For our first tourist-y excursion since we’ve been in Cuenca Ecuador, we took a trip east of town to three different artisan villages: San Bartolomé, Chordeleg and Gualaceo. This video covers the third town of Gualaceo Ecuador, which is famous for its orchids and textiles.
We hope you enjoy seeing the beautiful Andean scenery, the picturesque town of Gualaceo, and the interesting people we meet along the way. We’ve also included some Spanish language learning opportunities for you.
Bridge Over the River in Gualaceo Ecuador
Our guide, Wilson, assured us this rickety looking one lane bridge over the river was perfectly safe. I’m pretty sure it was older than it looked, and it looked ancient. Nevertheless, we did survive the crossing that’s used by lots of cars, people and dogs on a daily basis.
I captured this Cañari indigenous woman walking down the street with her navy blue plaid macana draped over her shoulder. They were the originators of the Panama Hat, and still wear them along with their colorful skirts and sweaters.
This woman is probably a little more than 4 feet tall. The average height of women in Ecuador is only 5 feet, but most of the indigenous women are much shorter than that. Amelia, at 5 feet tall, is a giant standing next to them!
Rosero is the traditional drink that’s only found in Gualaceo Ecuador. It’s made with corn flower, fruits and spices. It has a thick, creamy texture like a smoothie and it’s a little sweet, but not too sweet. We enjoyed it with a piece of bread.
Both pieces of bread and both cups of Rosero cost us a total of $1.30 and they were well worth it. Both were delicious!
Ecuador is famous worldwide for its orchids, especially the high altitude orchids that grow in Gualaceo. Ecuagenera is an orchid farm on the edge of Gualaceo that offers tours of the farm, but the tour was closed on Sunday. We did get to enjoy the store, though.
It’s impossible to describe how wonderful the store smelled when we walked in. I didn’t realize how amazingly beautiful and aromatic orchids are. Some smelled like extremely potent flowers, some smelled like chocolate, and some smelled like rotting meat. They seemed otherworldly. Now I understand why orchids have such a huge fanbase.
Here are some pictures of the orchids we saw:
We’re looking forward to returning when the tour is open so we can see the whole farm and learn more about orchids. We highly recommend stopping by to experience this truly remarkable flower.
Macana Workshop Gualaceo Ecuador
Entering the workshop where they make macanas, the traditional scarves of the Cañari Ecuadorian women, was like stepping back in time. The indigenous people have been making macanas in this way for over 1,000 years (more than 500 years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue), passing the trade down from generation to generation.
Like the guitar and ceramic artisans, this is also a dying trade. The current generation is losing interest in the family tradition and moving away in hopes of finding better opportunities in Cuenca and beyond.
These ancient pots are still used to make the dyes that give each macana its unique and colorful look. In this photo, the artisan is demonstrating how they make the color indigo from indigofera plants found in abundance in tropical climates like Ecuador.
They use all sorts of native plants, rocks and even baking soda to create every color in the rainbow.
Since the climate is so temperate and consistent in Ecuador (at least it used to be), many places don’t have windows or doors like this macana workshop. This is the view from the device being used in the next photo.
That may look like a river running down the valley, but those are actually greenhouses for roses. Ecuador is the world’s 3 largest exporter of cut flowers, and roses make up over 70% of those exports.
Ecuador has the perfect year round climate for growing beautiful flowers, which are very inexpensive here. We nearly always have one or two dozen roses in the house, and they cost only $5 per dozen.
The men have traditionally been the weavers of macanas because it takes a lot of body weight to get the weave taught. The women do the embroidery and a finishing technique called “nailing,” which requires long fingernails to add the loosely woven decoration to the ends of the macanas.
Macana Yapa in Gualaceo Ecuador
Amelia was very happy to receive this handwoven bag as a yapa with the purchase of her handwoven macana, shown below. A yapa is a little something extra that merchants give to customers as a sign of appreciation. Think of it like a baker’s dozen. We often get yapas at the mercado in the form of extra fruits and veggies from our favorite vendors.
Amelia’s Macana from Gualaceo Ecuador
The indigenous women use these to keep warm, to protect their skin and heads from the hot mountain sun, to carry their babies and to tote heavy or bulky items, like fresh produce, straw, cardboard boxes, etc. I’ve even seen a woman carrying a 6 foot tall tree on her back wrapped in a macana!
It’s common to see a teenager walking down the sidewalk scrolling Facebook on their mobile phone, while passing an indigenous woman carrying her baby on her back wrapped in a macana. With the blend of modern and ancient visible on every street, Ecuador is a truly remarkable place that seems to exist outside of time.
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Watch Our Video About the Beautiful Orchids in Gualaceo Ecuador
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Spanish Words & Phrases
¿Cómo se llama? – What is your name?
Mucho gusto – Nice to meet you
El gusto es mío – The pleasure is mine
El Jardín Del Azuay – The Garden of Azuay (Province)
el puente – the bridge
pan – bread
me gusta – I like it
el algodón – the cotton
yapa – a little something extra (think baker’s dozen)
Hola todos! Welcome to my author bio page! Let's see. Where to begin... I grew up in the country on a lake outside a small Kansas farm town. As soon as I could, I got the hell outta there! Since then, I've lived and/or worked in Kansas City, Washington D.C., Denver, San Francisco, and Ecuador. I started and sold a dotcom, wrote a book about it, started a YouTube channel, and now I write a lot. Amelia and I have embraced the Unconventional Life and we want to help you do it, too!