Wanderlust: La ruta escondida, Ecuador

Outside of Quito my dad and I took the rental car on a trek through the mountains on what’s known as la ruta escondida, “the hidden route.” It’s a mountain road that passes through five villages: Atahualpa, Perucho, Chavezpamba, San José de Minas and San Antonio de Pichincha.

My dad and I stopped at Atahualpa, Ecuador on la ruta escondida, July 2018

It’s a daunting task driving on dirt and pebble roads through the mountains. The constant curves and up and down is enough to make anyone car sick, so if you take this trip and you’re prone to motion sickness, I highly recommend Dramamine and ginger chews.

What’s truly thrilling though is winding through these narrow roads, knowing at any moment another car coming from the other direction can be around the corner. There are no guard rails on these roads, so it’s a test of skill and courage to drive through those mountains.

Stopped at a stream along la ruta escondida, Ecuador, July 2018

The sights along the way are a marvel. There’s green as far as the eye can see, old bridges long forgotten by city dwellers and clean streams of water for passing cows and llamas to drink from.

We saw the locals walking on the same roads our car drove on. These are rural people who make a living off the land and think nothing of a 20-mile journey on foot.

It’s a long way between towns, so make sure you have a fully charged phone, or at least a portable charger with you. The last thing you want is to be stranded out in the mountains without a phone to call for help.

On our road trip through la ruta escondida, we stopped for lunch in Perucho at a little local restaurant. It looked more like someone’s house, but that’s how businesses are out there. The food was delicious, made with fresh ingredients. Everything tastes different in Ecuador. It all tastes the way food should, without the added preservatives and chemicals. Make sure you work up an appetite, because each meal after the morning includes a bowl of soup and a plate of rice, protein and greens.

Our meal in Perucho, Ecuador, la ruta escondida: vegetable soup, rice, chicken, potatoes, and salad, July 2018
Restaurant Cahuasqui in the village in Ecuador, la ruta escondida, July 2018

Our journey through the mountains led to the destination I’d most anticipated: the village of Cahuasqui, my family’s surname. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by people who knew how to pronounce my last name. Even better, my last name was on everything, from restaurants to grocery stores to ice cream shops.

It’s common to see European surnames on buildings in the U.S. Depending on where you travel in America, Spanish surnames are also plenty. But indigenous names like Cahuasqui? Never.

It was quiet the day we visited the town, but it felt like home. We stopped for dinner here, once more in what felt like a resident’s private kitchen. We picked at salted popcorn as we awaited our meals. Popcorn was the appetizer of choice here, like how Mexican restaurants set out chips and salsa or Cuban restaurants set out garlic bread.

Before daylight ran out, we headed back on the road, through the winding mountain roads, back to the closest city, Otavalo. Stay tuned for my time in Otavalo in the next installment.

For the previous installment of my summer 2018 trip to Ecuador, click here. You can see more about my time in Ecuador from my first trip in 2011.

Has anyone else done a road trip like this one? Does anyone want to take the road less traveled after reading this? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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