Archive for March, 2011

The $10 Fruit Challenge

With a little extra time today, I had to come up with an activity that would feel productive yet enjoyable. Finding $10 in my pocket, I decided that this would be the key to the challenge. So I walked to the Mercado Central to buy as much fruit as I could within my set limit of funds. And what I ended up with was far more than I could have imagined.

A collection of fruits for under $10.

A collection of fruits for under $10.

Many of these fruits are often sitting in my apartment at any given time, but today presented an opportunity to spend some extra time with the familiar and to get acquainted with the new. I lined them up and, one by one, sliced and tasted each. Here is a rundown of the wide range of fruits that you can find in Ecuador.

A Note on Passion Fruit:
I actually found three different types of passion fruit today. You may not see the similarities from the outside, but once you look within, it’s pretty obvious. The fruit is characterized by its seeds covered by a slimy, jelly-like membrane (which is actually the delicious part). You can eat the seeds with the goo; no need to separate them. Interestingly, while some people think that it’s called passion fruit because of its aphrodisiac qualities, quite on the contrary; it was named by Christians as a reference to the passion of Jesus, with the ten petals of the flower representing the ten faithful apostles.

Granadilla
This is my favorite passion fruit. It is the sweetest of the three that I found. The seeds are also the most reminiscent of frog eggs (or snot, you choose) than the other passion fruits. It’s said that these are good for your stomach and can be eaten before a meal to aid in digestion.

Granadilla.

Granadilla.


Taxo
Also known as the banana passion fruit, the taxo is tangier than the sweet granadilla. The closer-packed seeds are also slightly harder than the other passion fruits.
Taxo, or Banana Passion Fruit

Taxo, or Banana Passion Fruit


Maracuyá
The most tart of the three passion fruits that I found, this was, consequently, my least favorite. This variety of passion fruit is often made into juice in Ecuador, but sugar is added to counter the sour flavor.
Maracuyá.

Maracuyá.


Pitahaya
Since arriving in Ecuador, I’ve probably eaten one of these daily. Also known as the yellow dragon fruit, it is closely related to the pink variety that you can find in Chinatowns across the US. The inside is semi-clear with seeds suspended throughout, similar to a kiwi. The flavor is sweet, but subtle with a slightly floral hint. Excellent when chilled.
Pitahaya, or Golden Dragon Fruit.

Pitahaya, or Golden Dragon Fruit.


Guayaba
Known as guava in the U.S., this interesting fruit isn’t particularly sweet; the smell and flavor are almost musky. It somewhat reminds me of a mix between a pear and a strawberry. The small seeds throughout can be eaten, and some people even eat the skin.
Guayaba, or Guava.

Guayaba, or Guava.


Pepino
Pepino is a nightshade related to the tomato and eggplant. The flavor is slightly sweet and resembles a honeydew melon. Because of this, it is sometimes referred to as a pepino melon, though it isn’t closely related to the melon family.
Pepino.

Pepino.


Fisalida
Also known as the cape gooseberry after being cultivated at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa (despite it being native to South America). This fruit is slightly sweet with a little tang and a hint of tomato. I think this would be a good addition to a salad. The paper-like outside is discarded and the orange fruit is eaten whole.
Fisalida, or Cape Gooseberry.

Fisalida, or Cape Gooseberry.


Achotillo
Also known as rambutan, this fruit can be found in Chinatowns in the US and even at some Whole Foods or freeze dried at Trader Joe’s. The fruit inside is similar to lychee, though it is harder to separate from the seed. It is sweet and slightly floral in flavor.
Achotillo, or Rambutan.

Achotillo, or Rambutan.


Sapote
Though it looks more like a squash inside, this fruit has a surprisingly fresh flavor, with hints of persimmon and cantaloupe.
Sapote.

Sapote.


Babaco
Leaving the largest for last, babaco is a very juice fruit that tastes somewhat like a watered down pineapple with a touch of strawberry. It is often boiled with cinnamon and sugar and served hot in its own syrup.
Babaco.

Babaco.

posted by Sandy in Uncategorized and have Comments (1,565)

Three Days on the Inca Trail

Last week I accompanied one of Rodrigo’s tours on the Inca Trail. He was leading a group of three on a rigorous southbound hike to climb over 1,000 meters following the path of the chasquis, the Inca runners, 500 years ago. These chasquis carried messages across the Inca Empire, providing the sole form of long distance communication.

The trek started in the small indigenous town of Achupallas, where farms speckled the land without a trace of road leading to them. These were the last houses we saw as we headed to the more isolated valleys along which the trail runs.

Roosters in Achupallas.

Roosters in Achupallas.

