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The sun had been setting a little earlier every night. The inhabitants of the majestic Andes began to worry, as they did every year: what if this year, the sun simply continued to set earlier and earlier until it disappeared altogether? For three days, the priests prayed, fasted and sacrificed guinea pigs and llamas, and on the shortest night of the year, they celebrated the annual festival of Inti Raymi, honoring the Sun God and imploring him to return for another year. The Sun God listened: on the next day, sunset was a little later, indicating another prosperous year for the crops of the Incas.

The festival of Inti Raymi was banned by the Spanish colonial administration in 1572 as pagan and anti-Catholic. It went underground and survived, and Andean natives began celebrating it again in the 1940s. Ironically, Spanish colonial writers had written about the festival, and their descriptions of it helped modern Andeans re-create it. The most important Inti Raymi celebration takes place in Cusco, Peru, but there are other, smaller celebrations including Ecuador’s at Hacienda San Agustín de Callo—one of the best places to celebrate.

The site was an Inca fortress, an outpost between the great Inca imperial cities of Quito and Cusco. The Spanish took over the fortress and turned it over to the Augustinian order, who built a convent there. The Incas were peerless stonemasons, and the original walls are still as solid as they were the day they were built. The Augustinians built over the Inca walls, incorporating them into their convent but not covering them up. In 1921, the hacienda passed into the hands of the Galo Plaza family, which boasts two presidents of Ecuador in the past hundred years. The family has owned it ever since and converted it into a luxury hotel.

The Hacienda itself is gorgeous. The owners have artfully worked the original Inca walls into the design and left them bare whenever possible, and on a clear day there is a good view of the majestic Cotopaxi volcano from the patio. It is possible to visit the hacienda without staying there: many people come for lunch.

The local indigenous groups consider the site to be part of their cultural heritage, and often have traditional festivals on the grounds. The festivals should not be missed, as they feature natives in full traditional dress donning bright, colorful attire. The most important festival is Inti Raymi, the festival of the sun. It is held on June 24, the winter solstice in the southern hemisphere.

The chapel at the Hacienda is particularly interesting. It’s squared-off, small, and resembles a prison cell more than a church, with its solid stone walls on three sides. Religious statues sit in stony nooks in the wall, and a bench too wide for the space stretches across the narrow room. They seem out of place, as if they were an afterthought, a concession to the fact that the room could never be anything but an Inca structure.

As many distinguished guests over the years have learned, the ancient and modern worlds come together in a memorable fusion at Hacienda San Agustín de Callo.



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