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Cotacachi, Ecuador: Paradise at the End of the Rainbow

This place makes you believe in a higher power. (Photo by Suzan Haskins)

On a hill above Cotacachi, at a bend in the road overlooking an impossibly green valley, someone has painted a sign on a post. It says " Dios esta aqui." God is here. No matter what your religious beliefs, this place makes you believe in a higher power.

This is the Andes, where magical things happen. And this is where I live. On the day of the summer solstice, not one... but two... rainbows appeared in the sky, one above the other. Two perfect arcs framing our mountain, Volcan Imbabura, below. Everywhere, people stopped what they were doing, just to stand and stare.

The fact that this rainbow appeared at the start of Inti Raymi is symbolic enough. Inti Raymi is the festival of the sun, a tradition handed down from Incan ancestors of the local Quichua, who live in Cotacachi and nearby villages.

Living among the Quichua, with their earthy spirituality and colorful traditions, is a major attraction of this part of Ecuador. Most still wear their traditional costumes -not just for fiestas, but every day -and they are fiercely proud of their culture. (Where else can you pop in for a shamanic cleansing as if you were going to the dry cleaner's back home?)

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Family means everything. Long into their toddler years, babies are carried in shawls wrapped and tied on mother's backs. This works like some kind of super-security blanket and you won't see a Quichua baby throwing a tantrum.

Sunday is market day in Cotacachi, when the villagers bring their wares to sell. Everything from fruits and vegetables to ground spices, woven baskets, and rope made of woven plastic shopping bags -recycling at its best. And then there are the roses. I pay $5 for five-dozen, long-stemmed roses that are so fresh they last nearly three weeks. Needless to say, our home is always filled with flowers.

The climate here in Cotacachi is perfect for us. It's around 75 ÌŠ F in the daytime and 55 ÌŠ F at night -just right for us. We wear jeans and T-shirts most of the time and always have a sweater or jacket on hand for when the clouds pass in front of the sun. (This perfect weather is thanks to the fact that Cotacachi is slightly north of the equator but at an elevation of about 8,000 feet.)

Our apartment here has a perfect view of Volcan Imbabura and we enjoy sitting on our terrace and watching the landscape change as the clouds and sun play with the mountains. We chose to live in a condo because we can lock the door, walk away, and when we return a few months later everything is as we left it. We don't have to worry about security or a garden that needs tending. For $10, a local woman cleans the place from top to bottom in just a couple of hours. (And that's the going rate -we're not underpaying. The minimum wage in Ecuador is about $300 a month.)

The low cost of living is one reason we live here, but it certainly isn't the most important reason. We never spend more than $30 for our utilities each month, gasoline is less than $1.50 a gallon, and for $7 at the market, I can buy more fresh produce than I can carry.

But we're here for the adventure of it all... for the new experiences, new friends, and amazing sights around every corner.

Photo by Suzan Haskins

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