Three Embellished Legends of Imbabura

Jessica Chai - Ecuador


December 18, 2014

Disclaimer: Stories hold to the original legend, but ample artistic license taken! 1. The avaricious due̱o oråÊThe Origin of the Lake of San Pablo The lake of San Pablo did not always exist in the land of many lakes. No, where San Pablo rests today there used to be dust that only reflected the footsteps of travelers and in the center of the lake, there was a large hacienda (ranch). The due̱o of the hacienda was a wealthy but selfish man. One day, a tattered beggar came wandering down the road to the hacienda. His hair was long and matted, his feet bare and his skin like tanned leather. Only his eyes looked alive, bright like two pins pushed into a prune. He knocked on the door of the hacienda, and when the due̱o opened, he humbly asked for alms. The due̱o, portly and proud, frowned. ‰ÛÏI don‰Ûªt believe in giving to beggars. I believe in sweaty, character-building hard work! Now be gone.‰Û The beggar persisted, and the due̱o, irritated, called for his servant. ‰ÛÏGet rid of this vermin, and if he won‰Ûªt leave, set the dogs on him.‰Û The servant was a timid man. He feared God, but feared his boss more. He urged the beggar to leave, but as if deaf, the beggar continued asking for alms. Left with no choice, the servant let the dogs loose. A vicious, howling pack, they went snarling after the beggar, who instead of fleeing, turned to face the rabid animals. As if stunned by an invisible force, the dogs stopped dead in their tracks. They apprehensively approached the beggar, and instead of biting, began licking him and wagging their tails. The servant was astonished and more than a little bit frightened. He cringed as the beggar turned towards him. ‰ÛÏI will spare you, because you are only an impotent servant. Take your belongings and leave. Do not look back and do not return. If you ever lay eyes upon this hacienda again, you will turn to stone.‰Û More frightened than ever, the servant nodded, stuttered his thanks, gathered his few belongings, and walked away down the dusty road. As he hurried down the path, he began to hear strange noises behind him–loud splashes and gurgling, crashing and screams. Recalling the beggar‰Ûªs warning, he kept his back towards the hacienda. But as he continued, the sounds became louder and closer, until he felt as if there was a terrible whirlwind right upon his heels. Unable to resist his fear any longer, the servant turned around with a cry. He was astounded not to see a ferocious monster, but far behind him, where the hacienda used to reside, a large, black lake. The servant only had time to see the dark, ominous ripples before the beggar‰Ûªs curse turned him into stone. So, be careful when swimming in San Pablo. The vengeful spirits still reside inside its murky depths. When you feel the clinging fingers of algae around your ankle, they are trying to pull you under. 2. The Window of Imbabura and the Lake of San Pablo revisited Long, long ago, when the land was scarcely populated by people, there were giants. They were tall, hulking affairs, their heads scraping low clouds and their hands easily covering mountain peaks. The mountain of Imbabura was the abode of a particular giant. Although as massive as any of his race, this particular specimen only had one leg. I don‰Ûªt know if he was born that way, or if he suffered a mishap that deprived him of a limb. All I know is that despite the inconvenience of going through life hopping (and probably causing a number of earthquakes), the giant got along fine. One day, as he was bounding through the peaks and valleys, he stumbled upon the Lake of San Pablo. Thinking it merely a puddle, he planted his massive foot straight into the middle. Unfortunately, the lake was very deep, and despite his grand stature, the poor one-legged giant began to drown. Flailing around wildly, he managed to latch onto the side of Imbabura mountain. He gripped on tightly, and hoisted himself out, tearing a chunk out of the mountain in the process. Soggy and exhausted, the giant saw that the lake was now in the shape of his foot. Slightly traumatized, he left vowing to stay away from bodies of water but felt rather proud nonetheless. And although there are no longer giants that tread the peaks, we can see the marks they left behind. Who else would have the strength to tear a ‰ÛÏwindow‰Û