The final bend in the dirt road branching north from Guaranda for 30km suddenly reveals a dramatic view of SALINAS (3550m), a collection of white houses huddled together near the foot of a vertical wall of rock, surrounded by rolling fields and plains. This isolated village, also called “Salinas de Guaranda” to distinguish it from the coastal resort, is named after the abundant supplies of salt that have been exploited here since pre-Hispanic times.
The village is today best known for its flourishing cooperatives, which were established with the help of a Salesian missionary, Father Antonio Polo, in 1971. The FUNORSAL foundation (Fundación de Organizaciones de Salinas) he founded provided locals with training, materials, technical support, bank loans and accounting assistance. It transformed villagers’ lives: sheep owners who had previously sold raw wool to middlemen for a pittance began to spin their own yarn and supply directly to manufacturers for a decent profit; and dairy farmers set up highly productive milk and cheese factories, supplying retailers at a national level.
Visiting the village’s cooperatives ($1 per person), particularly the cheese factory, wool workshop and chocolate workshop, makes for an enjoyable and enlightening few hours, especially if you take a local guide to show you around ($10), which you can arrange at the community tourist information office on the parque central (t03/2390024 or t2390020, whttp://www.salinerito.com). They also offer numerous tours, horse rides, bike trips and local hikes and can help with visits to the Subtrópico, the warmer subtropical part of the province in the west, such as Piedra Blanca, a community ecotourism venture (t03/2608544 or t09/3044290, whttp://www.piedrablanca.org; $21–25) with a simple lodge and plenty of opportunities to explore its surrounding forests.