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Exploring Zaruma, Ecuador’s Gold Mining Capital

I was invited to visit a government run senior residence in Zaruma, Ecuador and was excited to make the trip. Who wouldn’t have said yes for an opportunity not only to meet more Ecuadorian seniors, but for the chance to discover the gold capital of southwest Ecuador? I especially liked enunciating out loud the exotic sounding name – Zaruma!

City street in Zaruma.

The drive to Zaruma from Cuenca was about 4 hours over bumpy roads to the coast at Machala (banana country) and over more bumpy roads back into the mountains of Zaruma at 4,000 feet. I was traveling in an official government truck with a social services driver and an Ecuadorian senior care analyst. We stopped for lunch at Piñas, a small town known for its fog and cold as well as its orchids. We picked up a health educator on the way.

Zaruma, in the province of El Oro (oro = gold), was founded by Spanish explorer Alfonso de Mercadillo in 1595. But long before the Spaniards arrived with a fervent desire to find gold for the Spanish crown, Zaruma was inhabited by the Canar and Inca peoples.

Outside the Sexmo gold mine in Zaruma.

I visited one gold mine, Mina El Sexmo (the Sixth Mine), now a museum. My colleagues and I were required to wear rubber galoshes and a helmet. I cannot imagine how anyone then, or even now would be willing to endure darkness, dampness, and endanger one’s health day after day. Entrance is free. On weekends the coffee shop is open, providing a beautiful view of the valley below and of the surrounding mountains.

According to Wikipedia “Around 10,000 people are employed in mining directly or indirectly, producing 9-10 tons per year of the precious metal. This activity generates work for locals plus a large group of immigrants from other provinces and northern Peru. There are approximately 180 mining companies operating on 2,800 hectares of concessions. Some researchers claim that in the period 1536-1820, Spain benefited from approximately 2,700 tons of Zaruma gold.”

Zaruma's main church.

Among the most appealing visuals of Zaruma are the “Republican era” wood walkways and old timber and stucco homes in the town center, some with gold ormolu touches and lattice work, warmer and kinder to the eye and body than modern concrete seen in new buildings throughout the Andes. Make a point to see the Sanctuary of the Virgen del Carmen, the all-wood mother church of Zaruma painted Caribbean blue inside. The altar (lined with gold and silver), and the chandeliers, not to mention the paint color, make it inviting. It was built in 1912 and overlooks the main Independence Plaza. Note: A 1749 earthquake collapsed most of Zamora’s buildings and its mines. A depression followed but the city was quickly rebuilt.

On the Plaza in Zaruma.

There’s one museum, the Museo Municipal, just off the main square. I did not have time to explore inside. I understand it holds a number of local curiosities including mining paraphernalia.

If you love birding and nature, there is Reserva Buenaventura nine kilometers from Piñas, run by Fundacion Jocotoco. Hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and admission is $15.

I spent two days visiting low income seniors at a new government-run home on a plateau overlooking a valley about ½ mile from the city center. The director (“coordinador”) is a jolly young man, a social worker, surrounded by a staff which includes a psychologist, nursing assistants, and physical therapists. Lots of “carino” as you can probably feel when looking at the photo included here of a physical therapist with her sweet charge.

The government-run senior care home in Zaruma: a lot of love.

I stayed at Hosteria El Jardin in Barrio Limoncito about ¼ mile below the city; a taxi to get there costs about $1.50 from the center. The excellent accommodations are provided by a veterinarian, Dr. Jorge Guzman, and his wife Patty. He takes care of the garden. She is fastidious and very fixed in her ways. Breakfast from 6:30 a.m. to 8 a.m., not later!! She did, after much begging, agree to serve me at 8:30 a.m. as I had slept two hours the night before. Other than that, the place is clean (check room for small spiders and do a final sweep of floors and ceilings before sleeping). It meets western standards, has comfortable new Chaide and Chaide mattresses, and if you are driving, there is a safe place for your car or truck inside the gates. YOU MUST RESERVE AHEAD as the hosteria is often completely booked with mining engineers from around the world (  cell phone contact numbers are 099 756-8134, 099 211-6043 e-mail: About $25/night including breakfast.

The garden at Hosteria El Jardin.