into the side of Imbabura? And who else would leave a footprint the size of a lake? The waterfall of Peguche or Hansel and Gretel revisited Long ago, when giants wandered the Sierra (the Highlands) and mysterious beggars sought divine retribution, there was a family that lived in the mountains. The father was a hard-working merchant, traveling weary distances selling his wares. His wife tended the home and took care of their two children, a bright-eyed girl and her younger brother. But in the manner of fairy tales, the mother fell ill. Some say it was from the exhaustion of running a household by herself, while others say it was the witch‰Ûªs curse. But by any means, the merchant returned from one of his long journeys to find his wife thin and wasted from fever and his two children motherless. A dutiful man, he took care of the funerary processes, mechanically comforted the children, and waited out the six-month mourning period before starting the process of finding a new wife. It didn‰Ûªt take long. Although into his forties and well weathered by his extended travels, the merchant was sturdily built with a good reputation. And, more importantly, he was affluent. He was introduced through the family of his deceased wife to a distant cousin-in-law. She was a widow whose husband had died by drowning the year before, and suspicious whispers still trailed along in her shadow. But admiring glances followed her as well, for her delicate features and long, jet-black hair. For her first meeting with the merchant, she put on her finest dress and let her hair loose. The normally stony merchant was captivated by the first flutter of her eyelashes, and in a month‰Ûªs time, the two were married. The newly married widow was not a bad woman. She was mildly fond of her husband, adored his wealth, took care of his household and tolerated her stepchildren. However, she was an avaricious and jealous one, and when she bore a son at the year‰Ûªs end, her whole disposition changed. She felt newly entitled to her husband‰Ûªs wealth and entirely invested in her newborn‰Ûªs future. And more and more, she saw her stepchildren, heir to the merchant‰Ûªs affluence, as intolerable obstacles. As time went on and the children grew older, the stepmother began to scheme. She was a crafty woman and did not want to appear openly antagonistic. She treated her stepchildren the same as before, but began to present a different picture to her husband. Returning from one of his long treks one night, the merchant arrived tired and hungry. Asking for his supper, the stepmother gave a sweet, humble apology. ‰ÛÏMy dearest, hard-working husband. You must be so cold and tired and hungry. I am so sorry but I have not yet finished making supper. It‰Ûªs only that,‰Û with a tremendous sigh, ‰ÛÏI have so many household chores to do, with sweeping and washing and dusting, I just started preparing the food. And your children, dearest, simply do not help‰ÛÓespecially that daughter of yours. All she ever does is lay about, napping and eating. And she only laughs when I ask her to help! It is very difficult.‰Û Again with a tremendous sigh. At his next return, the wicked stepson had been bullying his helpless younger brother. The daughter was as lazy as ever, not to mention disrespectful and gluttonous. So the stepmother went, carefully building up a foundation of doubt. And despite his naturally skeptical nature, as the years went on, he began to have doubts about his older children. A decade passed since the death of the mother. The son was now a tall, skinny teenager with the beginnings of a wispy mustache. The daughter, now a beautiful young woman, was the spitting image of her deceased mother and pursued by the youth of her village. And the stepmother, though retaining her original charm, was starting to show her age in wrinkles and discreet white hairs. But what she had not lost was her calculating nature. She knew her stepson would soon come of age, becoming the heir to her husband. She knew that her stepdaughter would marry and cost a hefty dowry. And she knew, though she would not admit it, that she was jealous of the daughter‰Ûªs growing beauty and her own fading glamour. She had to act. So when the merchant returned late one night from one of his extensive journeys, he arrived to the house with darkened windows. Worried, he hurried inside. He instantly noted that the hearth fire was out with coals scattered across the floor. The table was in disarray, a plate smashed on the floor. Muffled sobbing came from the bedroom. Dreading the worst, he ran in. The stepmother was sitting in bed. Her hands were sooty and red, she had a plum colored bruise across her cheekbone and her eyes were puffy from crying. The merchant scrambled to comfort her. ‰ÛÏMy dear, what happened? Are you hurt?