Su-Su-Susudel*

And Oña, too.

*The name of this town sounds similar (to me) to the 1985 Phil Collins Phil_Collins_Sussudiosong title “Sussudio”.  You’ve got to know that continuing to come up with music and/or other references for the titles of our blog post is quite a burden so forgive me if some are kind of lame!

Recently, we had the great pleasure of traveling to Susudel and Oña with some folks from our Spanish School (Coffee Club Spanish – email Charity at spanishcoffeeclub@gmail.com for more info.)  These two small towns in the southern Ecuadorian Andes are approximately 2 hours drive south of Cuenca.  Their elevations are slightly lower than Cuenca’s at 8100 ft. and 7800 ft. respectively.  You can see from the maps below, the drive from Cuenca to Susudel is fairly straight forward.  Compare that with the squiggly blue line that is the highway from Susudel to Oña.  The faint blue line is Rio León.  What you can’t tell from the map is the dizzying height from which we descended from Susudel to the river and then back up again to Oña.  Quite a ride!

map Cuenca to Susudelmap Susudel to Ona

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Susudel, we visited the Iglesia Matriz and a small textile industry of skilled women weavers called “Hatun Kondor”.

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La Iglesia Matriz de Susudel – built more than 300 years ago.
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Look at the thickness of the church walls!

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Our guide is holding a dried insect of some sort. The next picture shows what happens when water is added.
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This is just one of the many natural dyes that the women of Hatun Kondor use.
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Many of the above-shown insects sacrificed their lives to create the beautiful purple color of this sweater.
Other sights in Susudel
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Guess what you put into this unique “sculpture”?
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Lots of partially constructed and/or deconstructed buildings like this are in and around Susudel.
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This form of security is not unique to Susudel – we see it all over Ecuador. But I thought it was particularly attractive.

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Many families in the greater Susudel area are fabricantes de ladrillos or brick makers.  We were privileged to visit such a family.  All the bricks are handmade and are considered far superior to machine made bricks by quality builders.

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Freshly formed bricks made from quality mud mixed with precision.
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Is this not just the BEST job for kids? Playing in the mud and helping your family business!

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These bricks have been cured and then fired in the eucalyptus fueled kiln.
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A pile of eucalyptus wood waiting for the next time the kiln is fired up.

 

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Photo by Nathan Rupert (Flickr)

Before heading to Oña, we were taken to an amazing vista point on the north side of the Cañon del Rio Jubones with the hope of seeing an Andean condor.  There are less than 100 of these huge raptors in Ecuador.  The wingspan of the Andean condor is up to 3 meters wide and they rely upon the updrafts created in canyons such as this one to keep themselves aloft.  Although it is possible we saw one of these giant birds soaring way, way, way above us, I could not get a good look through my binoculars to know for sure.  However, condor or not, the views were spectacular.

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Click on the Vimeo link below to see a panoramic view of the canyon taken by Glenn.  For more pleasant viewing, mute your sound so you don’t have to listen to the wind!

https://vimeo.com/131560491

Remember that little map showing our route from Susudel to Oña?  Perhaps all those switchbacks make a little more sense after seeing the pictures of this canyon.  We went down, down, down, across El Rio León and then up, up, up the other side to get to Oña.

Once in Oña, our first stop was the tequila factory.  It does not seem to have a name but it is a community industry.  The tequila is made from the juice of the local agave plants.  The people tap the juice rather than cutting down the plant during the months of August through November as the juice is sweetest then.  It is brought to the distillery where the tequila and syrup are separated during the distilling process.  We’re not drinkers so we didn’t sample the tequila but I thought the miel (or syrup) was really good.

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Agave is also known as the Century Plant, although they usually live between 10 and 30 years.

 

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Near the end of the lifespan of an agave, it grows a magnificent stalk with the flowers at the top. This is how the plant reproduces itself. But this is the beginning of the end, of course.
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The sampling room
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Mara enjoying the “miel” or syrup of the agave tequila process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The factory was really a lovely place with beautiful gardens, a smokehouse, orchards, cuyes (guinnea pigs which are raised for food) and a cat with a forked tail.

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Ají pepper plants are the source of a popular spicy table condiment called “Salsa de Ají”.
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Babacao plant
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Orange trees – not very sweet oranges, though!
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Platanos hanging in the smokehouse. Don’t tell me you’ve never let your bananas over ripen to this point. I know I have!

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A cuy (pronounced coo-ee) in the family way, I believe.
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These cuyes are raised in nice clean pens with plenty of space but seem to prefer being piled upon one another.
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I named this cat “Tenedor” (fork in Spanish). Sorry it’s kind of hard to see his forked tail but trust me, he had one!

Would you believe that everything in this post up until now was before lunch?  Well, it was and we were hungry.  We had a pretty typical almuerzo in a restaurant in Oña, but in the category of “largest postre (dessert) served with an almuerzo” the prize goes to the huge piece of delicious carrot cake each of us enjoyed at the end of lunch.  If you are familiar with desserts served with Ecuadorian almuerzos, you know that they are generally postage stamp sized, can range in quality from Jello to flan, and are not always included.

Here’s a fun side note.  We realized at almuerzo time that Adrian, our tour guide, was the same guide we had for two tours on our first trip to Cuenca four years ago.  He was a great guide then and an even better one now!

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The last part of our trip was to visit the old neighborhood of Oña.  The bus took us up the side of the mountain to the base of the Barrio Tradicional (traditional neighborhood) and we hoofed it up the rest of the way and then back down to the town square.  Most of the buildings were abandoned, although not all, and are good examples of typical small town houses built in the 20th century.

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Oña appears to have an excellent drainage system. Good thing or one hard rain would have this neighborhood down in the town plaza.
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This building has an advertisement for wheat flour (harina de trigo) for 5 sucre. The sucre was Ecuador’s official currency prior to 1999 when the country adopted the US dollar as its currency. In the mid 20th century, the value of the sucre was set at about 14 sucre = $1. So this flour probably cost about 35 cents. However, by the year 2000, the sucre was devalued so much that the exchange rate was 25,000 sucre = $1.

 

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This building is called “Patrimonial La Bella de Paris” and is Oña’s community center.

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The Plaza and Church of San Felipe de Oña were extremely peaceful on a Saturday afternoon.

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Thank you Ana Luisa (our teacher) for organizing and translating our excursion. Thanks so much to Adrian for your excellent guiding and interpretation.

Another 2 hour drive, and we were back in Cuenca.  A few naps were being taken during the return journey.  I sat in back with our teacher Ana Luisa and enjoyed some Spanish conversation practice.  No extra charge!

And for you, dear readers, at no extra charge, a few pictures I didn’t really know how to fit in!  Click on these or any pictures in this blog to enlarge them.

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What we’ve learned:  Quite a bit of Spanish, actually.  We could understand just about everything during the tour.

What we need to learn:  Uh . . . more Spanish?  I’m sure of it!

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13 thoughts on “Su-Su-Susudel*

  1. My next door neighbor, who is an elementary school counselor, is coming to Cuenca for 2 weeks for a paid Spanish language immersion class this summer.

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  2. What a cute pregnant cuy! What’s the weather down there like the first day of winter? How cold do you expect it to get (snow)?

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    1. It was very cloudy with no sun breaks whatsoever. That is very rare. I believe that maybe the lows in July and August MIGHT be as low as low 40s and the highs in the low 50s, sometimes warmer. It will not snow.

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