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Friday, September 30, 2016

I Went for an Afternoon Drive...up into the Cajas!!!

The primary route to get from Ciuenca to Guayaquil (the largest city in Ecuador) is via the Cajas.  The name Cajas, in Spanish, means 'boxes' which doesn't make any sense...why call the mountains surrounding Cuenca 'boxes'?  But, in actuality, the name comes from Quechua (ancestral language of the Andes indigenous people) and means 'gateway to the snowy mountains'.  That makes MUCH more sense even though it rarely snows in the Cajas.

Leaving Cuenca at about 8,200 feet you travel about 21 miles before you reach Tres Cruces which is the summit (for the highway) at over 13,000 feet.  Most cars are huffing and puffing at that point!  Then, it's another 44 miles zig-zagging down, down, down to sea-level before you cruise on the flats to Guayaquil, another 55 or so miles away.

The highway only skims along a small edge of the Cajas National Park, which is comprised of over 70,000 acres.  There's very little you can see or explore of the rest of the park (without hiking) because it's set aside as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.

Anyhoo, come along with me as I show you just a small part of a trip one can easily take in the course of just a few hours.  Within the first 30 minutes outside of Cuenca, you'll see waterfalls, trout farms, rivers, valleys, alpaca and llamas!!  You can drive this route dozens of times (which I have) and see something different and more awesome each time.

About half way up, there's a stretch of numerous trout farms.  Some are private, some are public.  At the public ponds, you can rent a pole (a stick) and try your luck in man-made ponds stocked with large trout.  You pay for what you catch.  Some places make for fun with playground equipment for kids, mini-waterfalls, fountains, and small cafes.



A restaurant along the highway and a hosteria (further up the hill).

Hosteria Dos Chorreras (2 waterfalls) is one of my favorite stops.   The restaurant, banquet rooms, and accommodations are built around huge bolders...letting the outside in.  They even have an indoor pond loaded with trout and a small glass-covered creek that traverses the interior!


It's rare that you DON'T encounter Alpaca or Llamas along the way.  Which do you think this fella is?
(Answer:  Alpaca)

If the other guy was an Alpaca, this must be......?
(Answer:  Llama)

At 13,000 feet, the topography becomes very moorish.  There are hundreds of lakes throughout the entire park.  Only a few can be seen by car.  This photo was taken just before reaching the summit.

Reaching the summit, I decided to continue on a bit further down the other side.  One of my favorite stopping points for taking in a view (cloud ceiling cooperating) is at KM 55.  As a driver, it's hard to take everything in because you have to pay attention to the curvy road or careen off the side, never to be seen again.  If you can pull over and get out of the car you'll be awed.  I took the next photo by walking a few feet from the shoulder of the road.   LOOK at how far down that goes!!!!  And, believe it or not, there are HOUSES down there!   But, to this day, I have no clue how one accesses them.  BTW...that's a river down there, not a road.



Because there are so many trout farms along the highway, there's also a lot of cafes enticing you to come in and enjoy a meal...of trout.  This place always intrigued me because of its thatched roof, mosaic wood exterior, and enormous urns in front, so I had to pull in and take a look-see.


Everything was made of natural wood, sanded and polished and assembled into works of art (like the front desk above) and furniture.



On the back side of the restaurant was their trout pond where I presume lunch was restrieved.


The urns I mentioned.

The highway goes up this valley flanked by two dramatic high ridges.

I noticed another restaurant, larger than the former, and I was ready to eat.  This stiff Incan greeted me upon entry.  Is that a fireplace under his feet?



My lunch (which I had already begun to eat before I realized I should take a picture).  Two trout, rice and hot sauce, fried plantain (which I hate) and a glass of blackberry juice.  $7

You can see the highway in the distance and the little glint of white above and to the right is two large waterfalls racing down the hill and through the Hosteria Dos Chorreras property.

I walked out onto the balcony of the backside of the restaurant and discovered this maze of trout ponds, each with different ages of fish.
Lastly is this video which I shot from the balcony.  It shows just how beautiful this area is and why it's such a treat to go for a short drive out of town and into another world.





Til next time.....

Dano

For those of you who want to get 'out there' but don't own a car here, there's still hope for you.  Check out Cuenca Car Share online.  Juan and David have a handful of new/new-ish cars for rent at far less cost than renting from Avis or Budget and the like.  Their cars are ALREADY INSURED so there's no gouging on extra fees.  Regular tax (verus city tax, airport tax, user tax, special tax, and football stadium tax) is the ONLY tax.  Then, a small amount per KM.   It's a very affordable way to 'get up and get away' for a couple days, a week, or whatever.  Don't know your way around?  They can provide a GPS.  And, all you need is a valid drivers license (from wherever).  Oh, and they have a presence in Quito as well!

Click here to see Cuenca Car Share's website!!

