school, where we’re due to meet at around 12 noon. We had already met Encarnacion during Inti Sisa’s visit to the Terra Ecuador agency in Quito last April, as well as compañera Ermelinda and Tom, one of the pillars of the project.
We set off from Guamote in the direction of the Tio Cajas school. We climb up to the town’s highlands, and after a twenty-minute drive, we arrive. We are welcomed by the students and compañeros who help run the school. We also met Eva, coordinator of the Inti Sisa project. Then the inauguration of the irrigation system begins.
The students begin by singing the Ecuadorian anthem “Salve, Oh Patria”, then each compañero and compañera working at Tiocajas College speaks about the need for and usefulness of the project. We are deeply grateful to the educational team for awarding us a prize for our financial participation in this community project:
“For its invaluable support in implementing the irrigation system in our educational establishment”.
It was only natural for us to go and see the main basin of the irrigation system that had been built after its inauguration. A few meters from the school, we discovered the construction and the water paths that lead to the school and its vegetable garden. By the way, the pipes are not new; they are those built by the Incas hundreds of years ago, for the Incas were renowned for their water expertise and engineering. Further down, near the school, you can see the work that has been carried out by members of the community. All this handiwork is now bearing fruit, as the schoolchildren’s vegetable garden is adorned with dozens of varieties of fruit and vegetables, enabling them to eat healthy, varied meals.
Following this, we headed back to school, where a dozen students presented their handmade products: from hand-embroidered tote-bags to cheese, yoghurt, canario (a coffee-based alcohol), manjar (a cream made from slow-cooked milk with sugar, vanilla, citric acid and cinnamon) and personalized pens, the young students explained how each product is made, as well as its composition.
Then it was time for lunch. In the school’s common room, we took our seats among the students and parents also present for the event. We were treated to the meal of honor and celebration: cuy, or guinea pig in French. Guinea pigs are only eaten at festive times in Ecuador, and the school did us the honor of preparing some for our visit! It was accompanied by a piece of pork, potatoes and a drink very similar in taste to rice pudding, horchata, but made from corn. As an added bonus, it was Eva’s birthday, and the children thought well of reminding her.
After a festive meal and a big slice of cream cake, we said goodbye to the children, parents and teaching staff and headed back to our hotel, Inti Sisa. Emotions ran high, and we were delighted to have been able to share this moment with the school, for a project that is so close to the hearts of every member of the Terra Ecuador team.
We took advantage of the evening to visit the very quiet village of Guamote, an experience that was quite different the next day. We also visited Inti Sisa‘s offices and learned about the foundation’s approach and their commitment to the village’s communities and children. To find out more about Inti Sisa, we’ve dedicated an article to them, which we’ll be publishing shortly.
Discover Ecuador's largest market
Coming to the inauguration in Tiocajas on a Wednesday was an opportunity for us not only to get to know the area better by staying in a hotel that we offer to our travelers, but also to discover the country’s biggest market: the Guamote market.
Around 8am, we set off to explore the market. By this time, it was already bustling with activity. The atmosphere of the town between the previous evening and this morning was very different. It was much more crowded, stalls were being set up and traders were starting to make their first sales. This was the market we’d been hearing about for so long.
We started with the craft and food market. Located in the heart of the town, we strolled along calmly. The first thing we noticed was the multitude of colors that the town was wearing, thanks to the traditional dress of its inhabitants. Red and pink tones bring cheerfulness to the streets. Between traditional clothing, fabrics, jewelry, brick-brock and household appliances, the artisanal market offers hundreds of products for the locals who come here to shop for the week every Thursday.
In the center of town, under the high wind, the food market is in full swing. Merchants sell and locals bargain for various products: carrots, potatoes and tubers of all kinds, the choice is rich and varied.
We then set off for the cattle market. More out of the way, on the edge of the village, we walked until we found the famous place. Hundreds of people are gathered on a sunken field, all accompanied by their animals for sale: cows, calves, sheep, llamas, pigs. The atmosphere is very different from other parts of the market. Here, negotiations are fierce, and the merchants want to prove that their animals are the best. An open-air show where we didn’t come across any other tourists, but the flag of the TV show Pékin Express, as well as the participants and cameramen. Is this the French production? We’re not sure, but the Guamote market became a TV show set for a morning.
Finally, we set off for Quito. We were sad to leave the extraordinary atmosphere of Guamote on market day. On the way back, we continued our field reconnaissance by visiting two of the hotels we offer our travelers during their stopover near Riobamba. This was an opportunity to get to know our products inside out, and to offer the very best to each and every traveller.
If you’d like to come and discover the Inti Sisa guest house and the Guamote market, or if you’d like to help the children of Tiocajas and the surrounding schools by bringing in dental hygiene products, puzzles or warm clothing, please don’t hesitate to contact us.