Best part of all, the beautiful Hosteria El Jardin gardens, views, and, QUIET.  My lungs were happy. Within hours they were dry after the dampness of Cuenca. A healing environment.

Bring dried fruit, yucca chips, herbal teas, and bottled water to keep handy during your stay. There are two decent (clean kitchen) restaurants in the city center – 200 Millas, and a small Ecuadorian place three doors down from the Cerro del Oro Hotel, same side of Calle Sucre, serving excellent local coffee. Hosteria El Jardin also serves and sells excellent zarumeno coffee. If you are a coffee lover, remember to buy some before leaving!! Apparently, there is also a good restaurant on Plaza del la Independencia, Tertulia, next to the beautiful church. Don’t know how I missed it!

The garden at Hosteria El Jardin, Zamora.

A typical Zarumeno dish is tegrillo, a concoction of baked plantains (the most abundant crop of the province) with eggs, cheese, and cream, or meat instead of cheese … I tried three bites of the cheese tegrillo, not something I would choose to order again. I did not see any “culinary” choices other than a popular local rice dish with fried pork and peanut sauce, and bolones de queso or bolones de mani (plaintain balls made with cheese or peanuts).

Matrimonial cabin Hosteria El Jardin, Zamora.

Another place for lodging is Hosteria Tierra Linda Mi Zaruma (see Trip Advisor for details) in Vizcaya. It has a swimming pool and is easier to get to if you have a car. In town, Hotel Cierro de Oro is basic, and a reasonable $12-$15 per person. The owners are delightful; ask for rooms facing the front otherwise you will have no windows and no light. It has comfortable Chaide and Chaide mattresses, the linens and bathrooms are a bit old but acceptable, and the floors and curtains need some attention. Call owner Gonzalo Zambrano at (07)2972505 for reservations or write  Gonzalo’s wife runs the wedding and quinceanera dress shop next door.


The best time to visit Zaruma (my bias) is when it is warm and dry and there are fewer bugs, September through November. The rainy season begins in December.

Sites of interest other than architecture downtown, the main church, and the Sexmo Mine, according to the Spanish version of Wikipedia, are below. The English translation is strange but you’ll get the gist:

– Zaruma: Cerro Zaruma Urcu, Environment Landscape, Montúfar Mineralogical Museum of Antiquities, Mina El Sexmo Tourist Complex (BIRA Company, Gringos Cemetery, Pamba Ramirez Petroglyphs).
– Neighborhood Rome: Sanctuary of the Lord of Rome, Quartz Processors, Brewing where they make brandy, brown sugar and Creole.
– Ortega Neighborhood: Laguna Natural under the Bridge Road to St. Paul’s Church Ortega, Ortega River, Ortega Roosters court.
– Malvas Parish: Church and Park, Heritage House, orchid gardens, Candy and Snacks, Cerro El Boqueron, the Guava Hill, Sendero El Espino, Sendero El Guasito.
– Parish Arcapamba: Site The Church Guando Park Craft Factory delicacy, dairies, Cerro de Chinchapuro, hydraulic Mills quartz Guando River, Trail Guando Pogllo, Lomas La Posada, 4 roads, La Cabaña.
– Muluncay Parish: Church and Park, Trail Buza Muluncay-Bridge, Bay Sugarloaf Petroglyphs Buza, Bells and Pailas Factory, Bay Cup, Quarter Muluncay Chico, Chico Muluncay Trail – Sugarloaf.
– Parish Huertas: Prehispanic Settlement Guayquichuma, Church and Central Park, Byron Prehispanic Settlement, Cave of Brokers, Quebrada Honda, Tomagatillo-Sidrapamba Trail, Waterfall Cachicarana.
– Sinsao Parish: Church and Park, production of brown sugar and spirits
– Parish Salvias: Cerro de Arcos, Cerro Chivaturco, Salvias petroglyphs, waterfalls Chorro Blanco, Chacacapac, El Molino, jumon, Dur Dur, Dark Hollow, Papa Beto Lagunas, San Jose, Laguna de Arcos, Rio Palmas.
– Parish Guizhaguiña: Chinchilla Laguna, San Pablo Petroglyphs, Stone Ball, Chepel, Payama, Braids, prehispanic settlements in San Antonio, Sanctuary of the Virgin delos Remedios, Pilgrim House, Lagunas Negra, gripe, of yoked, El Campanario.
– Parish Guanazan: Archaeological, Epigraphy of Guinacho, Ciquircalo prehispanic settlements, Paltacalo Cerros, El Tocto.
– Abañín Parish: Monoliths with human figure, landscape, park and church.



