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A smooth paved road runs downhill out of Quilatoa and in minutes I am in Zumbahua. It is early morning and the town is quiet. A few men stand around pick up trucks in the square. Women seated on the pavement, well wrapped in woolen shawls, sell snacks of fried dough.

A quick breakfast in a ordinary looking restaurant with wi-fi of all things – a surprisingly sophisticated and incongruous touch. Sadly, Ecuador is no place for a decent cup of coffee. I reject the proffered instant powder in a favour of a herbal teabag – a choice I know will have its impact by midafternoon.

Quilatoa in the distance above the Ecuadorean patchwork fields.


The road to Angamarca after a short stint on pavement...


...leads across the paramo.

The road descends and with it, a deadening layer of cloud. I go down and down, seemingly endlessly, in a damp grey void. Anything at all could be happening a mere 50 feet away and I would know nothing of it. It is cold and wet and there are no visual distractions from these facts. Even sounds are muffled and dampened and serve only to further disorientate.

Clouds and the road start to descend simultaneously.

Eventually I emerge, chilled and hungry, into a cheerless village square. On request, an old crone directs me to the only restaurant in Angamarca, but it is closed. I return to the square and a group of children gather tightly around my bike and stare wordlessly at me. The old woman points to a bar, completely deserted in the mid afternoon. A man stands at the door but he denies having food. Eventually he grudgingly agrees to heat some rice for me and then while I am eating admits to also having some eggs. He fries two and adds them to my plate.

When I go outside the children are still crowded around my bike. They are giggling and bashful but this time they speak. “Where will you sleep?” “I don’t know. It’s still early.” “You should ask the Padre.” ‘Oh?” “Yes. He has a house by the church and lots of gringo stay there.” “Oh.”

But I ride past the church and turn onto the road that leads out the of the other side of town. However, I am still hungry and so when I pass a bakery, I turn around. The woman in the bakery plies me with questions as I stuff sweet bread into my mouth. She too suggests I ask the Padre for shelter for the night. “Ummmm. It’s early,” I say. I haven’t had much luck previously with the hospitality of the church and have an innate suspicion for some reason. We continue to talk and I demonstrate my map to her and her husband. Questions exhausted and stomach satiated I return again to the road but setting off into the fog at 4pm now seems a comfortless prospect.

There is a compound behind the church and I enter the courtyard. Knock on a door. Seconds later my bike is safely locked up in a store-room, I’ve been installed in a dormitory with comfortable bunk beds and best of all a genuine Italian coffee is brewing on the impressive cast iron wood burning stove, also imported all the way from Italy, in the kitchen upstairs.

Padre Bautista has been in Ecuador twenty years and in Angamarca for twelve and it’s a cosy, warm and welcoming parish life that he has created there. People come and go at a door that is never locked. A crowd of young people materialise at meal times and the table can always fit one more, it seems. Mario, a young volunteer, also from Italy, chats with the young village lads.

The church...

...and rectory, with a constantly open door.

This a church were the Italian Padre takes the injunction to receive pilgrims seriously...

... and also serves an excellent espresso.

The table is always set to receive as many people turn up.

In the morning, the clouds have lifted enough to see the village.


Before leaving town, I visit to the wood-working co-operative – another initiative of the Italian mission – to see if I can improve the performance of my still recalcitrant Primus stove which some of the men watched me futilely tinkering with the night before outside the rectory. They have a touching faith in the power of WD40, which I don’t entirely share.

These men are very keen to help me get my stove working better but with little lasting effect, sad to say.

The wood-working co-operative provides work in a place where there are few opportunities outside a basic subsistence existence.


The church is graced with some of the fruits of these labours.


I leave Angamarca genuinely heartwarmed by my encounters with the people there. As I pass the bakery on my way out of town the woman rushes out with a big bag full of sweet bread and presses it on me.

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