Huge fan of animals, ever-intrigued by their unique personalities and likeness to humans, I was thrilled to explore the Galapagos. Crawling with lizards, beaches blanketed in sea lions and surrounded on all sides with rich seas of shark, turtles and fish, these islands are teeming with life. It’s no wonder that Ecuador is the most bio-diverse country in the world.
It’s the perfect place to learn about what’s at stake in the wake of global climate destabilization and developments of the Green Revolution, an unstoppable freight train of globalization, driven by profit-hungry multi-nationals, which carries us along our high-risk path.
Thanks to CouchSurfing where I met Wlady Ortiz, the last leg of our trip included a series of exhilarating eco-adventures. His business, Ecuador Eco Adventure is built on raising awareness about local economic and environmental issues, often using solution models that are valuable world-wide, supporting environmental causes and cooperative communities.
He was eager to get us off the beaten tourist path, to guide us through the indigenous parts of Ecuador, in order to get the fullest experience possible. Filming the entire time, I felt inspired to highlight traditional cuisine along the way.
The first days with Wlady were all about food. From the Quito airport to Riobamba (where he’s located) the drive was only a few hours. On the way, Wlady took us through a town called Latacunga, famous in Ecuador for it’s Chugchucara. We stopped at a breath-taking building, cavernous and dark with lots of intricately carved banisters and railings. What, from the outside wasn’t more than a giant, ambiguous steel door, inside was like the setting of a dramatic vampire story.
I filmed a tour… My favorite part was the mouth-shaped fireplace, with enormous fangs. The bull-fighting room, narrow and complete with a severed bull’s head hanging on the wall at one end of a long table, made me a little uncomfortable.
Chugchucara is a dish you can only find in Latacunga. It’s a salty roasted pork, fairly dry and packed with flavor. It made me feel a little like a caveman (cavewoman?) eating with my hands, ripping the flesh with my teeth. But it was delicious! Also on the plate: mouth watering fried plantains (a staple in Ecuador), popcorn and some potatoes. As an appetizer we enjoyed steamed (?) corn kernels with pork crumbles on top.
After dinner, we headed to Wlady’s, where we slept for the night. In the morning, we continued…
The market in Riobamba was our first stop. There was a big room with tables and benches in the middle. Around the perimeter, there were about a dozen little stations, each run by one or two women, each with a large, slow-roasted pig on display. Wlady explained, the roasting process begins at 3am every day.
Competing for customers, the women were eager to give us samples. I have never had so much pork for breakfast!
We also had salt-juice. Across from the market, we found the place to get it. Made with two fried eggs stirred in, the salt-juice is basically a glass of gravy with a hint of cilantro. Murky and brown, it’s a LOT tastier than it looks.
Next, we headed to a nearby cevicheria, Ceviche de Chochos Dona Mary, where we dined on some fabulous soup. Then it was on to Picantaria Anita for a real foodie adventure…
There was lamb intestine soup, sprinkled with dried cow’s blood and topped with fresh avocado. In another bowl, another soup, featuring a large cow foot. The third dish was pig ears.
Not yet complete, our food exploration continued to a place called Palitahua at the base of a gorgeous volcano, Tungurahua, where we met a charming farmer, delighted to teach us about the traditional Ecuadorian feast of guinea pig.
He gave us a tour of his wonderful farm, where he pulled up the most ginormous carrot we had ever seen. It would be part of our vegetable soup. While the guinea pig cooked in the fire-oven, we followed the farmer outside, where we found his robust collection of cows, chickens, bunnies and guinea pigs. He must have had at least a hundred animals. They were beautiful.
Back in the dining room, the farmer’s daughter served our meal. The guinea pig was quartered – Wlady got the head. I watched (and filmed) with amazement as he dug out the brain with the handle of a spoon, and ate it. I wasn’t happy about eating the guinea pig after just meeting it’s cousins out back, but I had to try it. To wash everything down, luscious raspberry juice, fresh from the garden.