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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Trip - We Zoomed to Zamora (not Zaruma) Part 2 of 2


On Saturday morning, we enjoyed our Grand Hotel breakfast (included in the price of the room) comprised of eggs, rich Loja coffee, breads, papaya juice, a corn tamale, and slices of pineapple and watermelon.

The drive to Zamora was primarily downhill and an hour in length.  We were able to quickly find the church of 'Our Lady of Carmen'.  Not difficult as it was THE church in the central square of town.  Father Telmo (I referred to him as Father Elmo...tee hee hee) was informed we had arrived and he came out and gave us a boisterous welcome and hugs all around.  Then we unloaded the car of the school goods, placing them in his office.  He asked us to come back at 9am the next morning, Sunday, when we could meet the kids receiving the supplies.

We had reservations to stay at an 'eco-lodge' called 'Copalinga' just outside Zamora.   I had some basic directions but relied on my instinct to find the place....that, and a rusted, barely legible sign that pointed to 'Podocarpus Park' near which is the lodge.   After 15 minutes on a single lane dirt road and traversing a huge dirt slide, we arrived at Copalinga.

The owner, Catherine (from Belgium) gave us an overview of the place and covered some rules...one of which is to not wear shoes inside the cabins and to close the curtains when we're away so the birds don't slam into the glass.   The enclave is situated at the edge of the jungle and, therefore, it's very tropical and a favored destination for birders.   Hummingbird feeders were everywhere as were the birds themselves. Color-coded trails led explorers to various parts of the property.

Our cabins had beautiful polished hardwood floors, big windows, a small terrace (with hammock to use), and nicely tiled bathrooms with hardy water pressure and HOT water.   In an environment like this, cabins would typically smell musty, but not these. They were immaculate.  Unfortunately, there was no AC (nor ceiling fans) and no television.  But, after all, we were staying at an ECO lodge in the jungle for cripes sake!   Yet, the cabins cost us more (about $55) than the luxury we had at the Grand Hotel in Loja.  Copalinga gets electricity from their own hydro-powerplant.

After a short nap, we drove a couple kilometers to the entrance of Podocarpus Park, a natural preserve. Created in 1982, it covers over 1,400 square kilometers, much of which is inaccessible to the public.  We parked in a small lot and set out on a trail which, we were told, would lead to a waterfall about 1 km back from the entrance.   In several spots, hordes of butterflies swarmed around our feet.  Franny was enamored with them as well as ant armies marching up and down the trunks of trees.

We hiked up, down, over, across, down, and up, and down, and up and came to a river crossing and a sign introducing us to the ENTRANCE to the park.  The entrance wasn't where we thought it was, at the parking lot!!  That meant we still had a kilometer to go to reach the waterfall!!!   Nuh-uh.   I stayed put while FR/RF continued on.   I waded into the water and found a nice spot to sit on a log in the middle of the river and dip my legs into a 2ft tall 'waterfall' until they returned.  After all, I've seen a zillion waterfalls in EC, one more wasn't going to rock my world.

After our hike back to the car, we were hungry so we drove back into Zamora (not Zaruma).   The road led along a ridge above the river 'Bombuscaro' where we saw many people having fun in the water.  We found a chicken joint in Zamora that had a big fan keeping people cool as it was rather warm and humid.  For ten bucks, we had a half of roasted chicken, 2 bowls (not cups) of soup, two plates of fries, rice, un poco ensalada, 3 Cokes, and a large glass of tree tomato juice (tastes a bit like cantaloupe).

In the evening, we had dinner in the open-air (but covered) dining facility of the lodge.  It was a nice dinner (more chicken) but a bit over-priced at $14.


On Sunday morning we enjoyed a wide array of breakfast items and more delicious strong coffee before checking out and heading to the church for our 9am meeting.  Out 'meeting' ended up being attending the standing room only service in the church.  We didn't know what to expect...whether we would be called up in front of everyone, or simply mentioned in the program, or ???   It was all in Spanish and I understood about 17 words out of the whole sermon.  Then came communion.  Oh GAWD....we're going to be here forever, I thought.  Luckily, they had 3 people 'serving' and not everyone partook.  WHEW!!!

