In late October I traveled to Ecuador, partly to explore new hiking routes through the highlands to the north of Quito, between the indigenous communities of Otavalo and Zuleta. The three-day lodge & hacienda-based walk we developed as a result is an excellent way to actively ‘slow down’ and immerse yourself in the Ecuadorian countryside and indigenous cultures. The hiking totals close to 30 miles, is along human-made trails, through towns and farmlands on generally level or rolling terrain and provides hikers with the time to visit the homes and businesses of local people that are usually breezed over in a one-day vehicle based tour from Quito.
Throughout the journey, we passed many families out harvesting mortiños. Similar to our blueberries or huckleberries, these fruits grow wild in the Ecuadorian highlands all along the Avenue of the Volcanoes and are an essential ingredient in colada morada. This hot and thick spiced-fruit beverage is made from purple corn and the juice several berries and is traditionally prepared as part of Dia de los Difuntos celebrations.
Most people are familiar with Dia de Muertos – the Mexican ‘Day of the Dead’ holiday celebrated on November 1 that honors the ancestors through family gatherings, the construction of ofrendas and skeleton and skull-themed masks, cookies, figurines and art. In Ecuador the ancestors are also honored, though the holiday is called Dia de los Difuntos (Day of the Deceased) and is celebrated on November 2. The spirit of the tradition is the same in both Mexico in Ecuador; a gathering of the living to honor those who have passed with an emphasis on special foods as part of the overall ceremony and celebration. However, a distinctively Ecuadorian element in Dia de los Difuntos ceremonies is the preparation of colada morada.
I had the opportunity to sample the beverage while staying at Hacienda el Porvenir, a cozy and comfortable working farm that sits (safely) within view of Cotopaxi above the lahar zone. (Folks following international news will know that Cotopaxi – one of Ecuador’s largest volcanoes – has been erupting slowly since August. Lodges and haciendas in the ‘safe zone’ are open and safe to visit though Cotopaxi National Park remains closed. It was thrilling to watch the plumes of ash and smoke billow out from the volcanoes crater through binoculars, knowing that we were out of harm’s way.)
The drink, a warm beverage of smoothie-consistency that is often enjoyed with a spoon, reminded me of a holiday hot cider or fruit punch with heavy notes of aromatic spices such as cinnamon and cloves. It’s the perfect drink to sip as we slip into winter here in the Pacific Northwest. If you want to make colado morada for yourself, check out the authentic recipe featured on our favorite Ecuadorian food blog, laylita.com or try the ‘easy’ version, a less time-consuming adaptation provided by the author which features ingredients more commonly found in American grocery stores.
Considering a trip to Ecuador? Don’t know what else to do or where else to explore beyond the Galapagos Islands? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to start planning your trip today!