‰Û ‰ÛÏI‰Ûªve told you so many times, s-so many times but you n-never listen. Y-your awful children!‰Û Between gasps of breath and many tears, she told her sorry tale. She had come home late from buying fresh produce to make for dinner. She discovered that the children had ransacked the winter food store in the cupboards. When she confronted them, they only mocked her. As the argument escalated, the son entered a destructive rage, upending the dinner table and striking his stepmother across the face. She fell into the hearth fire, and seeing this, the two had immediately hurried out of the house. Eyes still red and puffy, the stepmother looked the merchant straight in the face and demanded an ultimatum‰ÛÓeither he would have to get rid of his children, permanently, or she would leave. The merchant had haggled many a hard deal during his long career, but as much as he tried, he could not move his wife. Sniffing piteously, she cried that she could not live with a husband who did not love her, who was not willing to protect her. As she started to pack her belongings, the merchant caved and decided he would rather keep his wife and lose his children. Uncomfortably weighed with the heavy sensation of guilt, the merchant consented to the stepmother‰Ûªs plan to take the two high up into the mountains and leave them there. The next morning opened with a heavy fog. The family of five shared a tense breakfast‰ÛÓthe stepmother quietly radiant and the merchant unusually serious and short-tempered. Shortly after, the merchant shouldered his axe and tersely told his son that he would be chopping firewood and needed his assistance to carry it home. Under the pretext of bringing home water to wash clothes, he also ordered his daughter along. Toting empty buckets, the three left the house and began hiking up the fog-wreathed trail. The children were not fools. The two held a whispered conversation about their father‰Ûªs strange behavior during breakfast and the odd timing for an expedition to gather firewood. They began to exchange anxious glances when the merchant cut off from the rough trail into the scraggy underbrush. åÊAfter almost two hours of hiking, the father paused in a relative clearing in the forest. Sweating despite the clammy fog and covered with scratches, they were deep in the forest. ‰ÛÏI‰Ûªm going to find some dry bushes,‰Û the merchant said shortly. ‰ÛÏSon, accompany your sister to fetch water. Just hike up until you reach a creek. The water is clean there. I‰Ûªll find you later.‰Û Sweating with dread and a terrible feeling of finality, the merchant turned and left. The siblings felt uneasier than ever. Unfamiliar with the area, they tightly clasped hands and walked in an upward direction. But in the heavy undergrowth it was difficult walking in a straight line, and pretty soon they were completely disoriented. After what felt like an eternity of wandering, the two really began to worry. ‰ÛÏMaybe we should hike back down.‰Û ‰ÛÏBut what if we can‰Ûªt find the trail? Besides, father will be waiting for us.‰Û They continued trekking up. By this point, it was starting to get dark. The trees, already wreathed in fog, transformed into vague, looming beasts. The insects, unnoticeable in the daytime, turned ominous and frightening in their nightly calls. On the cusp of turning back, the sister suddenly heard the sound of running water. They ran towards the gurgling in relief. It wasn‰Ûªt the creek. The tree suddenly dispersed into a clearing and in the dimming light they could just make out a waterfall. Hesitantly, the siblings walked towards the source of water, hoping against hope to see a human figure. ‰ÛÏFather! Father! Are you here?‰Û ‰ÛÏWho‰Ûªs calling?‰Û A voice suddenly croaked out from the night. The sister squeezed her brother‰Ûªs hand in terror. ‰ÛÏU-u-us. Father?‰Û A squat, dumpling silhouette hobbled out from behind a rock outcropping. ‰ÛÏI‰Ûªm afraid not. Are you two lost?