♦ TREN ECUADOR (a.k.a. Tren Crucero), award-winner of finest luxury train experience in South America, rides the rails along the 280-mile route between Quito and Guayaquil, providing what amounts to a four-night cornucopia of culturally rich experiences combined with stays at historic lodgings, while traveling beneath snow-capped volcanoes and over Andean mountain passes, scaling and descending a mountainside of rail switchbacks that links the highlands to the Pacific’s tropical coast. Tren Ecuador also offers day-trip excursions in various regions. For instance, the Central Andes is the rail route on the Train of the Volcanoes, with passengers boarding at the Chimbacalle station (a designated historic treasure) Friday/Saturday/Sunday. Along the route, a dozen volcanoes fill the horizon (on clear days), and passengers sample the culture and cuisine of chagra (cowboy) country, and take a guided hike focused on the flora and fauna of Cotopaxi National Park.
♦ TIGUA ART — paintings of extravagant color and beauty — portray daily life, fiestas, labor, livestock, landscapes and celebrations. Paintings come in all sizes, with no two exactly alike in recording traditional indigenous life in the Andes. The self-taught artists of the Tigua region of Cotopaxi Province originally applied their folkloric designs to the drums used in the annual Corpus Christi celebrations. It was Olga Fisch, Hungarian-born enthusiast for Ecuadorian folklore and artisan craft, who led the local artists to apply their painting skills to flat surfaces, although this writer, owner of many Tigua paintings, also has a child’s chair covered wonderfully with rural life scenes of Ecuador. It was purchased years ago in Olga Fisch Folklore store, still going strong in Quito.
♦ TAGUA JEWELRY is made from the tagua palm nut, a.k.a. Ecuadorian ivory. The nuts are harvested, dried, carved or sliced into disks, painted and fired to ceramic-like shine. Pieces are then fashioned into rings, bracelets, necklaces and earrings, creating some of the loveliest and most reasonably priced jewelry anywhere. It’s the perfect organic, eco-friendly, sustainable and highly fashionable gift buy in the country. No better place than the Mercado Artisanal to find tagua treasures at incredibly low prices.