Legends of Imbabura
ndean culture is rife with folk legends, and nowhere is this truer than in Imbabura. Here, each volcano becomes a person, and every natural phenomenon from lakes to waterfalls is explained with myth. From amorous volcanos to cascades hiding a devilish secret, read on to discover the stories told by locals around the campfire.
Imbabura and Cotacachi
Locals say that Taita (Father in Kichwa) Manuel Imbabura, the great volcano that looms over My SachaJi, and Mama Maria Isabel Cotacachi, the peak that guards the small town of Cotacachi had a passionate love affair.
The story goes that virile Imbabura was hunting deer at night when he saw the more mature Cotacachi standing in the moonlight. He erupted with love. By day, the two slopes would pass love letters through rainbows, by night, lightning bolts would carry their more fervent desires.
The couple had a child, one little peak at the base of Cotacachi, snuggled around his mother by the name of Cerro Yanahurco.
The Creation of San Pablo Lake
It is said that the face of Nina Paccha could stop the wind in its tracks. The young slip of a girl, whose name means “Waterfall of Light”, ran around the countryside, taking it all in with hungry eyes. But the maize fields were bare, a drought had stripped them of their crop. Deer had run to other lands and birds didn’t sing at dawn. The elders came together and concluded that Taita Imbabura was angry. So they decided to sacrifice their most beautiful flower to appease this god – Nina Paccha was the chosen one.
But young Guatalquí was full of love for the girl, and the love made him brave. He swore to defy the elders and the gods and rescue his beloved. The pair ran hand-in-hand away to the hills, staring into each other’s eyes.
Fearing the wrath of Imbabura, the villagers followed the pair and had them in their sights. But just as they went to trap the pair, Nina disappeared before their eyes. In her place, a lake appeared. Taita Imbabura had accepted the offering, but wasn’t yet satisfied. To protect the couple, he turned Guatalquí into a lechero tree, who could always watch over his beloved lake.
Cuicocha, the great volcanic crater lake three kilometres wide and 165 metres deep, is said to have got its name through a curious local myth.
According to legend, Indigneous people would leave a guinea pig, or “cuy” in Kichwa, on a little island in the middle of the lake for every child that was born in the community. Soon, the island was overrun by guinea pigs, and the name Cuicocha (Guinea-pig Lake) was born. Guinea pigs have special significance in Andean culture, used by Indigenous people as a divination instrument and to soak up “evils” that make people unwell. They are also eaten, usually grilled on a barbeque.
The gold of Peguche
Communities of Otavalo say that underneath the Peguche waterfall is a cave where a huge pot of gold is hidden. According to legend, this pot is guarded by two great black dogs, and to one side of it sits the devil, who holds a plate of sand. He exchanges this for the pan of gold, as a loan, to those who desire to do business with him. The condition is that is that each day a grain of sand is discarded and, if the agreed time expires and the repayment has not been made before the sand runs out, the devil takes the soul of the person who made the deal.