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Land of winds > The land > Geography | Issue 03. Jan.-Feb.2011
By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Ecuadorian Andes

Ecuadorian Andes
    Imbabura llaqtamanta llamushka, mashikuna.
    Tantanakushpa takishun.
    May karu llaqtapi kashpapash
    Quiquinta mana kunkanchiqchu
    Ñuca llaqta, Peguche

    [I’ve just come from Imbabura, pals.
    As we gather together, let’s sing.
    Everywhere we go, no matter how far it is
    We should not forget our homeland.
    My homeland, Peguche]

    Quichua Mashis. “Peguche”. On the album “Wiñaypa”
With an average altitude of 4,000 m, the Sierra –term used in Ecuador to name the Andes ranges– is one of the most dominant geographical features in a relatively small country compared to its neighbours. Located between the massif of “Nudo de los Pastos” (Pastos knot, the Pastos being an extinct indigenous people) to the north and the massif of “Nudo de Loja” (Loja knot, Loja being a town) to the south, the Sierra spreads over eleven provinces forming a strip of 600 km in length and 100-120 km in width.
It is part of the so called tropical Andes, the northern section that runs east-west from Ecuador to Venezuela. This area has the range’s greatest biodiversity, with over 45,000 plant species and over 6,000 animal species.
Also in this country it is located part of the North Volcanic Zone which is known as the Ecuador’s “Avenue of the Volcanoes”, a rich landscape of forest and mountains. As it happens in neighbour countries such as Colombia and Peru, the Sierra separates a narrow western coastal area from the eastern Amazon rainforest.

[Picture 01] [Picture 02] [Picture 03] [Picture 04]

Geography of Ecuador, in Wikipedia.

The Ecuadorian Andes split in two ranges: the Eastern Cordillera (or Royal, or Quito) and the Western Cordillera. The former is higher, wider and has more volcanic activity than the latter. However, the latter is home to the highest summit in the country, Mount Chimborazo, and is crossed by numerous rivers.
These two ranges enclose the Central Depression, an interandean plateau where transverse mountain massifs known as “mountain-knots” or “nudos” tie both Cordilleras. The Nudo of Azuay is the highest and divides the Sierra in two sections: the northern one, a region of recent volcanism, and the southern section, a highly eroded mountain system of ancient volcanism.
Ecuadorian Andes include several peaks above 5,000 m (16,405 ft) such as Chimborazo (6,310 m.), El Altar (5,320 m.), and Illiniza (5,248 m); some of them volcanic: Antisana (5,753 m), Cotopaxi (5,897 m), Cayambe (5,790 m), Sangay (5,230 m), and Tungurahua (5,023 m.); few of which remain active today (Tungurahua volcano erupted violently on May 28, 2010).

Picture 01. Chimborazo.
Picture 02. Illiniza.
Picture 03. Antisana.
Picture 04. Cotopaxi.
Picture 05. Cayambe.
Picture 06. Sangay.
Picture 07. Tungurahua.

Many of the highest Andean peaks of Ecuador can be seen from the main cities of the country such as its capital city Quito, Riobamba or Ibarra. In addition to being a marvellous sight for mountaineers and tourists alike, these impressive summits are an essential part of native peoples’ mythology and cosmology. They consider these mounts as “fathers” and “mothers”, protectors and guides that watch over them. In many legends two mountains even fall in love with each other, as happened with Imbabura and Cotacachi.

Chimborazo (volcano), in Wikipedia.
El Altar (volcano), in Wikipedia.
Illiniza, in Wikipedia.
Antisana, in Wikipedia.
Cotopaxi (volcano), in Wikipedia.
Cayambe (volcano), in Wikipedia.
Sangay, in Wikipedia.
Tungurahua (volcano), in Wikipedia.

Protected areas and National Parks now include such mounts as Cotopaxi, Illiniza or Sangay in order to protect their habitat and control human activities that may threaten species richness and diversity. Located in the tropical belt, the valleys of the Ecuadorian Andes are home to forest of queñua (Polylepis sp.), patches of rain forest with such different specimens as mullón, cedrillo, sara, orchid, bromeliad and moss, and pastures of kikuyo grass. Among the wildlife you may encounter the tapir, the spectacled bear and a good number of birds. On the other hand, the summits and the slopes of these mountains are covered by moors where the frailejón plant is typically found; the vicuna, the llama, the alpaca and the brocket deer graze; and the cougar persists at low population densities.

Picture 01. Rainforest of Ecuador.
Picture 02. Andean moor with frailejones.

Queñua (Polylepis), in Wikipedia.
Tapir, in Wikipedia.
Spectacled bear, in Wikipedia.
Cougar, in Wikipedia.
Brocket deer (Mazama), in Wikipedia.
Cedrillo (Brunellia), in Wikipedia.

The vast rocky landscape of the Sierra is embellished by a collection of water mirrors, most of them of volcanic origin. The San Pablo-Chicapán Lake and the Cuicocha, Yahuarcocha and Mojanda lagoons, all of them located in the province of Imbabura, are famous by their beauty and attract lots of visitors to the area. Other well known examples are the Muertepungo, Dormida and Secas lagoons in Pichincha province and the Yambo and Quilopa lagoons in Cotopaxi province.
In such rough terrain, where the rivers that feed the Pacific and Amazon basins are born, there are plenty of waterfalls and spectacular narrow gorges. It deserves special mention the famous Peguche “faccha” (waterfall), considered “sacred” by local people.

Picture 01. Lake San Pablo.
Picture 02. Yahuarcocha Lake.
Picture 03. Mojanda Lake.
Picture 04. Peguche waterfall (faccha).

With so many natural wonders and breathtaking landscapes, it is not strange that an important part of the Andean music of Ecuador stresses how homesick Ecuadorians feel when they are the ones who made it to somewhere else.
    Pasando mares y montañas / a tu lado me acerco.
    Sobre las nubes voy volando / aproximándome hacia ti.
    Vamos volviendo a nuestro pueblo, / pueblo que nos vio crecer,
    donde montañas y lagunas / son testigos de mi amor.
    Todas las horas navegando / en el silencio del tiempo.
    Ay, maravillas de mi tierra / divisando desde el cielo.

    [Crossing seas and mountains / to get close to you.
    Flying over clouds / to come near you.
    We are coming back to our village, / the village that saw us grow up,
    Where mountains and lakes / are the witnesses of my love.
    Sailing at all hours/ in the silence of time.
    Oh!, the wonders of my homeland / being sighted from the sky]

    Quichua Mashis. “Peguche”. On the album “Wiñaypa”


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