We started off the month of March by going to Otavalo. After a few days in the huge city of Quito, it was nice to get away to a smaller town. I had a contact there, a man named Luis Yamberla that I had met in Canada at an anti-Chevron meeting in Toronto. I went up to speak to him after the meeting and he invited me to stay at his house if I ever passed through Otavalo. He told me to go to his neigbourhood and just ask around for Luis Yamberla. So we took him up on his offer and stayed with him and his family in Otavalo.
The next day we went to the Saturday market in Otavalo, one of the biggest in South America. Otavalo is an important cultural center in Ecuador where people from all around converge to trade and sell their goods. So we went wild at the market and bought a hammock, a traditional Ecuadorean intsrument called a Churango, alpaca sweaters and much more.
Some goods from the market
The next day we went to Cotacachi, a small city that is the leather capital of Ecuador. A friend of mine who I met in the Intag in 2011, whose name is Eddy Fuertes, opened up a cafe a few years ago there. He is doing super well and has a beautiful cafe in the city serving coffee from the Intag region. It was inspiring to see how nice his cafe is and gave me ideas for what kind of a cafe I would want in Canada. We stayed at his apartment, and played card games, had drinks and enjoyed a home cooked meal. While we were in Cotocachi we went for a hike around Laguna Cuicocha. Cuicocha is an active volcanoe that has a lake in it, along with two islands. Interestingly enough, the islands are like a cap on the volcanoe and if it erupted they would be blown up!
We caught a ride to Intag with the president of the coffee association AACRI, Edmundo. He was nice enought to give us a few updates on Intag along the way. We went barreling down the road through the cloud forest, enjoying the beautiful view and getting car sick as we twisted and turned our way on the road to Intag. They have paved a new road to the community, but it is probably just to serve the interestes of the mining companies. For those who do not know, Intag is where the coffee that I am importing comes from. It is also the site of a 20 year long resistance to mining. To learn more about that you can read the rest of this website which has some of the history.
We had some coffee once we got to Intag, and I got to see the familiar faces that I remembered from when I lived in the community. As we sat and drank coffee at the base of the beautiful mountains and enjoying the view of the rushing river it felt good to be back. There we met up with Pepe Jijon, a famous Ecuadorean Alpine mountain climber who moved to the Intag to grow coffee. I had worked on his farm planting coffee when I was in the region last time. Now, four years later, I was able go go back and see how much the plants had grown. Julie, Marie and I spent a morning harvesting coffee from the plants. A full circle! At night we had the luxury of relaxing in the natural hot springs by the river. We also go to visit Waliman, which is on top of a mountain and hosts the ruins of a pyramid that was a sacred place for the Cara, an ancient civilization.
After that farm we caught a bus to Junin. This community is at the heart of the mining resistance in the Intag zone. We arrived to the community and realized that in the past several months things have changed. We got the story bit by bit from different folks in the community. Back in May 2014, a new mining company arrived in the community. This time it is a partnership between a Chilean mining company called CODELCO and an Ecuadorian state owned company called ENAMI. The company entered with an escort of 300 police and even more people who were pro-mining to back them up. The town of Junin was full of police and mining company officials. According to a woman we stayed with, the town suffered much humiliation by being forced to accept the mine. The police intimidated the locals who were trying to bring tourists into the area. Police turn away people who support the struggle against the mine.Before the mining company arrived it was a peaceful place where people were poor but happy. Now the community is completely devided, between those who support the mine and those who are opposed.to it. Right now the company is cutting down trees and making new roads to the area. There is still no mining happening but if they find minerals they will continue. The more ecological members of the community promise to continue the struggle against mining.
Community of Junin
While we were in Junin we got to go to a party for international womans day. It was a fun day filled with games and a community dance. The party was organized by two women working with Accion Ecologica, a environmental NGO that is trying to unite the community and repair some of the devisions that the mining company has caused.
International Womens Day in Junin
After Junin we returned to stay with the host family that I stayed with for three months back in 2011. We had a fun day of working with machetes, making friends with horses and harvesting Yucca. We got to ride up to their farm, which is high in the cloud forest, on horseback. Up there we helped harvest some avocadoes. All in all, it has been a magical stay in the cloud forest, and Intag did not disappoint in providing beautiful scenary and friendly people.