THE BLOG

Cotacachi, Ecuador: A Bit of Everything for Everyone - 7 Countries, 7 Months, 3 Kids

04/15/2015 04:04 pm ET | Updated Jun 14, 2015

While I was in the Cloud Valley, having grand adventures through uncharted jungles and drinking mystery sugar cane drinks, Katie and the boys strolled around the town and soaked up the culture. They loaded up the baby and walked the few blocks to the Museo de las Culturas, another free museum on the ancient Andeans. It's amazing here...they have thousand year old artifacts just hanging out on the floor, no glass enclosures or barriers of any kind. What's even more amazing is that the visitors to the museum actually respect these ancient gifts and would never think of abusing this privilege.

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Entrance to the Museo de las Culturas

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Homeschooling on the road

Katie had a blast explaining this culture to the boys and made for a great "field trip" in homeschool. Especially the local ice cream treat afterwards!

Later that week, a sweet expat couple drove all of us up about an hour and a half north of Cotacachi to the tiny town of San Geronimo and we toured an 8 hectare (about 20 acres) coffee plantation. All the vibrant, 14 month old plants are organic and growing beautifully under the care of the manager. The land was absolutely gorgeous, with steep hills (perfect for coffee growing) and lush fruit trees everywhere. The little house is definitely a fixer upper but doable. The boys had a blast running around, chasing dogs and chickens, and chewing on the fresh sugar cane. I wandered through corn fields along the rushing river that runs through the property, ate fresh bananas right off the tree, and admired the huge papayas hanging from their branches.

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Looking out over the coffee farm

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Jack and I enjoying fresh sugar cane

After spending all morning enjoying the land, we headed down to the little local restaurant and feasted on the soup of the day, freshly fried fish, and delicious beans and rice. Then, it was back in the car for the ride (and nap) home.

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Typical Ecuadorian lunch of fish, rice, lentils, and salad

The next day, we rode the $1 bus (a tip: tell the driver where you want to get out and they always happily help a foreigner out by waving and beckoning to you as you pull up to the stop) and visited San Antonio de Ibarra, an outskirt of the much bigger city of Ibarra. This little town is famous for it's amazing wood working, furniture and crafts alike. It was overcast and chilly, perfect for wandering the tiny shops and admiring the handcrafting of the aged native men, bent over their work with their tools, and surrounded by fresh wood shavings. They delight in their work and we delighted in the expert craftsmanship of the intricate statues and likenesses. We perused the hanging crucifixes, elaborate furniture, and gilded art frames, any of which could easily be at home in a fine art museum. They had a few antique shops as well and honestly, it was difficult to tell the difference!

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San Antonio de Ibarra town center

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Huge blocks of wood form the basis for many of their statues

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All of these frames are hand crafted wood

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Expertly crafting an armadillo

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This store had wooden animals of all shapes and sizes!

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One of the many wood working stations

Even the town square was complete with huge wooden statues and even a really cool slide for the boys!

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The boys and I enjoying the town center

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One of the coolest...and tallest (15 ft) slides to date

Next up was another beautiful Saturday at the Otavalo market and while I won't bore you with the details, just know that we bought a lot of Christmas presents and had some fantastic street food!

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Making new friends...kind of

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No meal is complete without a staring contest

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Grilled plantains

On Sunday, Jack and Katie had a special date to the grand re-opening of a well-known Cotacachi hotel, The Land of the Sun. She stayed here with her parents when they came the first time and she was pleased to see that it's been nicely refinished and refurbished. They both enjoyed mimosas...his was just orange juice but he felt extremely important drinking out of a champagne flute! There was a lovely local duo playing native Andean music, with guitar and flute, and a little art show by a well-known local artist. Having just been to the market the previous day, they simply enjoyed taking a look but didn't come home with any (more!) art.