Wendy Jane Carrel, M.A., has been researching and writing about health care options for older adults in Chile, Ecuador, and Mexico for the last three years. She has lived or worked on four continents in over 40 countries.

All photos by Wendy Jane Carrel

This blog was posted on Cuenca High Life, February 2016

February 15, 2016 at 2:40 am Leave a comment

Captivating New Medicine & Travel Title from Little, Brown Publishers

A new book will be released April 3 about a young woman practicing medicine in 16th century Venice, and the journey she ends up taking to five nations in search of her missing father.  Medical lore and foreign travel are at its core.  Eager to read it!!

The Book of Madness and Cures

Here is the publisher description:

Dr. Gabriella Mondini, a strong-willed, young Venetian woman, has followed her father in the path of medicine. She possesses a singleminded passion for the art of physick, even though, in 1590, the male-dominated establishment is reluctant to accept a woman doctor. So when her father disappears on a mysterious journey, Gabriella’s own status in the Venetian medical society is threatened. Her father has left clues–beautiful, thoughtful, sometimes torrid, and often enigmatic letters from his travels as he researches his vast encyclopedia, The Book of Diseases.

After ten years of missing his kindness, insight, and guidance, Gabriella decides to set off on a quest to find him–a daunting journey that will take her through great university cities, centers of medicine, and remote villages across Europe. Despite setbacks, wary strangers, and the menaces of the road, the young doctor bravely follows the clues to her lost father, all while taking notes on maladies and treating the ill to supplement her own work.

Gorgeous and brilliantly written, and filled with details about science, medicine, food, and madness, THE BOOK OF MADNESS AND CURES is an unforgettable debut.

March 18, 2012 at 12:42 am Leave a comment

Greeting the New Year 2012 with Neighborhood Tourism

Hello dear readers,

Welcome to the New Year 2012 (of the western calendar)!! How fortunate we are to have survived another chaotic year on our planet.

It is January 1 and I have walked two blocks from where I live to enjoy Sunday brunch at Luca’s Fresh Bites (aka Luca on Sunset at ) in West Hollywood, CA. I am sitting on a leather banquette facing the mountains of Laurel Canyon. The sun is out and it will be 80 degrees today. How lucky I am to live in what is considered to be one of the best microclimates in the world (along with Capetown (South Africa), Perth (Australia), and Valparaiso (Chile)).  Yes, weather is subjective, of course. 😉

I’m not that hungry today (thank goodness!), so I ordered something simple. And I am breaking the food combining basics of waiting one-half hour that I try to follow because everything here is eye candy and so tasty!!! I never feel guilty with their organic wonders.

Homemade granola at Luca on Sunset

To the left  is a photo of Luca’s homemade granola with fresh fruit and homemade yoghurt. The coffee you see is yes, organic (another special treat, I usually drink green tea) but today is a special day. And the Italian latte cup is inscribed “for music Puccini, for art Bernini, and for espresso Pasquini”!!

Luca is owned by a northern Italian and his American wife Rebecca. Everything served here is made with love, and the Italian entrees are authentically Italian as opposed to Italian-American. You can read the menu and see some photos at . I like coming here not only because it is dependable but also because I believe in supporting local businesses that do everything they can to be green, environmentally conscious, and health conscious. I also like that this morning I am surrounded by two lovely Ethiopian ladies, a handsome family from East India, a variety of Asians, and various Americans of other backgrounds.  Today I hear gentle music from the Middle East.  Delightful!

Some people say grow where you are planted. Please know that despite my nomadic tendencies and passion for living in other countries, I still love LA!! I believe it is named City of the Angels for a reason, despite its reputation for glitz and the superficial. Believe it or not, LA, as many other places, can be a marvelous place for inner travel; it offers a plethora of Buddhist, Self-Realization, and Vedic temples, gardens, a great variety of yoga homes and churches, lakes and an ocean, and, need I add, my own little sanctuary in West Hollywood surrounded by trees, green, and the energy of light.

