Deep roots in the community has its benefits
The Guasango tree, scientifically named the Loxopterygium huasango spruce, is a hardwood tree indigenous to the province of Santa Elena, Ecuador.
Valued for it's durable timber, the branches and milled trunk become beams and furniture in local wood shops.
This tree also has magical powers, and those that anger it may become afflicted with a terrible rash. More valuable as an aphrodisiac, locals say any couple that makes out under its canopy will fall hopelessly in love.
I made the acquaintance of this unique tree by almost running into one in the middle of a street in a suburb of Libertad, in Santa Elena. When I spun the car around to take this picture, I noticed some men gathered nearby, so I shrugged and said, “How can I not take a picture of this?”
They told me it was an “heirloom” in the neighborhood. When the government came to pave, the locals locked arms around the trunk to prevent the construction crews from tearing it down.
In conversation, I learned that this tree was once the resting place for funeral processions that came from the town of Anconcito, precisely where I’d just come from, after about a half-hour drive.
Pallbearers would stop here, the halfway point to the cemetery, a walk they say used to require about 20 hours of slow trudging through narrow, muddy paths. They'd put the coffin down, along with the picks and shovels they would use for digging the grave. Resting in the shade, locals would offer them fish and plantain, roasted or boiled, green or ripe.
This heirloom tree was nicknamed named el guasango hambriento, the “hungry guasango.”
After a handshake, I drove off with my picture, very glad I had not collided with a magical street tree.
UPDATE (7/17/17): Another magnificent specimen, this one occupies the entire pedestrian way in Cuenca, Ecuador: