--"Halloween is just around the corner – and it’s time for the creepy and the scary.
In Latin America, this time of the year is also when the veil between the world of the living and that of the dead becomes so thin, that the living and the departed may communicate with each other. The holiday – celebrated on November 1, All Saint’s Day, and November 2, All Souls Day – is collectively known as El Día de los Muertos or El Día de los Difuntos.
But Latin American traditions, with pre-Hispanic roots, are much different than those the Northern Hemisphere celebrates. Especially in areas with large indigenous populations (Guatemala, southern Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and northern Chile and Argentina), families gather in the cemeteries to clean and repaint their family graves, and decorate them with flowers. On November 2, they will gather at the tomb with the dearly departed’s favorite food and drink, and perhaps even a bit of live music. It is a wonderful cultural experience to witness.
Still, if you are in the mood for creepy and scary thrills during this time of the year, here are some places to add to your South American itinerary. There are witches, vampires, demons and other creatures, as well as many tortured souls. Many of these sites are tied with horrid chapters of the region’s history, and carry potent vibes of those who suffered. Others are infused with legends of mythical beings and mysterious events. Most of these places you can also visit in the off-season, and still have quite a riveting experience....
5. Quito, Ecuador
Quito has many haunted places – not surprising for a city as ancient as it is, predating the Spanish conquest.
But when I asked a close friend about places he would suggest I include in this article, he stated, “The Eloy Alfaro monument in El Ejido, where he and his compadres were bludgeoned to death. Walking past that always gives me shivers up the spine.”
Over the years, I had heard about the death of then-President Eloy Alfaro, who served 1895-1901 and again 1906-1911. According to the tales, he was drawn and quartered, then burned on 28 January 1912. But searching online provided few details about what precisely happened. I decided to ask don Marco, a native-born Quiteño historian, born and raised in the Centro Histórico. What he recounted to me, much of it told to him by his older relatives who witnessed the event, is worthy of a Hallowe’en terror movie.
Shortly before he was arrested, a woman read Alfaro’s tarot cards. She warned him not to return to Quito. He said he must fulfill his destiny. In Guayaquil, he was detained by those who opposed his plan to increase property taxes (by a mere one-one-thousandth of a percent). He and six of his supporters were sent by train to Quito. Upon arriving at the Chimbacalle station at 9 a.m., they were transported to the García Moreno prison (on Calle Rocafuerte near the San Roque Market) where they were killed. At 10 a.m., Alfaro was shot in the chest and in the throat (to prevent him from screaming) and fell to Rocafuerte Street below. Still a cry could be heard – and residents of that barrio say that on the anniversary, you can hear it at that hour.
Three horses then were tied to his limbs to tear his body apart. But the one holding his hands suddenly, mysteriously died. The other two horses dragged Alfaro’s body and the third horse to Plaza Santo Domingo. At Bolívar and Guayaquil streets, La Pájara – a woman believed by locals to be a witch – cut off Alfaro’s testicles and penis and hung then from the portico on that corner.
The entourage of Alfaro enemies continued the procession, dragging the bodies of Alfaro and the six others to El Ejido Park. But something strange happened along the way: Alfaro’s body disappeared – just disappeared. To this day, no-one knows what happened to it, or where it may be hidden.
The other six were burned approximately in the vicinity of where the Eloy Alfaro Monument now stands in El Ejido Park. I asked don Marco why, then does my friend always gets shivers up his spine when he walks past it. He is feeling the anguish of the common people, he said.
Address- Center of Parque El Ejido (between Av 10 de Agosto and 6 de Diciembre, and between Av Tarqui and Av Patria), Quito, Hours- Daily dawn-dusk
6. Cueva de los Tayos, Morona Santiago Province, Ecuador
Deep in the virgin jungles of eastern Ecuador is Cueva de los Tayos, a cave named for the oilbirds (Steatornis caripensis) that live in it. From the nearest town, it is reached by boat, then by hiking or horseback.
Getting to this cave is not the only adventure you may have. Once you descend into the 63-meter (207-foot) deep Chiminea, a narrow chute, you emerge into a world of large galleries connected by tunnels, all carved by subterranean waters. Stalactites and stalagmites decorate the inner realms. These caves have been sacred to indigenous nations for over 3,000 years and archaeological remains, including burials, have been found.
But the Cueva de los Tayos has a mystery. In his 1973 book The Gold of the Gods, Erich von Däniken claimed that Argentinian-Hungarian entrepreneur Juan Moricz discovered gold artifacts, tablets, sculptures and other objects in a chamber even deeper in this cave. Some say these were part of the lost treasure of Atahualpa, the last Inca emperor.
In 1976, an expedition of Ecuadorian and British military personnel, professional cavers and astronaut Neil Armstrong, extensively explored this cave. Archaeological artifacts were found, but nothing fitting von Däniken’s descriptions.
Some say, though, that much of the gold was stolen by Father Crespi, a Salesian priest who worked in the region in the 1920s, and that helicopters were sent in to retrieve much more wealth. The findings were displayed in the Museo Privado de Carlos Crespi Croci in Cuenca. After a fire in 1962, everything disappeared. The archdiocese of Cuenca denies it has it in its possession – though Shuar guides to the cave claim that much of the gold in Cuenca’s cathedral came from here.
Cueva de los Tayos may be visited only with permission from the Federación Interprovincial de Centros Shuar (FICSH), whose offices are in the town of Sucúa. A native guide will be assigned to accompany you. Will you be able to discover Atahualpa’s long-missing wealth?
Address- Cantón Limón Indanza, Morona Santiago Province, Hours-Daily dawn-dusk
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Lorraine Caputo is a travel writer, poet and translator. She has authored nine guidebooks for South America. Her literary works appear in over 100 journals in Canada, the US, Latin America, Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa; twelve anthologies and nine chapbooks – including the collection of travel poetry, Caribbean Nights (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2014). For the past decade, she has been traveling through Latin America, listening to the voices of the pueblos and Earth. Follow her travels at: www.facebook.com/lorrainecaputo.wanderer.