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Jack and Katie enjoying the music and drinks at the Land of the Sun

I spent the next day touring more real estate opportunities in the Intag Valley and learned a lot about the local farming industry, specifically the Rio Intag Coffee Association. Coffee from Ecuador is in such high demand around the world that the Intag Valley started a coffee association, similar to a co-op in the US. If you agree to be a part of the association, which means you agree to sell the coffee you grow back to them for exportation, then they'll get you all set up to grow coffee. They'll send experts to your land to take soil samples, measure the altitude and other atmospherics, and recommend a plant that will do well in your area. They will then sell their organically-grown juvenile plants to you at a reduced cost (.20 - .25 cents a plant) so you can begin your dream of coffee farming. After the beans have been harvested, they'll send a truck to your farm to pick them up and bring them to their factory for further processing. The tour of the Rio Intag Coffee Factory revealed a simple, but pure operation. I got to see the inner workings of their factory...from growing the seedlings, to transport, to roasting and grinding, and finally to packaging and selling. I even got to sample some of the freshest coffee in the world. It was unlike any coffee I've ever tasted.

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See the Incan face in the mountain side?

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Rio Intag Coffee's outdoor plant cultivation area

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Fresh Intag Valley green coffee beans

We are trying to stick to our budget but we couldn't resist getting up early one morning and heading down the one block to the little square where the Rio Intag Cafe is thriving. They, of course, specialize in gourmet, fresh coffee and we indulged ourselves by getting two fantastic coffees and a cookie for the boys! Mine was a simple, but strong Americano and Katie's was called a Dark Angel, so named for the boiling hot espresso at the bottom and the chilled cream on top. The kind Ecuadorian barista explained that you are to swirl the coffee and cream in your mouth, thereby getting the perfect sip! And perfect, it was.

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Chocolate chip cookie, an Americano, and a Dark Angel coffee

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Enjoying a coffee overlooking San Francisco Park

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Katie and Jack actually sharing a cookie

Our last day in beautiful Cotacachi was spent partaking in perhaps our favorite event so far. We rode the 15 minute bus to the Otavalo bus terminal and caught a $1.50 taxi to the little village of Peguche. They are known for their woven goods, tapestries, and their beautiful waterfall. But we weren't quite prepared for how gorgeous it actually was. The entrance to the falls was a bit overrun with vendors, but once we began the beautiful walk towards the fall, we were enchanted. We walked in the cool breeze and large splats of rain drops, on an extremely well maintained and landscaped cobblestone path, through a stunning forest of eucalyptus and pino. The fragrance of these towering trees was almost like a fairy tale...no noisy tourists or screaming kids...just the silence of the forest and the ever growing noise of a pounding waterfall. It started as a stroll through the woods but at the end of the 20 minute walk, we were definitely hiking! And the cascada was worth it. We stopped for pictures at the little bridge and I climbed even further up (you could hike as close as you wanted...even behind the falls in the caves!...and no ugly "beware" signs here) to get the full experience. i.e. - I wanted to get wet! So, safely tucked the family under a huge-leafed tree to stay dry and after 10 minutes, Katie stepped out to make sure I hadn't actually fallen in and according to her, there I was, posing like a little kid, having some fellow tourists take pictures to prove it! I'd say that was a pretty accurate description.

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Entrance to Peguche Waterfall

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You better believe that if the llama was .50 cents, it'd be coming home with us

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Path to the falls

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Pino tree nearly 50 ft tall

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Pegucha Waterfall

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Less than 20 ft from the base of the falls!

We had a wonderful time and topped it off with a bit of street food called cevichochos, a mixture of tomatoes, pickled red onions, mote (a fried corn that is my favorite), green plantain chips, and chochos, a soaked white bean that is native to this area. Cotacachi has the second cleanest water in Ecuador, meaning that you can drink straight from the tap and that the veggies (or beans, in this case) are most likely perfectly safe to eat. And it was delicious!! Might be our new favorite snack.

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Cevichochos street snack

We packed and cleaned that night after eating out (we had to try the local carne de coloradas before we left) and were on a bus from Ibarra to Tena the next day by 8am. We adored Cotacachi and highly recommend it to anyone wanting to visit Ecuador. The Jardines de Pichavi, where we stayed, is a perfect place to start...excellent location, wonderful accommodations, and only $29/night! We'll miss the smell of leather as you walk down the street, our favorite bakery, and the fresh mora, or blackberries. And the tres leches cake...we got a couple slices for our celebration of being on our adventure for one whole month!

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Leather shops like this line the main street of Cotacachi

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You can find almost anything made from leather...even a monkey

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The smell of fresh bread is almost as prevalent as leather as you stroll the streets

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Fresh mora picked right outside the front door

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One-month milestone celebration

Stay tuned next week for our adventures in Tena!

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