Saturday, March 01, 2008

El Angel - Bio-Paradise

My visit on February 26 to Carchi Province further brought out the many contradictions that exist in Ecuador. Heavy dependence on pesticides and fertilizers have made cost of production higher than purchasing potatoes, the main crop for campesinos in what was once a very productive area (I'll be writing more later...)

At the same time Carchi, located in the northern highlands near the border of Colombia (where young people are often abducted by para-military groups) has some of the most gorgeous and mysterious landscape in the region.

El Angel Reserve (above), located just a few minutes from the settlement of the same name, has a cool climate and is home to a variety of flora, such as the unique frailejón plant. Home to a large number of highland lakes and forests, the Reserve is the habitat of a variety of mammals, such as deer, rabbit and the paramo fox, and a slew of endemic bird species.

The village of El Angel with just 5,300 inhabitants seems, on the surface, to be just a typical village. Indigenous women stroll its streets carrying babies in their arms and items to sell in the market on their backs. Roosters crow at all hours, accompanied by braying donkeys. But strolling the streets one sees the first irony. Virtually all the streets have well maintained sidewalks with wheelchair and bicycle ramps. Try finding that in a city in the U.S. Midwest!

From the distance, the cathedral in the middle of town is impressive but not that remarkable for Latin America. Like many public spaces in Ecuador, it is surrounded by beautiful and sometimes quirky public art.

The real shock is another square (below) behind the church featuring the jaw-dropping topiaries of Jose Franco Guerrero, better known for his similar work in the cemetery in Tulcán. This park would be remarkable in Paris or Buenos Aires. To find it in a remote Ecuadorian village further builds my case made in my previous post comparing Quito to San Francisco.

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