‰Û There was a hiss and a spark and sudden light as a lantern illuminated. The children gave a sigh of relief to see the owner was an old, homely grandmother-type. ‰ÛÏI suppose.‰Û The brother ventured. ‰ÛÏWe were trying to find a creek, well‰Û_ and find our father, but we don‰Ûªt really know these woods and, well‰Û_‰ÛÏ The old lady gave a kindly laugh. ‰ÛÏAh, no worries. Why don‰Ûªt you stay a while with me? I‰Ûªm all alone in a little cabin just by the waterfall. It‰Ûªs getting dark and you two young ones mustn‰Ûªt be wandering alone in the dark. Ooh, and it‰Ûªs getting cold and you two poor things must be so hungry. Come, come.‰Û **If you, reader, are feeling an uncomfortable tingling or the hairs are standing up on the back of your neck, you are spot on. As you may have guessed from the title, this wasn‰Ûªt any convenient, kindly old grandmother. It was a witch. With her cabin nestled by the waterfall, she played the part of the benevolent, eccentric elderly lady to any children who might happen by. And yes, reader, these poor children, lured by hearty food and lulled into a sense of security, would end up in the witch‰Ûªs stewing pot.** But our two young protagonists didn‰Ûªt know any of this. Tense and exhausted, they only felt dazed relief and surreal astonishment at the sudden brightness of the hearth fire and the reviving hotness of soup and bread. And after the filling meal, they were only too happy to be fussed over by the old lady and bundled off to a room to sleep. They awoke the next morning, disoriented in a strange bed with sunlight flooding the room. After an intense whisper argument, they decided to see if the grandmother was still there. Cautiously walking out of the bedroom, they saw the spectacled old lady already bustling around in the kitchen making breakfast. She beamed upon seeing them. ‰ÛÏOh, good morning you two. I hope you slept well, being so tired as you were yesterday. Hope you have a hearty appetite because I made you a big breakfast.‰Û ‰ÛÏGood morning grandmother,‰Û the sister said timidly. ‰ÛÏThank you so much for giving us food and shelter last night. But, please, we would really like to go home. Our father must be very worried.‰Û ‰ÛÏOf course my dearies. Oh,‰Û the witch sighed dramatically, ‰ÛÏbut leaving so soon? I almost never get visitors in this neck of the woods, and oh, my grandchildren come to visit so little.‰Û She wiped away an imaginary tear. ‰ÛÏWon‰Ûªt you stay a little longer? A day, maybe two days? Just to keep this poor lonely old lady company.‰Û The siblings looked at each other with uncertainty. Well, it felt rude to refuse after all she had done for them, and a day or two wouldn‰Ûªt hurt. Besides, her cooking was absolutely amazing. The brother shrugged. ‰ÛÏAlright. I guess we could stay a couple days.‰Û The witch smiled from ear to ear. ‰ÛÏOh, that‰Ûªs just fabulous. Sit down, sit down, have some breakfast.‰Û She gave the boy a critical once over. ‰ÛÏLook at you, all skin and bones. You must eat a lot of my food. It will give you a little meat on that frame.‰Û She nodded approvingly at the girl. ‰ÛÏLike your sister, plump and sturdy. Sit, sit.‰ÛåÊ She placed two steaming plates of sizzling sausage and scrambled eggs with rice and potato cakes on the table. Suddenly realized they were starving, the siblings dived in. And despite the huge servings they were given, it was so irresistibly delicious that they had two more helpings. The rest of the day passed in a blur. The siblings passed the time dipping their toes in the shallow pool of the waterfall and accompanying the grandmother in her kitchen, where she seemed to be cooking non-stop. It seemed that every hour she would bustle out with a fresh batch of bread or a pot of piping hot tostado for the children to snack on. And for lunch and dinner she again made them exquisite meals. ‰ÛÏI‰Ûªve got to fatten up you poor, skinny children!