Chota is located in a long valley region approximately 35 km north of Ibarra on the Pan American Highway. Leaving Ibarra, the countryside quickly becomes dry, desolate and fairly devoid of plants and trees.
The valley sits between the two mountain ranges of the Andes in 3 provinces, including Imbabura province.
The population of the town is of African descent. Their ancestors arrived in Ecuador in the 17th and 18th centuries as slaves for Jesuit mines and sugar cane plantations. In addition, there was a thriving agricultural trade in coca and cotton.
Today the people still make their living raising sugar cane and animals such as goats and pigs. They brew a strong alcoholic beverage known as aguardiente.
Along with some friends, Gary and I braved the long, dry bus ride from Cotacachi to Ibarra for a carnival celebration next to the Chota River. The event attracted thousands of locals and foreigners for several days of dancing, music, poetry readings, Afro-Ecuadorian cuisine, fireworks and art exhibits in an effort to bring tourism and recognition to the region.
38 villages in the valley contributed to the festival’s wide array of events. There was even a queen chosen. Dozens of guadua (grass) huts were erected to serve food, delicious plates of chicken with yucca, rice, beans, fish, guandul (a local dish made with green pigeon peas), morocho and chicha (corn beer).
The culture is definitely African in nature. Women carry baskets on their heads.
Chota artists are well-known for their sculpture and masks. The art is stylized and often personifies African facial features.
A woman getting her hair braided.
Spraying each other with cans of foam was a favorite pastime at the festival.
We were all greeted enthusiastically by locals wielding cans of spray foam when we first arrived. Gary didn’t really mind.
The valley's culture is very distinctive and so is the food. The people are fun-loving, especially during festive occasions, when they dress up in colorful clothes and party long and loud. They are renown throughout Ecuador as great dancers, musicians and soccer players, providing outstanding athletes in both the national and international arena.
Should you want to visit the valley but prefer not to take the bus, the 50 kilometer trip by train from Ibarra is a very pleasant one. Click here for more information about the train ride, which begins at the Yahuarcocha racetrack outside Ibarra.