The interesting thing about this section of the trail is the formation of the land. It is believed that the rounded valleys were left by glacial recession. The idea is that 10,000 years ago, anything above 3,200 meters was covered in glaciers. As the ice slowly melted, it left a characteristic U-shaped valley with steep walls, often with a stream running through the center. Another sign of glacial recession are the rocks embedded in the ground that almost look misplaced. It makes for a unique and beautiful landscape.

The glacial valley along which the Inca Trail runs.

The glacial valley along which the Inca Trail runs.

The first day was a short hike, as we set up next to the rushing stream in the valley. The evening quickly grew foggy, as clouds rushed in from the north, setting the ambiance for the night.

The stream rushes by camp.

The stream rushes by camp.

The stream will soon be covered in clouds.

The stream will soon be covered in clouds.

The lush green landscape against the red curtain of our improvised “facilities” even made the loo picturesque.

The bathroom.

The bathroom.

As night grew closer, Rodrigo and I decided to explore and climb the western side of the valley. At the top, we were able to catch the last light of sunset, as well as a view of the tops of Chimborazo and the volcanic Sangay. It was a slow trip back down, as night had fallen and all we could see was the short distance illuminated by our headlamps in front of us.

The last glimpse of sunset.

The last glimpse of sunset.

When we returned to camp, food was waiting to be served and a fire had just started to crackle.

A fire roars.

A fire roars.

We had tents prepared for sleeping, but another opportunity was calling. Along the steep sides of the valley, small caves lined the rock walls. Under the sounds of dripping water and the flapping of wings as birds sought shelter, I spent the night on a bed of hay nestled in the mouth of a small opening.

My view in the morning.

My view in the morning.

The next day started with clear skies and a warm sun. We decided to take the high road, along the ridge of the mountains. This provided excellent views in all directions, as well as a chance to get light-headed in the high altitude. The highest point of the day hit 4,450 meters, or about 14,600 feet.

View from the ridge.

View from the ridge.

The valleys are peppered with lakes.

The valleys are peppered with lakes.

At high altitudes, it’s like you’re in another world. The flora grows smaller and smaller the higher you get and grows in formations unlike anywhere else.

A typical view of the highlands.

A typical view of the highlands.

Instead of grass, this plant covers much of the ground.

Instead of grass, this plant covers much of the ground.

After five hours of hiking, our destination was finally in sight. With three more hours, we reached this lake in the valley, where Incan ruins awaited.

Our destination.

Our destination.

These ruins are believed to be a tambo, a station house for the chasquis as they tag-treamed across the trail like a relay race.

A donkey and a tambo.

A donkey and a tambo.

Fortunately, it was intact enough for another interesting camp spot. And, as I settled into my sleeping bag and the clouds cleared for the night, shooting stars streaked across the sky while the milky way twinkled from above.

Camping in the tambo.

Camping in the tambo.

The last day was a shorter hike across flat farmlands, where cows called to us and streams irrigated the pastures. These provided obstacles, but nothing to which we hadn’t grown accustomed.

Leaping over a stream.

Leaping over a stream.

We ended the day at Ingapirca, the largest known Incan ruins in Ecuador. This is also an interesting site because these temples and ritual site were actually built on top of an ancient Cañari site, the predecessors to the land. Here sit the temples to the moon and sun, as well as a burial ground and rooms that were believed to house virgins.

Temple of the Sun.

Temple of the Sun.

Although it’s called the Inca Trail, there were originally several routes; this one stretched from Quito down to Argentina. Most people, when they think of the Inca Trail, think only of the path to Machu Picchu, but Ecuador’s trail has a lot to offer. Some people spend months hiking the entire distance; these were just three days. I hope to spend more time on the trail in the months to come.

posted by Sandy in Uncategorized and have Comments (1,251)

New Project: El Último Hielero

I’m very pleased to announce that we have started yet another project. I am in the beginning stages of shooting a short documentary called El Último Hielero, or The Last Ice Merchant.

To explore the rapid generational changes within indigenous communities, I’m following a man named Baltazar, who is known here as the last ice merchant. Twice a week for the last 55 years he has trekked over 10 km to the fossilized glaciers on Chimborazo—to an altitude of about 16,000 feet—with his donkeys. There he hacks away at ice, breaks it into blocks, wraps it in hay and brings it back down to store in a hole in the ground so that he can sell it at the Saturday market for $2.50 a piece.

I followed Baltazar for two days last week to shoot preliminary footage and am coordinating time to head over for an extended period. Following is a promo video to show what exactly he does as a hielero.



posted by Sandy in Uncategorized and have Comments (1,758)