‰Û she declared. The two children went to bed feeling satiated and unusually sedate. ‰ÛÏShe‰Ûªs very nice, huh? We should really ask her to show us the way back tomorrow though,‰Û the sister yawned. The next day passed much the same until lunchtime. The witch lugged out a giant caldron and declared that she was going to make a special soup for dinner. She handed the children buckets to bring water to fill up the caldron while she left with an axe to chop firewood. The two began lugging water from the waterfall beside the house. Dipping her bucket into the depths of the pool, the sister heard a clunk. Hastily pulling up her bucket, she saw staring back at her the dull eye sockets of a pearly skull. She barely stifled a scream and carefully leaned over the bank of the pool. Despite the ripples, she could clearly see, half buried in the sediment, the scattered bones of several human skeletons. Breathless with fright, she showed her brother the morbid discovery. ‰ÛÏHow did they get there? Do you think we‰Ûªre in danger? We should tell the old woman.‰Û ‰ÛÏBut,‰Û the brother turned pale and voiced the dreadful thought, ‰ÛÏno one else lives around here. What if it‰Ûªs her?‰Û The siblings quickly decided they would have to run away, even though they didn‰Ûªt know where to go, before the old woman came back. The sky was turning dark and the witch was bound to return with firewood any second. In fact, the witch was slowly making her way back to the waterfall at that moment. However, she had not brought firewood. The cannibal had left intending to sharpen her axe and collect herbs to make a sleeping potion for the children. But as she combed the woods for the necessary plants, she heard a voice calling. ‰ÛÏSon, daughter! Hello? Son, daughter!‰Û Incredibly, it was the merchant. The stone-hearted man, who had never felt bad about anything in his life except making a bad trade deal, had felt so guilty about abandoning his children high in the mountains that he had decided to come back to find them. Unfortunately, he found the witch first. Almost walking into the old lady in the deepening gloom, he only had time to open his mouth before his head was disconnected from his body. The witch was surprised but ecstatic‰ÛÓshe would have a good supply of food for months. Collecting the last few roots and leaves, she tied together the merchant‰Ûªs feet and began dragging him back to the house. At this point, the children had already left the house. Running, crashing through the underbrush, their increasingly limited vision was filled in by their imagination. They saw the witch‰Ûªs dumpling figure behind every bush, her fingers grabbed at their hair from among the branches. The sound of their panicked breaths seemed to fill the woods. So when a band of silhouettes slipped out from the fog, the two screamed. Hands grabbed at their clothes and rough palms covered their mouths. After an eternity of sheer terror, there was a ssshhkt woosh sound and a spark lit up a torch. The flickering flames lit up the faces of the captors. To their relief, it was a group of tough looking men and not the witch. In a whisper, a young man explained that they were looking for a monster living in the vicinity of the waterfall. For the past couple years, children from the village had disappeared in that neck of the woods without a trace. Only recently, a dismembered skeleton, completely stripped of flesh, had been found nearby. The village leaders immediately decided to send an expedition of armed men to seek out and destroy whatever monster was responsible. The siblings, still shaken from their grisly discovery, explained their plight and the witch that lived by the waterfall. The men smiled in grim satisfaction and (to the children‰Ûªs dismay), began ascending towards the waterfall. Just as they reached the clearing they saw the witch arrive with a gruesome prize dragging behind her. Leaving the corpse at the door, the witch entered the house. Irritated to find the caldron only half full, the witch began calling for the children. About to enter their bedroom, she heard a heavy thunk at the door. And shortly after, she began to hear a low crackling. Worried, she hurried back into the kitchen‰ÛÓto see the entire room aflame. She screamed and ran for the door. It was barricaded shut. And that‰Ûªs how the witch of Peguche and the merchant met their sticky ends. To make it a bit sweeter, the reader may also assume that the no-longer-beautiful stepmother was forced to live in poverty after the mysterious disappearance of her husband, and that the siblings left to live happy productive lives with the villagers in their little town. But despite the happy ending reader, they say the unhappy spirit of the witch still lingers at the falls. Take a hike up to marvel at its clear waters and you will come away covered in bites from the innumerable insects still hungry for human blood.

Jessica Chai