After the service, we were asked to gather on the front steps of the church, where the school supplies would be handed out to a specific group of kids who eagerly and willingly stood in line for their 'gifts'.  Father Elmo....errrr....TELMO introduced Franny/Robert, Robert/Franny to the gathered crowd who responded with big applause of gratitude.  Organizers doled out ONE notebook, ONE pencil, ONE eraser, ONE ruler....you get the idea....along with ONE lollipop to each of the kids.   They all had excitement written on their faces, as you'll see in the photos below.   There was no pushing or whining 'I want that color!' 'I want cherry, not chocolate!'.  NADA.   I took a lot of photos of some real cute and thankful faces.

When all that was done, we hopped in the car to head home.   Not so fast.  Robert forgot to turn in his Copalinga lodge key!!!!!   So, we drove back to Copalinga, turned in the key, drove back to Zamora (not Zaruma) and out onto the highway leading back to Loja and ultimately Cuenca.

I dreaded the 5-hour drive back as there's not a whole lot to see or do along the way.   2 gas stations, and that's about it.  However, we stopped in on our now favorite restaurant in Saraguro to enjoy another artistically and gastronomically pleasing lunch.

My two passengers (you know their names by now) had been attending Spanish classes for some time.  Franny whipped out her flash cards and decided to practice her Spanish with Robert, and vice versa.   I could've killed them.  For however many miles and however long it went on, I drove while listening to them practice the seemingly endless conjugations of just ONE Spanish word.  There's versions for I , we, she, he, they.  Then there's past tense, future tense, past particulate ad nauseum, irregular interjections, imaconstipateds, and predicate conjunctions....to name a few.

Then onto the next word and all its coagulations.

In the end, I survived.  They almost didn't.

The few weeks prior to our trip, the weather had been downright crappy in Cuenca...rain every day.   It was  nice to get out of town and into better weather.  Upon returning to Cuenca, we no sooner arrived at FR/RF's house and opened the doors to the car to unload when a HUGE downpour unleashed on us.

645 kilometers (approx 390 miles) and 2 1/2 days.

Home Sweet Home!!!

Dano

Enjoy the photos.  I wish I could include ALL the photos I took and chose to save.  But, that would be well over a hundred.   So, I chose the best of the best just for you!


Robert on a rickety pedestrian bridge over the river Bombuscaro in Zamora.


Broken or rotted board?  Hey....just replace it with limbs!!!


I was hoping to run into Tarzan, even Jane or Boy would do.  But, didn't happen.


My cabin wasn't on its side.  I don't know why this photo rotated when it loaded.

Bathroom in my cabin at the Copalinga.  Nice THICK towels!  Candles in case the electricity went out.


Catherine (owner of Copalinga), Robert, Franny...commencing dinner.

Out Lady of Carmen church in Zamora.


Full house at the Sunday service.

Father Telmo introducing Robert and Franny to the kids gathered in front of the church.

Father Telmo briefing Franny and Robert.


What a photo-op shot!






The dole-er-outers.


HAM!!!

Cool waterfall along the road headed back from Zamora to Loja.  See the folks on the bottom right, crossing a plank to reach the falls.

Back on the home front.........


I just had surgery and I have these big club feet, no gonads, my hair is a mess...
 and you're gonna take a picture of me?????

BWWWAAAHHHAAAHHHAAAA!!!
That little alien monster that lives in MY house just got tootered and his front claws removed!!!
(Now I just gotta convince my Dad to have the little monster's teeth removed, too!!!)

GRACIE!!!    You leave little Marcelo alone!!
Now get outa my blog!!!



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  • Trip - We Zoomed to Zamora (not Zaruma) Part 1 of 2

    Yes, 'We'.  Normally I do most everything by myself, including travel.   But, I got hornswaggled into driving for THE lovely couple (Franny and Robert) of Beacon, New York who now live in Cuenca in MY old house.