This year I hope to introduce you to more adventures in America and abroad, and to some of the heroes and heroines I meet along the way, such as Luca and Rebecca of today, all doing their part to make our lives more pleasant.

I am open to all the wonders that await me and I send each of you my wishes for a 2012 filled with laughter, happy opportunities, health, prosperity, peace, and traveling if you so desire.

Always with love, Guendalina

January 1, 2012 at 9:26 pm Leave a comment

Lasse Hallstrom Movie to See in Spring 2012, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

For all you Lasse Hallstrom fans (me), lovers of south Yemen (one of my all time favorite destinations), fly-fishing  afficionados (some day), and multi-cultural stories (me), this movie will be a must see!!  Imagine,  an Arab who hires a Scotsman to bring fly-fishing to the high desert.  Fun!!  Release date is set for March 2012. Yalla!!


CBS Films has released a trailer for Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, adapted from Paul Torday’s novel and directed by Lasse Hallstrom from a script by Oscar winner Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire). reported the film, which stars Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt and Kristin Scott Thomas, was originally seen “as a possible awards contender after it premiered at Toronto in the fall, but the distributor decided it was too late for the tale of Middle East politics and fly-fishing to enter this year’s Oscar race. It instead has set it for a limited-run release March 2, 2012.”

See the trailer at

December 19, 2011 at 11:04 pm 3 comments

Ways to Travel to and in Ecuador from Los Angeles “Easily”

You want to visit Ecuador. Yes do that, for the most part you will be warmly welcomed! There is much to see and experience – historical sites, eco destinations, extraordinary vistas of the Andes and volcanoes, delicious fruits and vegetables, and most of all the gentle people of every origin – black, indigenous, European, mestizo.  But do prepare to experience a lower standard of living if you have not yet traveled in this part of South America. Earnest Ecuadoreans are doing their best to improve quality, and, prices are considerably less than in the U.S. so it offers terrific budget traveler value.

If it’s your first trip to Ecuador I suggest you start in the north by flying into Quito, travel around the north, and then head south to fly out of Guayaquil (closest to the Galapagos Islands), or vice-versa.

To reach Quito, the capital, which is a UNESCO Heritage Site, taking the plane is a fine option. American Airlines works if you are collecting or using mileage ; there’s a day trip via Miami. I did that once but found the Miami Airport challenging because of its long distances between terminals and international and domestic flights; I almost lost my flight. As I am writing this I have just read that American Airlines has filed for bankruptcy. Ouch!!! There goes that option. Continental, Delta, and Mexicana also fly to Ecuador.

30-minute layover on tarmac in Costa Rica

My preferred route seems more direct if traveling from the West Coast. I like the overnight TACA/LASCA flight from LAX via Guatemala and Costa Rica, (you stay on the same plane so it is relatively painless); or LAN through Lima where you have to change planes. The LAN choice is less inviting if you have to overnight in noisy Lima. Wouldn’t you rather be stranded in lush Costa Rica?  Also, TACA prices are a little bit less than LAN prices as of this post.

Other than flying, which offers speed, great panoramas, and generally fewer challenges, you could bike down (as many adventurous Canadians and Americans do), drive down on the Pan-American Highway, take mostly country buses, or, go by ship – days to manifest. Wish there were a rail system through Central and South America the way there is in Europe.

Once you arrive in Quito (a small airport by North American and European standards) and pass through customs, you will see three booths on the right side as soon as you exit that offer taxi transportation. The price will be between $12 and $20 with a certified taxi (bargain if you can), often a van, direct to your destination in Quito. You can take taxis on the edge of the airport for $3-$5, but it is not recommended unless they are yellow and have orange plates.

In case you hadn’t heard, Ecuador, like some of its neighboring countries, is notorious for petty theft, so you must be vigilant at all times. Best to keep your passport, credit cards, and cash in bra stashes and interior holsters with small amounts in your pockets. Please watch your bags and your camera. Best not to wear expensive jewelry either.

