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Entries about pre columbian artifacts

Pre-Columbian culture: Los Amantes de Sumpa

Santa Elena and Ballenita


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I was keen to visit Santa Elena today because it has a museum with a famous exhibit called Los Amantes de Sumpa, or the Lovers of Sumpa. Los Amantes de Sumpa are two skeletons that were discovered buried together in an embrace. They belonged to the pre-ceramic Las Vegas culture, who existed on the coast of Ecuador (and especially in the Santa Elena peninsula) between 4600 and 8800 BC. The skeletons were found in the 1970s during a excavation of a large cemetery, a rubbish dump and some remains of homes - what is now the present museum site. My Ecuadorian friend/colleague 'E' came with me because although she had heard of the Lovers of Sumpa, she had never seen them. We also planned to visit the beach at Ballenita for a swim.

Santa Elena itself didn't seem to have anything worth writing home about apart from the museum, which although small was very good and well worth visiting. It was set in some dusty and very empty back streets.

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When I signed the visitors' book I saw that I was their only visitor in the last few days to have come from a different country; to be honest I wasn't surprised, because although the Santa Elena peninsula gets a lot of local tourists (the seaside resort of Salinas is extremely popular), with the exception of Montañita international tourists prefer the places further up the coast. This meant that our visit almost felt like a private tour, because we only saw one other visitor apart from us.

The museum had free entry and it turned out we weren't allowed to walk round by ourselves - a teenage guide showed us round. She didn't know any English, and all the exhibit information was in Spanish, so although my Spanish has definitely improved since May, I was glad E was there to translate what I didn't catch! As well as Los Amantes de Sumpa there were three other skeletons, showing different burial techniques of the Las Vegas people. They were very well presented, and it was amazing to think how old they are - between 8000 and 10,000 years old.

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Then we were shown round a traditional coastal 'campesino' (peasant) hut with everyday objects in it such as Montecristi hat moulds, cotton spinning and weaving equipment, anvil and leather bellows, saddles, wooden water barrel, stove, irons, pestle and mortar for grinding corn, and so on. Outside there was a massive clay bread oven.

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Further on there was a traditional balsa raft, made from three balsa logs and one sail, next to a glass case of net weights and large net- and sail-mending needles (apparently one or two of these rafts are still used by fishermen in Playas, south of Guayaquil).

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Last of all there was a building with some impressive displays of objects from pre-Inca cultures, not only from the Las Vegas but also the Machalilla, Valdivia, Manta and La Tolita cultures; clay burial urns, pottery, metal and shell ornaments, and in the Valdivia display case I thought I saw small, flat, greenish metal axe-heads, but they turned out to be examples of their currency. It also had some finely carved stone figures.

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There was also a very interesting display of old black and white photographs of everyday life in the Santa Elena peninsula from the late 19th and first half of the 20th century.

After this we went to the seaside village of Ballenita, which was only five to ten minutes away by bus. We were both starving by now, so the first thing we did was sit down at one of the opensided seafood restaurants/ cafés by the seafront and have a late lunch.

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I had shrimp rice (which came with the inevitable slices of plantain and avocado on the side) and E had mixed seafood rice and a glass of freshly squeezed/ blended, sweetened lime juice. I had one or two sips from it and it was lovely - zingy but not sour.

We took our time with the meal because we wanted to wait to see if the sun would come out. It hadn't by the time we finished, so we walked down the stone steps to the beach anyway. The sand was brown and the beach quite narrow. I saw a large, dead white and grey fish washed up so I went over and had a look. Nearby I came across a very well camouflaged pufferfish; unfortunately it was caught up in some yellow netting which I assumed was the cause of its death.

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We spread our towels out on the sand and lay down for quite a while. There was quite a breeze blowing and it was a bit overcast, so I didn't fancy swimming unless the sun came out. It was still peaceful and restful, though, lying on a beach with my eyes closed, listening to the waves crash nearby.

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Eventually we realised that the sun was not going to be making an appearance, though, so we left to get a bus back to Santa Elena terminal and then another one from there to Guayaquil. The bus had a video screen that played a very violent film - this was between about 5-7pm with several children on the bus.