    Franny is one of the many expats who volunteer in their new community.  She takes a bus to a small village outside Cuenca, then walks several blocks along a dirt, potholed road passing goats, chickens, cows, and farmers to a large house where special-needs kids come to school.  She's helped get the school in shape for re-certification by coordinating a paint-a-thon, getting monetary donations, as well as supplies such as computer equipment.  In the course of her efforts, she learned of the need of a remote school near Zamora, Ecuador.  The kids are from very poor families and the school was in need of basic school supplies such as notebooks, pens/pencils, erasers, sharpeners, rulers, etc.  Franny put the word out and soon she had several boxes crammed with school supplies ready to be delivered to the edge of the jungle where the school resides.

    So, enough about Franny already.  Geez, you'd think she was a SAINT or something!!!

    But, how to get them delivered?  Remember your friends who had pickup trucks and how they always got tapped to help with everyone and their cousins move?   Bingo (hi Mom!).   Well, I don't have a truck, but I have a small SUV which is all that's needed since 98% of expats here don't own cars.

    So, nary a week after returning from Zaruma, I was behind the wheel again, headed for Zamora.  Zamora (not Zaruma) is an hour outside of Loja, which is 4 hours drive time from Cuenca.   I've been to Loja before but only in passing and never had the time to check it out.  So was the case with Robert and Franny (see, I rotated the placement of their names!!).  Plus, we had all heard about the town Saraguro but had never been as well.   It's along the way.

    9am Friday morning we hit the road.   In a little over 2 hours, we pulled into Saraguro.  It's a charming town with the typical central square anchored by a large church...one that looks like the town would be completely emptied out if they all went to church on Sunday.  Like many towns in the Andes, it's mostly populated with indigenous people of a specific 'tribe'.  However, in Saraguro, they're somewhat unique in the way they look and dress.  Men, for example, wear black pants that end at their shins, black shoes/socks, and black hats. They also wear their hair in a single, long, braided ponytail.  Woman wear long skirts to their ankles, embroidered blouses, and many many strands of beaded necklaces and/or gold chains.  Depending on the 'tribe', their hats vary between a black fedora-type and a wide-brim white hat with the underside in a motif that looks like the hide of a black and white cow.

    We wandered a bit to enjoy the architecture.  It was a nice halfway respite from driving.  A friend of ours had been to Saraguro before and told Franny/Robert about a a neat restaurant we should make sure to have lunch.  Her initials are MH and she bitched at me when I posted my last blog saying (in essence) 'EFF the bullets'...she wanted to read about our trip.  So impatient!!  (me thinks she was tipping too many at the time).

    We sat at a table outside on a raised sidewalk and admired the beauty of the people walking by.  We kept trying to get a photo, while being discrete, but it was impossible.  Every time I focused my camera, the person I wanted to capture ended up going behind a lightpole, or a car would pass by, or the fire-hydrant would hide the short pants I was shooting for, or their backs would be to me.  It was as if it was not meant to be, to get a photo of these people.

    The food came.  WHOA!!!   Cameras were whipped out to take shots of our artistically arranged food.   THIS...in SARAGURO ECUADOR???   Who presents a plate of food in an artistic fashion in.....well..... ECUADOR????  And, for less than 5 bucks??  What a treat it was to look at, and it all tasted great, too.

    Onward to Loja, a mid-sized city of about 200,000 located a few thousand feet lower than Cuenca.   About an hour and a half later we arrived at the Grand Hotel which we had booked online earlier in the week.  We were led to our, much to our surprise, large suites that included a separate living room space, fully set dining table, king sized bed, flat screen TV, and jacuzzi tub in the bathroom.   I thought someone made a mistake because the room I booked online was just a regular room for $42.  There was no mention of the price when I registered at the front desk.  UH OH.  So, I went downstairs and asked.  I was informed my room would cost $36.   OKIE DOKIE....NO PROBLEMO!!!!

