Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Buenas Dias De Cuenca, Ecuardor!

Hi all.

Well, Lee Anne and I have been in Cuenca, Ecuador for 8 days and have not missed the snow yet.  I am typing in an Internet cafe on a Spanish keyboard, so don´t expect grammatical perfection.  It took me 10 minutes to find the apostrophe, which I hope looks like ´...

Cuenca is a smallish city of circa 400,000 people and about 600,000 taxis, all vying to come within inches of anyone on the sidewalk while travelling at 120 KPH.  The buses feature a unique cloaking device; a shroud of jet black smoke that emanates from the back of the bus.  I think the objective is to mask their trajectory, so that the trailing taxis must hesitate before deciding on which sidewalk to pass the bus!

Let´s talk about running.  Cuenca has some beautiful parks with trails and paved tracks.  The problem, which you have probably already guessed, is getting to the parks alive.  Aside from the all too real risk of getting hit by a taxi or motorcycle while running on the sidewalk, breathing is problematic.  Cuenca is at 2,800 meters, so the bus fumes combined with a lack of oxygen results in running in an atmosphere not unlike a vacuum.  Picture blacking out while being run over by a taxi.  Trail running in Ontario has zero risk, compared to road running in Cuenca!

Cuenca is quite picturesque, with circa 1800´s building and about 300 churches.  Not kidding about the churches - there is literally a huge church on almost every corner!  One that we visited took 70 years to build.  In another church, everything in the chamber that housed the alter was covered in gold.  It appeared to have 10 - 20 kilograms of gold leaf.  I´ll add pictures when I get home.

Let´s revisit spelling and grammar...  Almost every word I type is underlined in red - apparently a typo in Spanish.  Strangely, spellcheck works fine, so hopefully I can weed out the typos before posting.  The keyboard is not only in Spanish, but some of the keys are worn blank - some guesswork to find the hidden English letters!

As I type this in a tiny Internet cubicle, buses and motorcycles fly past, inches from the door.  Yes, I am including the sidewalk in the distance calculation.  So what have we been doing in Cuenca?  The historic buildings, churches and restaurants would suffice to make Cuenca a destination, but there are also some interesting small towns surrounding Cuenca, with artisans and knitting cooperatives.  A 40 minute bus ride costs $2, so getting around is quite reasonable.

There is also this cute little national park called Cajas nearby.  I don´t know how big it is, but some hikes take 4 days and people tend to get lost and die on occasion.  We stayed on one trail that took 3 - 5 hours to hike (depending on how much of the trail you hiked) as it did not require a guide.  We did the pink trail 3 times, although what with getting lost on every occasion, our route was slightly different each day.  When I describe the trail as being pink, it does not indicate it was easy.  Pink was the colour assigned to the infrequent markers that indicated which of several trails you wanted to take.  The pink trail crested at 4,000 meters, so again, breathing was not always an option.  The trail was not overly technical, unless you consider getting lost and dying of hypothermia "technical"...

The scenery is astounding.  Hopefully a few pictures will provide an inkling of its beauty.  Cobalt blue lakes, brown-green valleys, strange stunted pine tree formations and chalk white cliffs.  The weather was cold although it warmed up on occasions while walking in the valleys when the sun came out.  Rain had that "recently snow" feel about it, although it only fell lightly and just long enough to don a rain jacket, before it stopped.

Getting back to Cuenca could not be easier.  All hikes end at the highway.  We would simply find a straight stretch and wait for a bus.  Typically the bus would spot us and sound its horn.  If you waved, it meant you wanted a ride back to Cuenca.  All buses went to Cuenca.

We leave Cuenca on Saturday and join friends Dawn and Ron, and my daughter Celeste in Latacunga, the staging point for the Quilatoa Loop.  Lee Anne and I did the Loop 2 years ago and it is still fresh in our minds.  Breathtaking scenery, fascinating indigenous villages and an epic adventure.  From Quilotoa, we travel to Otavalo for the market, then possibly on to Ibarra, to climb the Imbabura volcano.

Once back in Canada, I´ll post again, with pictures, hopefully before cranking up the maple syrup season.  That´s all for now from Cuenca.  Run safe!

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