Posted by 3Traveller 13:50 Archived in Ecuador Tagged beach museum buses ecuador explorations ecuadorian_cuisine pre_columbian_artifacts Comments (0)

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Arrival in Cuenca

Guayaquil and Cuenca

Once I arrived at the bus terminal in Guayaquil I had a great deal of trouble finding the office of the minivan service I'd been recommended instead of the big public bus because it turned out not to be at the terminal itself. I wandered around getting increasingly frustrated, especially after 8.30 came and went (the time I'd been told I had to arrive at for a 9 o'clock departure time); I asked a couple of people for directions but couldn't understand enough of their replies for them to be much use. The third person I asked, however, an old woman working in a small shop at the 'commercial centre' nearby, took me part of the way there. I eventually arrived at the office at 8.55! Luckily it didn't matter that I was late, because I had to wait there until quarter past nine anyway.

The journey to Cuenca took about three hours. Before we got to the mountains we passed several banana plantations, what I guessed was a sugar cane plantation, an orchard of small trees with a fruit I couldn't recognise, lots of wooden shacks on stilts, and a few hamlets with shacks/ houses/ shops made of brick but with corrugated iron roofs. Most of these hamlets had large roadside fruit stalls with tables piled with oranges, plantains and massive watermelons, and pineapples and bunches of bananas hanging from strings from the ceilings.

Eventually we started to climb and climb, and the popping of my eardrums made me realise the altitude. We passed through low-lying clouds - for about 10-15 minutes we couldn't see more than about 10 feet ahead, and although we were driving along a mountainside we couldn't see over the side at all. I thought this a shame because I guessed the view was probably amazing. The driver only slowed down a little bit at the many bends in the road, and on several occasions during the whole journey he talked on his mobile and drove at the same time, which would have worried me more only I'm used to terrible driving in Guayaquil! At least the road was of good quality.

We drover higher, broke through the clouds and kept on going. I kept getting glimpses of the view of the clouds spread below us with mountaintops peeping through, as if we were in an aeroplane! It was amazing, but I never managed to get proper photos of it because the road barrier and trees and bushes kept blocking the view and I never got more than a second or two to take a picture. Some time later we saw a range of mountain peaks ahead which had clouds near the top - of these I managed to get better photos.

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Eventually we descended into a valley and I saw llamas for the first time in Ecuador! It brought back memories of the first time I saw llamas in South America, in Bolivia in 2009. There were also grey ponies and black and white cows. Not too long after that we passed shacks and then the outskirts of Cuenca.

I had no idea where the minivan company's office was in relation to my hostel, but instead of getting a taxi I decided to walk. My hearing was a bit messed up, just like it usually is after a flight, but it soon cleared up. I headed towards a main road and came across a river, so although I had to follow the road next to the river for ages before the streets started appearing on the map in my guidebook, I did get to my hostel in the end. The hostel, Hostal Villa del Rosario, had no record of my single room booking but gave me a twin room to myself straightaway instead, so I didn't mind. Although it was basic, the room still looked cosy. The hostel had a really nice laid-back rather arty/ bohemian air, and had a courtyard with several tropical plants and trees in it.

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As soon as I'd dumped my stuff I headed back out. I walked around the corner to Museo de las Culturas Aborigines - an archaeological museum of Ecuador's pre-Columbian cultures - which was interesting. Things I saw included; clay whistles in the shape of animals, carved bones used as boards for ritual games, bone flutes, shell spoons, a clay statue of a set of conjoined twins, clay statues of shamans with religious offerings, small figures of deformed humans, stone corn on the cobs, and stone bolas used for hunting.

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After leaving the museum I walked down a long flight of steps to the river Tomebamba.

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I said hello to it from a bridge and walked along the path for a bit before going back up the stairs and wandering around town taking pictures. Cuenca has a lot of beautiful colonial buildings.

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I noticed a lot of the local women were wearing the traditional women's clothes of Cuenca, which is a brightly coloured skirt, some with an embroidered hem, a shawl and a Panama hat (or Montecristi hat as they are known in Ecuador...) Cuenca is a centre of Panama/ Montecristi hat making. Some also wear their hair in two long plaits. The men of Cuenca just wear ordinary clothes, as do many of the younger female generation.

After about an hour, however, my hips and knee started hurting a lot for some reason, so I decided to call it a day and went into an internet cafe for 40 minutes. It was getting dark when I came out. I still had crisps and a chocolate brownie from my packed lunch left, so I had those for dinner instead of going for a meal out. It was actually cold at night which was a novelty to me after living in Guayaquil for three months!

Posted by 3Traveller 08:33 Archived in Ecuador Tagged mountains museum hostel andes ecuador cuenca unesco_world_heritage_site pre_columbian_artifacts traditional_customs colonial_church Comments (0)

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