Half the fun of Guaranda is getting there – though I didn’t much relish getting up at 4.30am to set off!
The road reaches an altitude of over 4000 meters and passes within five kilometers of snow and ice covered Chimborazo volcano (at 6,268 meters the highest mountain in Ecuador). We swept past herds of wild vicuña, a dainty relative of the llama, which was introduced to Ecuador some years ago and has protected status.
The movie on the bus was Piranha, and as you might expect from a film about killer fish running amok it dished out plenty of gore, laughs and gratuitous nudity. Hardly family viewing (there were lots of kids on board) but entertaining.
Jesús and I arrived in Guaranda at just before 11am, found a hotel (an overpriced dump, but adequate) and eventually managed to stake our claim to a little bit of sidewalk. The city is fairly small (pop. 30,000) but overflows at carnival time, for which it’s famous.
We were liberally daubed with flour, doused in spray foam and plied with the local fire-water, Pájaro Azul (Blue Bird), a luminescent, blue-tinged spirit, distilled from orange and mandarin leaves, broth, chicken meat and cane sugar! It’s a carnival tradition, and tastes better than it sounds (redolent of aniseed).
Towards the end of the parade we were invited to lunch by a local judge, Angel Pilco, and after a plate of fritada, mote and chicha (fried chunks of pork, hominy and home-made maize beer) he whisked us off to the home of a relative for dancing and more booze. There we partied with aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews until exhausted.
We left with Judge Angel (who unceremoniously took a leak in the street – not very judge-like behaviour I thought) and had a bit of supper at his Mum’s house (pigs intestines and mote), located behind her grocery store. On the wall was a photo of one of his sisters – he has eight siblings, all graduates – taken on her wedding day. A doctor, and very beautiful, she died giving birth two years ago aged 33. Her dear little boy says hello to his Mum’s image everyday.
The day was pretty amazing and what will stay with me was the great generosity shown toward us. We sensibly called it a night while we were still of sound mind, as we wanted to get up bright and early the next day to visit nearby San Lorenzo.