Or...there's plenty of private drivers for hire here and many of them speak English.  Cost is about $12 an hour which includes their time, gas, wear/tear on car, waiting, etc.  Gringo Post is an excellent resource for finding drivers.  Just go to the website CLICK HERE and do a search for "driver".  You'll see many of them listed as recommendations by others who've used them before.  Using this forum helps to reassure you on reliability and safety concerns.

Get some friends together and split the costs!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

I Went for an Afternoon Drive... following the Yanuncay River to Barabon and Soldado!!

I've done this drive, following the Yanuncay (Yah-Noon-Cahee) river, a few times.  The road starts off near Cuenca's Tennis and Golf club.   I used to live just a mile or so from the entrance.  Some time ago, I hopped on my motorcycle to see where the road led.  I only went a few kilometers into the valley before I turned around because there were so many potholes to dodge!  But, I loved the scenery and the amazing number of one-lane wooden bridges that provided access to homes on the other side of the river.

Some time later, I decided to check it out again, this time in my car.  The road had been graded, so I ventured further, this time past Barabon (Bar-Ah-Bohn) and all the way to Soldado (Sohl-dah-doh)...both tiny villages in the middle of nowhere but beautiful-where.   There's only one way in and one way out.  A long haul to run to the market for a gallon of milk!!!

Last weekend, the weather was warm and gorgeous, so I called up my expat friends Reginald (Reg) and Cherry and invited them to join me along with Gracie (my dog) and their two large dogs Willie and Nillie.  Off we headed to the very Eden-like valley.

3 adults and 3 large dogs in the car.  I could tell you about Willie, but I won't.  Let's just say Willie may not be coming along next time!

Gracie and Nillie were great.  Willie, not so much.  Willie whined and snorted and grunted the whole way and couldn't make up his mind whether he wanted his head out the window or not, or to be on the right side of the car or the left side.  Cherry could barely notice the landscape outside because all she was doing was trying to manage Willie.   Finally, Reg switched places with Cherry and things calmed down....a bit.

Gracie, however, was the perfect dog.  Many times, when she goes for a ride with me, I almost forget she's in the car because she's so quiet.  She just sat in the back, not trying to crowd out the others in the seat in front of her.  Didn't pant, didn't whine, didn't slobber.....nada.  Did I mention she's perfect?

The 'Perfect One'


The road had been paved since the last time I took this route.  Well, the first half anyway.  Then came a section of horrible potholes, but luckily it didn't go on for long, then the road riverted back to dirt/gravel which was in pretty good condition.




The road follows the Yanuncay river which is one of 4 rivers that slice through Cuenca and ultimately merge into one as it leaves Cuenca and passes through our state-of-the-art water treatment plant.

Pedestrian bridge.

I'm a wohnwee twee.


Bet this place is hopping on a Saturday night!!!

The elevation rises ever so slightly the further you travel and the foliage gets shorter and dryer.

The church in beautiful downtown Soldado.  Just past this point is another guarded entrance to the Cajas National Park.

Every day is laundry day.  Hey, why use a clothesline when you have a barbed-wire fence?



We stopped to let the dogs out and explore some paths along the river.  Willie and Nillie love to play in water...Gracie, not so much.  You can see the dogs and Cherry wandering in the next photo while Reg tries to scare them by coming out of the bushes as Sasquatch (to the left of Cherry near the pile of wood).




Looks perfectly fine to me.  OSHA approved.

I often pose the question to visiting guests "Where do you think the rivers passing through Cuenca eventually end?"  Their answer 99% of the time is....the Pacific ocean.   NOPE!!!   The answer is (and it must be in the form of a question) "What is the Amazon?".



Just before Soldado is a natural thermal hotspring.   Pay a dollar and you can use very aged dressing rooms to change clothes and sit in a few small pools.   The water wasn't HOT like most thermal pools but it was warm.


Thermal pool directly in front of the walkway.

Along the way is this cool 'castle'.   Don't know if anyone lives in it or not.
The entire afternoon drive took maybe 3 hours which included the doggie stop and a brief stop in Soldado for some sugary snacks and covered maybe 25kms (15 miles) each way.

It was an easy-to-do, no planning needed excursion that got us out of Dodge and experience a hidden gem in our midst.

Til next time.....

Dano

For those of you who want to get 'out there' but don't own a car here, there's still hope for you.  Check out Cuenca Car Share online.  Juan and David have a handful of new/new-ish cars for rent at far less cost than renting from Avis or Budget and the like.  Their cars are ALREADY INSURED so there's no gouging on extra fees.  Regular tax (verus city tax, airport tax, user tax, special tax, and football stadium tax) is the ONLY tax.  Then, a small amount per KM.   It's a very affordable way to 'get up and get away' for a couple days, a week, or whatever.  Don't know your way around?  They can provide a GPS.  And, all you need is a valid drivers license (from wherever).  Oh, and they have a presence in Quito as well!

Click here to see Cuenca Car Share's website!!

