Ecuadorian friends invited us to tag along on March 12, 2017. They own a large hardware store here in Atuntaqui and Hosteleria Cristopamba in Intag where they spend most of their weekends.
Intag is a remote, mountainous region in the Andes in the Imbabura province of northern Ecuador, just 2 hours away from Atuntaqui, via a curvy but completely paved mountainous road with magnificent views. Driver beware, however, as spots along the way can become very foggy.
According to the web, the area is part of two of the world’s most important Biological Hotspots: the Tropical Andes and the Tumbes-Chocó–Magdalena Hotspot. It borders the Cotacatchi Cayapas Ecological Reserve, internationally recognized for its ecological importance.
Approximately 17,000 people live in Intag in communities that are sparsely scattered among cloud forest and agricultural lands.
Because of the area’s great altitudinal range, they are able to grow an impressive number of agricultural products, including: tropical fruits, coffee — including organic and fair trade — cacao, corn, beans, yucca, papaya, potatoes, tree tomatoes, sugar cane, bananas and naranjillas and the list goes on. I love the red pineapples grown there!
For the first time, we decided to try, jugo de caña—cane sugar juice. I thought it would be like drinking a cup of liquid sugar, but it’s not. It is actually a light refreshing drink!
In the mercado on Sunday in Apuela we even found what looked like chestnuts. That’s right, chestnuts. One women there had a single small bag. Of course, she had no idea what we meant by chestnuts, but we did ask how she prepares them. She said they boil them, peel them, and use them as they would peanuts.
So then, once we got back home, we Googled. Sure enough, they did indeed look just like chestnuts and they tasted like chestnuts — at least what I can remember my parents serving each and every December/January. However, with our batch, we decided to go the American route and simply roasted them. Wow, roasted chestnuts–or something extremely similar–here in Ecuador and yes, they were very good! Update: I was just informed that in this neck of the world they call it fruita de pan!
We also bought macadamia nuts at the mercado, which we were told is grown 2 hours away. So, once we got back to Atuntaqui, we hammered their hard shells open and dipped the nuts in chocolate sauce! Yum!
Hosteleria Cristopamba is up the road from the hot spring pools and not far from the pueblo of Apuela. A beautiful spot surrounded by lush green mountains, with a raging river just behind the hostel and it’s separate cabins where guests can stay as well. Our friends told us to just pick a cabin, any cabin! So we did — the one with the hammocks! Ahhh!
There’s nothing around Hosteleria Cristopamba, so our thoughts were: how in the world do we get our coffee in the morning—Sunday morning!?!? Well…no worries there. A lovely family across the street, who converted their small home into a restaurant, normally serve breakfast at 8 am. However, at our request they opened at 7 am! What about coffee? Well, good black coffee was hot and ready to go! Their coffee is actually grown right there on their own property. They also sell the unroasted green coffee beans by the pound — $2.00/lb.
One of my favorite breakfasts (or lunch) in Ecuador is called Majado de Verde and I love it served with eggs. Majado de Verde is a dish made by boiling green plantains, chopping them up or mashing them and then frying them with stuff, such as onions. She fried hers with pieces of delicious pork and served it with a side of eggs—ours being scrabbled. I have got to make this at home! Breakfast was $3.00 each (with 2 eggs) which included coffee with refills and juice.
Then after breakfast, it was back across the street to our hostel for the Sunday morning meeting. That’s right, the front section of the main hostel has been converted into a small Kingdom Hall where a small Spanish group meets.
After our evening in the hot springs the restaurant also served dinner for our large group, which our friends arranged for ahead of time. After our warm soak, then a meal, it was quite nice having our bed waiting just across the road!
Learning that we were once coffee roasters, our friends wanted to take us to the Cafe Rio Intag Roasterie in Apuela. That is where they roast the coffee for the Cafe Rio Intag coffee shop in Cotacachi. (It was explained to us that the coffee roaster that is in the coffee shop itself in Cotacachi, is actually used for special roasts upon customers request).
We enjoyed our tour at Cafe Rio Intag roasters where we were treated to a fresh pot of coffee especially made for our group. Now our Ecuadorian friends want to roast their own coffee. In fact, they bought their own beans for that purpose.
Then we all piled back into our friends 4-wheel drive diesel truck and off we went “four wheeling” high up in the hills for some gorgeous views.
Side Notes: There are no lockers at the hot springs. Baskets are provided for personal belongings which get lined up on a shelf in front of the main pool.
Buses from Otavalo do come here. I asked how many — about 5 runs a day. However, to get around, taxis are on the expensive side, so having a car is pretty necessary. Some of the friends mentioned that they do get around the area via the the trucks for transport and what they call buses.