The currency in Ecuador is the U.S. dollar.  Taxis in most cities are $1 to $2 for a trip, $3-$5 for longer city trips, depending on the time and distance. I like to agree ahead of time on the amount, less stress. Local buses are 25 cents. If the ride is about ½ hour or more, expect to pay 50 cents.

Long distance buses are generally a step above local buses in comfort and cleanliness but they cannot compare to a Mercedes Benz first class bus in Mexico, for example, or to buses in western Europe. Tourist buses are the exception in Ecuador, you can expect a modicum of quality with them.

One of the buses that goes from Quito to Otavalo

Flota Imbabura runs an overnight bus which starts in Ibarra, with stops in Otavalo and Quito, and then goes all the way to Cuenca for $14. It also travels from south to north. The time between Otavalo and Cuenca is 12 hours. If you are traveling alone, buy two seats and put your luggage next to you, not underneath the bus. And do not put anything underneath your bus seat. On occasion, travelers have lost belongings and funds. These buses have one driver and a ticket taker/luggage valet; there are bathroom facilities on board (not recommended). These direct buses are not supposed to pick up passengers along the road, but they do. Pack your own snacks and water.  There are other long distance bus companies to choose from as well but this is the only one I have experience with.

The best option for ground transportation, if you can afford it, is to hire a driver. There are several reputable tour companies that can arrange this service for you.

Suggested itinerary:
Arrive Quito.
Take a certified taxi to the north bus station, the Carcelen.
Travel directly to Otavalo which is about 2 hours north.
Take a taxi from the bus station to your hotel. ($1).
Spend two nights in Otavalo with side trips to Cotacachi, Ibarra, and the fabulous mountain and volcano sites around Otavalo.  Otavalo is famous for its indigenous marketplace full of handmade leather and wool goods, and, folkloric art.
Take the bus to Quito and spend two or three days that include a quick trip to the Middle of the World, the equator, if it is of interest.
From Quito drive or fly to Cuenca. It’s a long trip by car but worth it during the day with a private driver; you’ll see a part of Ecuador with vistas that may remind you of Switzerland except for the occasional cactus.
Spend two-three-four days in charming Cuenca, another UNESCO Heritage Site with many architectural wonders (you’ll see why so many North Americans have moved here); try to include a side trip to Banos to the thermal baths, to see waterfalls, and other wonders of nature. From Cuenca make your way to Loya and Vilcabamba to what is termed the Land of Eternal Spring with the best weather in all of Ecuador.
Then make your way to Guayaquil for a quick visit (it’s a port and commercial center known for its night life – not my favorite place but I do like that there are iguanas in the city parks), and then on to the Galapagos for more incredible experiences with nature and finally, relaxation.  Additional note about Guayaquil:  the U.S. State Department has put out warnings to not hail taxis in Guayaquil as there have been taxi kidnapings recently.  For all you beach lovers, the cities of choice for most travelers are Manta and Salinas.

Most of all, have fun! Ecuadorians are, generally speaking, kind-hearted and they wish you well.

November 29, 2011 at 8:19 pm Leave a comment

11/11/11 from Jerez, Mexico, a “pueblo magico”

Hello World,

And welcome on my journeys of exploration. I wish this to be fun for you, perhaps unusual, and most of all informative.  God willing….;)

I begin this blog on the special day of 11/11/11 from the “pueblo magico” of Jerez, Mexico. The government has deemed this old city in the colonial highlands of Zacatecas state as “magical.” (It was built by Spaniards in the 1500’s and is currently under restoration for present and future tourism).

I write from the dining room of Hotel Jardin where I am enjoying the laughter from the very good-looking jerezanos who are celebrating a wedding. Without the cowboy hats these men look very Spanish though I imagine they would say they are proudly Mexican. The women are beautiful – elegant and glamorous in pearls. Romantic Mexican songs play in the background.

I am smiling as I look out the “French” windows to the trees and flower garden of the park across the way. Great to feel transported; it’s a moment of heaven.

Because of “bouncing electricity” (possible surges) this missive is brief. I have every intention of posting mini-diaries + photos and more within a  few days.

May the road ahead take each of us to wonderful places.
Blessings, Guendalina

November 11, 2011 at 11:33 pm 2 comments

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June 10, 2010 at 2:46 am 1 comment

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