Or...there's plenty of private drivers for hire here and many of them speak English.  Cost is about $12 an hour which includes their time, gas, wear/tear on car, waiting, etc.  Gringo Post is an excellent resource for finding drivers.  Just go to the website CLICK HERE and do a search for "driver".  You'll see many of them listed as recommendations by others who've used them before.  Using this forum helps to reassure you on reliability and safety concerns.

Get some friends together and split the costs!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

I Went for an Afternoon Drive...to Cotijambo!!

I do that a lot.  Drive.  If I'm bored and/or the weather is stunning, I like to hop in the car and pick a road and see where it takes me.

As a result I have hundreds of photos waiting to be published because they pile up quickly but I'm not so quick about sitting down and writing a blog for them!

Today, maybe I'll make a small dent.

The vast majority of expats who move here don't end up owning a car.  They don't want the things that go along with car ownership...maintenance/repair costs, insurance, parking, licensing, etc.  And/or they fear driving here.  With the latter, I always say if you can drive in LA, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, Dallas, Sequim, Chicago, etc....you can drive here.  It's not that bad, just a few rules to remember.

For me, I can't IMAGINE constricting my lifestyle to a hypothetical perimeter line drawn around my home in which I can only access those things I can walk to or take a taxi or bus to.  Outside of that line is, for the most part, seldom reached.

I mean, C'MON, I'm living in Cuenca....Ecuador....SOUTH America!!!  There's a lot to explore!!! It's not like I moved from Seattle to Portland!!

My Sunday afternoon drive to Cotijambo (coh-tee-hahm-boh).

I drove this route some time ago.  It takes you to the Cotijambo mountain which is my favorite hill/mountain in Ecuador.  Why?   Because, from a distance, it looks like something out of Dr Seus.  A little like The Cat in the Hat's hat?


Cotijambo (the mountain and the village named after it) is only about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Cuenca.  The first 30 kms is via the recently widened, smooth, autopista (like a freeway).  When you reach Azogues, you turn off the autopista onto a 2-lane rural, paved road headed for Cotijambo and onward to Deleg.   Keep going and you end up driving a loop back to Cuenca via Ricaurte.

On its flanks are Incan ruins.  What I didn't know is you can actually drive up to the top of the mountain.  That's the part I didn't do before because I didn't know about the 1 lane dirt road.

So, off I went to experience the top of Cotijambo.


Cathedral of Azogues
The church of Cotjambo



I found the little road that I had missed the last time.  I didn't need 4WD but it was handy as I wound up the hill via several switchbacks.  What a vista along the way.  I could see half the province!



Just before the top, I passed flat grassy areas woven amongst the ruins, where people plunked down for a Sunday pic-uh-nick.



At the top was a small parking area.  There was a short, dilapidated wood 'barrier' between me and straight down.  Aside from that, there were NO safeguards, no warning signs, NADA to keep one from stumbling and falling straight down to the village below.   Another example of 'take your own risk and therefore, take responsibility for your own actions'.

Looking down at the town of Cotijambo and the church I just came from.

Looking off to the right.

Looking off to the left.
I noticed people (kids and adults) climbing to a higher point...the tip top of the top.  Me wanna go there!!!!  At first, I was climbing via huge rocks, until I saw the trail...DUH.

On the way up, I stopped to take this shot, though experiencing a bit of vertigo.  That's my car below and you can see a family camping out, way above my car, with a yellow tent.
Notice the wooden 'barrier' in front of my car.  That was the ONLY protective device I saw in the entire area!!
Glad I didn't step on the accelerator instead of the brakes!!

At the top, looking out towards the city of Azogues.

See that flag pole at the top of that thar hill?  That's where I was when I took the previous photo.
The following video was taken down at the level where my car was parked.



Back in the car, down the hill, and back to the village, I took this shot looking back from where I came.


From Cotijambo I continued the loop to return to Cuenca, passing through the town of Deleg, lots of tiny villages, and dodging cows, sheep, kids, motorcycles, and potholes.

Til next time.....

Dano

For those of you who want to get 'out there' but don't own a car here, there's still hope for you.  Check out Cuenca Car Share online.  Juan and David have a handful of new/new-ish cars for rent at far less cost than renting from Avis or Budget and the like.  Their cars are ALREADY INSURED so there's no gouging on extra fees.  Regular tax (verus city tax, airport tax, user tax, special tax, and football stadium tax) is the ONLY tax.  Then, a small amount per KM.   It's a very affordable way to 'get up and get away' for a couple days, a week, or whatever.  Don't know your way around?  They can provide a GPS.  And, all you need is a valid drivers license (from wherever).  Oh, and they have a presence in Quito as well!

Click here to see Cuenca Car Share's website!!

Or...there's plenty of private drivers for hire here and many of them speak English.  Cost is about $12 an hour which includes their time, gas, wear/tear on car, waiting, etc.  Gringo Post is an excellent resource for finding drivers.  Just go to the website CLICK HERE and do a search for "driver". You'll see many of them listed as recommendations by others who've used them before.  Using this forum helps to reassure you on reliability and safety concerns.

Get some friends together and split the costs!




About Me

My photo
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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