|A face emerges from a hedge in the Cementerio de Tulcan
|A water channel and pool at 400 year old
Hacienda Ocampo in Cotacachi
|Frailejones, of the Genus Espeletia in Reserva Ecologico El Angel
|Burning Tires block the Panamerican Highway outside El Angel
Just 7 kilometers from the Colombian border lies the hill town of Tulcán. It is the highest town in Ecuador, and has a climate that qualifies as an eternal Spring, which pretty much means cold and wet a lot of the time. Our primary reason for coming here were pictures I had seen years earlier of a fantastic cemetery festooned in clipped topiary, acres of it. This is one of the largest topiary gardens in the World. But what really makes this place special are the unique forms that result from the influence on its creator by the culture of the Ecuadorian Andes.
|Sculpted arches and tunnel invite exploration
|Poles and lines are used to guide
His son Benigno Salvador Franco Carranco and a man named Lucio Reina took over after José Franco took his own invitation seriously and passed away in 1985 at the age of 85. Sr. Reina was quoted as saying "This has been my life. Each figure I do is part of my life. I am very happy to have done something for my Tulcan. This is not an artificial thing, even the dead are happy here."
The signature pieces in the cemetery are the giant heads of indigenous people created by his predecessor. They are unlike any I've seen in other parts of the world and were the principal inspiration for me wanting to come here. There are also wonderful hedges carved with bas reliefs of cornucopias and flowers, connected by soaring arches and dark tunnels.
|Giant heads line the main road dividing the cemetery.
|A row of fantastic shapes
|A view from the roof of one of the crypts
|This magnificent hedge contains a dramatic series of high arches creating a tunnel like passageway
|The hedges in places are deeply incised with meaningful designs
|A later part of the cemetery
|A group of thickly dressed people gaze off over the valley to Colombia
|A crouching figure perhaps trying to stay warm
|A stylized Parrot
|The hind end of an Armadillo
|A giant Turtle sits on a hedge
|And what's a topiary garden without one of these?
|Another dream fulfilled
|An old photo of the cemetery hanging in my office
While we were at the cemetery we met a lovely couple who lived in Tulcàn but originally came from Cali in Colombia to the north. They had moved here with their son because they felt it was no longer safe to live in Cali at that time as Cali was a center for drug cartels. We were so close to the border that they invited us to take a trip to a beautiful church built over a deep canyon to the east of Ipiales, the Colombian town on the other side of the border. We were amazed that we could just walk across the bridge over the river dividing the countries and hop in a taxi for the scenic trip to the Sanctuario de Nuestra Señora de las Lajas without any border control. We didn't even need a passport.
|Santuario de Nuestra Señora de las Lajas
This Gothic basilica was built over a period of 30 years and was completed in 1949 on the spot where a vision of the Virgin Mary was reported in the 18th Century.
I was now bitten by the bug to explore Colombia, but I didn't travel there until the winter of 2007-8 when it was much safer. It is a magnificent country and I highly recommend exploring it. When I reached Ipiales across the border from Ecuador it completed a journey covering the entire length of the Andes from Ushuaia on the Straights of Magellan on Tierra del Fuego in the far south to the Caribbean coast of Colombia at Santa Marta. What an epic adventure spanning nearly two years in total! May the adventures continue.
Thanks for reading, Jeffrey