Flight from Cuenca to Quito with views of Cotopaxi above the clouds. To save time we took a taxi to Otavalo ($60), through the bad land gorges that surround the airport and back across the equator. Otavalo has a neighbouring and vast high altitude lake and an extinct volcano sitting over it.
From the Terminal Terrestre we find the occasional bus to the Intag valley, a fairly quiet destination about 2.5hrs west of here. Twisting roads skirt some secondary rainforest with views to more pristine areas further north. We end up in a deep valley with a raw river running steeply. Fairly populated, fairly deforested and farmed.
Get the bus to drop us at Pachego Farmhouse, a B&B set up a couple of years ago by an Argentinian expat, inspired by the local landscape. She’s still learning the seasons and the patterns of tourists.
3 nights of good (non-Ecuadorian) food and local exploration. The valley is very pretty; morning mists and clouds within it. We walk across the hand built suspension bridges and find sketchy paths through the sugar cane. We set off up rough paths up the valley and never reach the top; a group of 5 dogs follow us and make it their adventure too. Subsistence farms of sugar, coffee, cows and naranjilla; a citrus -looking plant that tastes slightly of rhubarb but looks like a passion fruit.
There are some thermal baths just down the road. Past their best and empty until the evenings but $3 to lie in some warm and hot baths (up to 40º). We meet an English expat family who moved to the valley 4-5 years ago , live very cheaply but struggle economically. Only honey makes money.
One day we get a lift halfway up the other valley side. Dropped off when it got to steep we walk up to a plateau covered in drying corn plants and some heavily eroded burial mounds. One is the sun temple of Wariman, a partially explored site. The main mound still has a large trench from excavations in the 1930s. Archaeologists in the 80s dated the site to 500AD. Signs of fires and shamen activity. The current owners were trying to encourage a level of respectful tourism here and had built in this unlikely and remote spot Latin America’s longest and steepest zipwire. Fortunately for us the men seemed to have gone off for the day and we escaped having to try it out. Walked and hitched back.