The journey from Cuenca was so long that by the time we passed Oña I was having second thoughts about my idea to get off the bus and wander around Saraguro for an hour before getting the next one to Loja. This feeling strengthened when we actually got to Saraguro and it was clear that absolutely nothing would be happening there that day. Nevertheless it was too much to abandon the plan so, along with a few indigenous Saragurans we trundled to the front of the bus and collected our bags. At least there weren’t too many people to stare at us incredulously.
It wasn’t at all clear what we were going to do. We were in the corner of the large main square which featured a well-tended park in the middle, a church at the top end and a restaurant and tourist office as the other visible “attractions”. I suggested we visit the tourist office first. We crossed the square and went in. We found a couple of young guys sitting around, not looking particularly ready for tourism to hit Saraguro. But when I enquired, one of them disappeared to find the actual tourism official. It turned out to be his friend, who rushed in and greeted us profusely, opened the drawers of his office, pulled out leaflets and started talking about all the things we could visit in the surrounding area and where we could stay, until I quietly mentioned that we were just passing through.
He paused but his spirit wasn’t dampened. He started planning our trip “for when you come back” and told us about the waterfalls and archaeological sites which could be visited in the surrounding hills. One of the other guys had slipped out quietly and now he came back with two bags full of maize and pieces of cuy. Maria Fernanda couldn’t stomach it but I had a go. The problem with cuy is that it has too many bones, it’s just not worth the hassle. I had more problems with the maize which I’ve always found a very bland accompaniment but I managed to eat most of the bag. Our host was turning out the cupboards looking for any other information and gave us some posters. We chatted to him about tourism in the town. It was good to find someone so enthusiastic and positive; you could definitely trust him to organise some interesting excursions for a couple of days.
It was time to bring up the subject of leaving but the bus was no longer an option. He was planning to go to Loja to visit a girlfriend and would gladly take us in his little hatchback. We just had to wait a little while. We amused ourselves by walking around the village which must have taken all of 20 minutes. We stuck our heads in the restaurant but I was still full of cuy and Maria Fernanda didn’t fancy it. And the church was closed. We did get to see the people who still use their traditional dress. The men wear a black poncho and shorts, with long socks and a hat.
It was time to go. We were joined by the bringer of cuy and we drove round the square once in tribute to Saraguro, then to a shop where some Zhumir ( cheap cane liquor) was purchased, then up to another village where a fiesta just starting to die down. We stayed for 20 minutes and started on the Zhumir and then set off for Loja. It was a scenic highland route, although there were several parts where the road had been ripped away by huge landslides. We were told how the indigenous people were badly treated and how when a car had hit a child on the road the driver had given the family a cow as recompense.
This story was told with scorn but all the while our driver had been knocking back the Zhumir. I had also started enthusiastically but was regretting it as the driving became more ragged (or was it my imagination). I tried to refuse more but once an Ecuadorian knows that you like the taste and there’s no medical impediment, no thanks is not an acceptable answer. The only thing I succeeded in doing was slowing the pace while I prevaricated and declined. Nevertheless the bottle was empty by the time we arrived in Loja.
Our driver took us straight to a hotel he thought would be appropriate. It was three times over our budget. He took us to another one and we negotiated a price. They said they’d be back in an hour to take us out to a bar at the allotted time it was only the friend whose name was Miguel. We found somewhere to eat and then a bar, where we spent the night listening to a live band and drinking hot canelazo. We never did see the driver / tour guide again which was worse for Miguel. We saw him again the next day and it turned out he’d had to spend the night in the car, although fortunately drunk enough to sleep through quite happily.
I promised I’d go back to Saraguro but four years have passed and I’m still waiting to make that journey.