Morning came and with it an absence from the rain. It was a cold morning in the mountains as I walked around the tiny village. Everywhere I went I was being watched. Not so much by the local people, but by their animals. Llamas and donkeys are everywhere here. Tied up outside people’s homes with cans mounted to their backs to haul milk and other goods around town. They looked like they hated the rain too.
The village of Salinas de Guaranda is known for it’s locally produced, delicious chocolate, cheese, textiles, hand crafts, and other goods. The town was just like any other rural village with just the basics, most relied on the nearby salt mine for making their living. In 1971 an Italian priest came to Salinas and helped the local people create a co operative to be granted the mineral rights to the salt mine. In addition he invited volunteers to come and teach the people how to make cheese, chocolate, and brought training, loans, and helped them establish more organizations. When the priest arrived there was no running water and most people lived in straw roofed huts. Today, Salinas has over 100 small businesses and is one of the most prosperous villages. The goods made here are exported throughout Ecuador and the world.
You can take a tour of all the local businesses but I was only really interested in the chocolate so I walked over to chocolate factory to learn about the process but mostly just to eat chocolate. I had rode 8 hours on muddy mountain roads for this and I was not disappointed.
The cocoa beans are brought in from the surrounding region to the chocolate factory where the beans are roasted and made into many different kinds of chocolates.
The priest is still living and serving in Salinas more than 34 years after he first arrived. From the photos are reports the town has changed it’s future forever since coming together and forming the co-ops. Unlike many small towns where teens and young adults have to leave for the cities to find opportunities, young adults from Salinas can return and set up their own businesses. I ate a pizza shop run by a local twenty-something. Read more about Salinas on their community website.