    After a short nap, we headed out to walk the centro area.  The downtown (known as the 'centro') has narrow streets which causes a lot of traffic congestion.   But, we were on foot and not hindered.  The buildings looked nicely maintained and had a similar architecture as Cuenca.  Noticeably, there was little graffiti unlike Cuenca.  Almost every 2-3 blocks there was another square, another church to walk into and gape at the soaring ceilings and ornate design.  Loja has a nice walk-able ambiance for window shopping unlike many towns where the shops are more purely for function, than they are cosmetically enhanced experiences on top of providing a needed service.

    Tuckered out, we took a taxi back to the hotel.  We decided we didn't want to wander about to find a place for dinner, therefore we opted to dine in the hotel restaurant.  Usually, that's a recipe for boring food at high prices.  Not so here.  We were the only ones there, seated at a nice table decked out with linens and crystal.

    I needed a drink!!!  Just so you know, Ec'ers aren't big drinkers, yet alone drink cocktails much.  If they drink, it's primarily beer, with wine coming in second.  That said, bars are not stocked with much hard alcohol.  If you ask for a 'Cosmo' here, you're going to get a blank stare.  But, on our menu was 'Vocka Martini'.  YEA!!!  I hadn't had one in a long time and I didn't care they misspelt Vodka.  But, asking for a martini in EC is like betting on craps in Las Vegas.  What the hell, I wanted one and it was only 4 bucks!!!  Woohoo!!!

    The waiter came back and apologized as they didn't have any martini.  But, they could give me vodka with either orange juice or soda.   Ummmmmmm.     I soooooo wanted to say 'if you have vodka, you can make a martini!!!' but I didn't want to confuse the poor guy so I got a vocka martini with orange juice...which they also call a 'Screwdriver'.   Who knew????

    Cut to the chase.  I ordered baked parmesean chicken for $9.50.  It was HUGE and included rice, vegetables, and garlic bread.  The three of us thought the food was great.  I, for one, ended up on my king-sized bed sprawled out on my back because I was so uncomfortably stuffed to the hilt.

    I wanted to enjoy my jacuuzi tub as I've really missed the TWO I had in my house back in the States.   But (there's always one of those isn't there?) bathtubs in EC are made for people who are 4' 2".  I mean....C'MON!!!!   I was undeterred.  I alternated between my upper body and my legs.  I could get my torso under the water only if my legs from my waist down went straight up the wall.  When I switched to treating my legs, there was barely any water in the tub because it was all pushed out the overflow while my torso was submersed!!  As a result, the jets were not under water and started spraying sh_t all over the place.

    Hope you got a laugh at my expense.  You're welcome.

    On to Zamora (not Zaruma) in the morning.  See Part 2.

    Dano

    Corn is king here in EC.  And, here, is the Queen of Corn herself...Franny.

    Fountain in the central park of Saraguro, with the church in the background.

    Part of the central park/plaza.

    Multi-purpose bench, protection from weather, and street light in Saraguro.

    Robert and Franny at the sidewalk cafe in Saraguro (let's see...that's 2 for Franny named first, and 2 for Robert named first.  Good...I'm safe.)

    My mini burgers and stack of thin fries.

    Franny shopping for jewelry.  Most everything on the table was made of tiny beads.
    You can barely see the cowhide motif on the underside of the lady seller.

    4-sided monument in Saraguro, each side telling a different story.

    Fruit anyone?

    Typical architecture of downtown Loja.

    Church in Loja.

    Another church in Loja.

    Notice the size of the church's doors in relation to Franny and Robert (or Robert and Franny).


    Yet ANOTHER church in downtown Loja.


    Loja

    A mural depicting Simon Bolivar.


    Strange gateway to downtown Loja.  Looks like it's straight out of Bavaria.


    Wiley Coyote.  Oh wait.....Don Quixote

    ....and his sidekick Tanto.


    About Me

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    Cuenca, Azuay, Ecuador
    This is all about my transition from an American lifestyle and culture to my newest adventure, life in Cuenca and greater Ecuador. I'll be recapping some of my day-to-day experiences (and mishaps) to highlight what it's like to live here.

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