The Valley of Riobamba, diorama of a country


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At the very dawn of Spanish colonial rule in Latin America, a placid golden valley appeared, located in the most remote Andes, home to llamas and chuquiraguas flowers, at the foot of the mighty Chimborazo. Today, abandoned remains of buried communities, spectacular geological creations, ruins of ancient cities, both Puruhá and Inca, have fallen prey to the Earth’s movement, to the power of nature, to time, to war, and to oblivion.

If there is any place on this planet where the force of gravity weakens, it must be there, on top of Mount Chimborazo. We look up to the peak, the closest point to the sun from our planet, from the superb Riobamba valley (it’s not a misprint, the Spanish misconstrued the name and quickly changed it to Riobamba, although there was not a river to be seen). The snow crowns the mountain like a king of nature. There is the sensation of the world falling upward. A spiraling vertigo takes our eyes to the heavens. Clouds form as if the mountain were smoking, before escaping into the sky and quickly reappearing, leaving floating forms levitating around the sacred volcano’s mouth.

In a not-so-remote past, Jean-Baptiste Boussignault, a famed Parisian chemist, who visited South America during the tumultuous independence wars, arriving in Ecuador just months after its birth as a republic, described this landscape as a “mighty amphitheater of snow which is bounded on all sides by the horizon of Riobamba.” He also called it “the most extraordinary diorama in the world.”

The valley itself is a natural observatory, located inside a ring of mountains: Tungurahua, Altar, Cubille, Cariguariazo, etc

The majesty of this natural spectacle probably prompted the adventurous Spaniards to found the first northern city of colonial Peru – soon to become the Kingdom of Quito – in this strategic territory. It was christened Santiago de Quito and was the city from which Benalcázar advanced to present-day Quito. Others descended from here toward the Babahoyo river basin, where the present city of Guayaquil was also founded. In the heart ofthisland,300 years later, the unsuspected project of today’s Ecuador began. It was being crafted back when nobody could even fathom its possibility of existence.

From the east come strong winds and vibrant rays of light shelter the highland puna ecosystem, on route to Guaranda.

Up there, absorbing the air of time, lies the “watchman of the Universe,” as Chimborazo was described by liberator Simón Bolívar in his poem “My Delirium on Chimborazo”, written shortly before confirming victory in his struggle for independence against Spain. Up there, Chimborazo watches the world go by, with its condors, its ice and the last of its ice merchants, its sacred stones and its grassland plains, as the largest and most awe- inspiring Godly creation in our country.

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