Ibarra, Ecuador - We're on the bus we boarded in Quito, travelling along the Pan-American Highway through the so-called Valley of Volcanoes. The valley gets its name because it nestles between two 400-kilometre-long volcanic mountain ranges that run down the centre of Ecuador. We're heading to Ibarra for some ice cream. Ecuador's famous for it.
Outside the bus window, several volcanoes hover half-suspended in the clouds. Volcán Imbabura's massive 4,609-metre peak rises behind the large Laguna de San Pablo lake, part of the northern highlands' pretty lake district.
We're intrigued by the passengers on the bus: men with long ponytails, calf-length white pants, rope sandals, grey ponchos and felt hats; women in beautifully embroidered blouses, long black skirts, colourful shawls and folded headwear, with strings of yellow beads on their necks and wrists.
The area is dotted with villages inhabited by Ecuador's most prosperous indigenous group, the Otavaleños. These proud people wear their traditional attire as everyday clothing, one indication of their respect for tribal identity and tradition .
In the charming colonial town of Ibarra, horse-drawn carts clatter along cobbled streets flanked by whitewashed buildings with red tile roofs. Dark-suited old gentlemen sit in shady parks discussing the day's events.
It's a good place to let our minds wander back to the 19th century. Here, in 1897, 16- year - old Rosalia Suarez carried ice down from Imbabura volcano. At the time, the snow-capped mountain was the only source of ice in this equatorial region. In a large copper pail she stirred pure tropical fruit juices with a wooden spoon and spun the liquid over the bed of ice and straw. The resulting "helados de paila," or copper-pail sherbet, became famous all over Ecuador.
Dona Rosalia's heladería is still going strong. Now run by her granddaughter, the ice cream parlour serves handmade copper-pail ice cream in flavours like guanabana (breadfruit), maracuya (passion fruit) and mora (blackberry), although the ice now comes from electric freezers.
Our mission is to find it. Getting ice cream is not a difficult task in Ibarra, since every second café displays a "Helados de Paila" sign. Helados here, helados there, helados everywhere, but none of it Rosalia's.
Finally we see a throng of Adidas-wearing, hormone-fuelled university students loitering on the pedestrian mall in front of a chrome-faced nouveau sweets shop blaring Ecuadorian rap music. The sign above reads "Heladería de Rosalia Suarez."
This hamburguesa-dealing punk hangout can't be Rosalia's original ice cream heaven. One of the students directs us across the street.
Sure enough, the old shop exhibits a second "Heladería de Rosalia Suarez" sign. Inside, a prominently displayed copper kettle tells us we're in the right place. The walls are papered with yellowing newspaper clippings and sepia photographs of an extended Suarez family. At marble-top tables, children savour colourful ices served in gargantuan silver cups.
We order two guanabanas and climb a spiral staircase to the second floor. At last, in this quaint little room with its painted gingerbread railing and window frames, Imbabura's inspiration and Rosalia's volcanic spirit come to life. Reportedly, she lived to be 104.
It must've been all that ice cream.