Every year in July there is a big festival in Machachi, the Paseo del Chagra. The chagras are known for their good horseman skills and the Quechua word chagra has now begun to mean “Andean Cowboy”. At the annual festival in Machachi there is a parade where hundreds of chagras participate riding on their best horse. They are usually dressed in chaps (often made by llama fur), wool ponchos, a scarf a hat and boots. In the parade there are also traditional dance groups, dancing and singing.
At the festival there is also a kind of bullfight, well more like running with the bulls, where lots of young men run around in the same arena as a loose bull.
During the festival there is a lot of different street food available and also lots and lots of alcohol.
I did not here about the festival in Machachi until the same day it was happening, so I only visited a few hours from Quito. It was already afternoon when I arrived, but I saw part of the parade and had a glimpse of the running with the bull. I went inside the arena but at the first entrance they wanted to Charge me $5 for watching. I was not that interested and went to another entrance where I stood watching for while. Well, I’m glad I changed my plans for the day and went to Machachi when I heard about the festival because it was interesting to see this traditional Paseo del Charga.
The Páramo - so I've been told - is like a sponge, which absorbs water and releases it in streams that flow all the way down to the Amazon plain (the Oriente).
This high and windy environment is characterized by tall grass, a lot of moss, short gnarled trees, and timid little flowers. It is definitely awe-inspiring, and the thin air is clear and crisp.
After signing a waiver (!) 4 other travelers and myself were outfitted with heavy chaps and red ponchos. THEN we were told about the wild bulls, and how to outrun them. Hmm, can I have a green poncho please?
Actually, the four-hour ride was spectacular. Towards the end, as we were about to give up, Cotopaxi finally emerged from its cloud cover.
Our guide was one of the Hacienda partners, a beautiful and tough cowgirl with good English who led us while smoking one single cigarette - which took a while due to the altitude. When I say tough, she was very kind and courteous, but I wouldn't try to steal her horse...
She was, incidentally, planning a trip to the US, to attend an eco-tourism convention.
Cotopaxi, an active volcano, is the emblem of Ecuador. In addition to heavy-duty mountain climbing, there are also daytrips organized from Quito in order to experience the lower part of the snow and ice. I am sorry that I didn't get to do that. Still, enjoying the sight of Cotopaxi on horseback was already pretty exciting.
Elevation 5,897m = 19,347ft
There are three self-guided trails on the immense grounds of Hacienda El Porvenir.
Here and there, you need to open and close a barbed wire gate, as the Hacienda maintains a very scientific distribution of its bulls and horses.
Do not try to walk too fast or too long if you just arrived at this altitude. Take it easy. As a matter of fact, the Hacienda is favored by mountain climbers who acclimatize themselves there before "doing" Cotopaxi.
I saw more llamas in Ecuador than in Perú. Even at the Hacienda, where the business is bulls and horses, they keep a couple of plump light-colored llamas for good luck I guess.
Sincholagua (elevation: 5126 m, 16817 ft) is yet another volcano easily identifiable from the viewpoints of trails surrounding the Hacienda.
Ruminahui is an extinct volcano with an elevation of 4,634m = 15,200ft, which is very visible from the grounds of Hacienda El Porvenir.