Calderon church in EcuadorTiny hummingbirds made of bread dough in Calderon
Calderon town square with attractive colonial building
Miniature nativity scene, made from bread dough, in half a walnut shell
Cocktail sticks decorated with bread dough frogs and hummingbirds
Bread dough Christmas decorations - penguin and train

Calderon is famed for its
bread dough figurines or "artesanias de masapan".

Calderón -  Ecuador Destinations

Calderón is known for its bread dough figurines and is a cheap and easy half-day excursion from Quito.  As well as the traditional bread dough ("masapan") handicrafts, you get some great views of Quito and the valleys to its north and east on the journey, and Calderón has an attractive little square with a pretty church.
On the Day of the Dead (Día de los Difuntos, 2nd November), the tradition in Ecuador is to clear up the area around the graves of family members, light candles and generally spend time in the cemetary remembering the departed.  Simple bread figures are traditionally placed on the graves.  Calderón has taken the idea of these edible bread models shaped in basic clay moulds and developed it into an art form.  The bread figures in Calderón are made by hand from real bread dough, but are not edible due to the large amounts of colouring, glue and varnish that are also used.
Calderon's little dough figures with traditional indigenous costumes from various parts of Ecuador are cheap, colourful and popular.  However, unless your nearest and dearest are social anthropologists and particularly fond of dusting, you might want to buy them something that either has some useful purpose, or else is only allowed to attract dust for part of the year.  A bit of searching will reveal some "masapan" souvenirs which are just as colourful and attractive but also vaguely functional. 
Fridge magnets, earrings, keyrings and cocktail sticks adorned with little bread dough figures make lightweight souvenirs or gifts which don't take up much luggage space.  Some of the finer, more delicate designs such as the little hummingbirds will need careful transportation. 
Nativity scenes are a traditional theme in Calderon, some with many separate and detailed figures, others united in a basket or bread shell to hang on the Christmas tree.  The tiny nativity scene in half a walnut shell, left, cost just $1 (and can be kept tucked away in a dust-free container from January to November).  There are also many different designs of Christmas tree ornaments, ranging from the traditional to the creative to the slightly strange (the Christmas whale?).
To get to Calderon from Quito, take any of the green buses marked "Calderón" which leave from La Marín in the old town, travelling north along Avenida América, Avenida Galo Plaza Lasso and then onto the Panamericana Norte.  The journey costs 25 centavos and takes around an hour from La Marín, depending on traffic.  Sit on the left-hand side of the bus (or the right-hand side on the way back) for sweeping views over the valleys on the way out of Quito city in the north. 
On arrival in Calderon, from the central square (la plaza) with your back to the church, take the road to the right, leading slightly uphill - it's called Carapungo, but not particularly clearly marked.  You will find several shops selling the famous bread dough figurines.  One of the shops further up on the left has its craftswomen working in the shop and they are happy to demonstrate the process of making the traditional Calderón masapán figurines.  
Useful Spanish Vocabulary for an excursion to Calderon, Ecuador:
artesanías: handicrafts, craft products
masapán: bread dough
Ecuador Destinations: Calderón, an excursion from Quito
Half-day trip from Quito to see traditional craft products made from the bread dough for which Calderon is famous.
Website www.ecuadortravelsite.org, text and photos by Sarah Clifford.
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