El Cajas – one of the most talked about places to visit by the people of Cuenca, I was not surprised to be bowled over by the amazing views and gorgeous scenery. I was surprised and reminded a bit of Africa when I saw the notice board giving the tariffs to enter the park. $10 Tourists and $1.50 Ecuadorians!!!
I went with a group of about 11 and we all opted to do the 4 hours hike around the mountains and lakes. When it started raining and then hailing I did wonder what we had got ourselves in for. The rain did not stop and soon our paths became rivers and you were never too sure on where you were putting your feet – thanks for gortex my feet remained dry for the whole trip. It was most fortunate that a cave presented itself just in time for lunch – so we could sit for a few minutes out of the rain and replenish some energy.
We did not see too many animals in the park because of the weather but I did get to see a Ilama – which I believe are more common in Peru!
Hope you all like the selection of photos – you have to admit even the rain could not detract from the views!!
I thought I would sum up my stay (less than a week go) here in Cuenca with all the things that are Chevere here and all the things that I have done that are Chevere. I am sure you guessed that this word is not English but it literally means Cool and it is great word that I have learned since my arrival.
#1: Fiesta de Cuenca
On the 3rd November Cuenca celebrated its 450 years of Independence. The Party actually started 2 days before and it included music and dancing in the street, theater and comedy shows and lots of handcraft markets selling their tempting wares. My fellow students and friends starting with the festivities on the Friday night by watching a Cross Country Cycle Race. We positioned ourselves at the most dangerous part of the course – where the cyclists have to descend down the grand stairs – roughly 88 steps to what I think is just less than a 90 degree angle and they all just flew down. Luckily there were no injuries.
On the Saturday we I went along to the Military parade – it was rather interesting and I think it was the first time that I have seen so much Military on show in one place. I was thankful to be classed as tall in Ecuador and none of us “Gringos” had the need to push to the front to see what was going on. The rest of the day I looked around the craft markets and finished off my dancing at the street party to some cool Latin American music.
Ooops almost forgot to mention my invitation to dance with the Luna Bellas. Both Leila and I declined and the photo should tell you why!!
#2 Gaupo Raefel Correa
As part of the festival we were lucky to see the president of Ecuador. Rafeal Correa is known by most locals as the El Presidente Guapo (Handsome President). It was a bit tricky getting a photo but it was interesting to see how well he is received by the people of Ecuador – but then he did win the election by 80%
#3 The Markets
Whether it is fruit, meat or clothes these are certainly a treat to visit. Amazing colours and people make each visit a treat. I am not quite used to the bargaining techniques but they say you should be able to get at least 20% off the asking price…we try for 50%
#4 Learning to Salsa
Well it is a must here in South America being able to dance – I currently attend one dance class a week in Cuenca and it is quite fun. Many a night afterward I can still hear the instructor´s voice back forward, left, right, turn…of course it is all in Spanish. I can remember most steps but there is still no comparison to the locals who are amazing to watch.
#5 Traditional Food and Cooking
Yes the guidebooks are correct in saying that there is a risk in eating the local food but to very much a limited extent – sure I would not eat the food left open in the market but I have been lucky enough to be able to try most of the traditional dishes as well as learn how to cook some of them. In general most days we eat our main meal at lunch time – soup, meat dish and dessert. I certainly feel like there is certainly not a shortage of food!! Maize and Rice are in abundance – which can be a bit boring every day…
#6 Panama Hats
Did you know that Panama hats originated from Ecuador…it was therefore necessary for me to get a Chevere photo wearing one of these traditional hats …sadly they would not let me try the ones for over $100.
#7 Go Natural
It never stops to amaze me how the local people use everything in it´s natural form from fresh fruit juices (very fresh if you don´t look at how much sugar is included). And just the other day I watched the lady of my family make shampoo straight from the Aloe Vera plant – very impressive.
#8 New Friends
Don´t think this needs any explanation, but as usual I have meet some fantastic and interesting people which I hope to bump into again upon my travels.
One Saturday I set off with 5 other students from the school to see the smaller towns of Gualaceo and Chordeleg (about 1 hour outside of Cuenca).
Gaulaceo is a pretty town with a hugh fruit and veg market – unfortunately you have to watch your possesions all the time as there are a number of thieves walking around the area and generally come in a group of women.
The food hall was even more entertaining as all meat is on display with heads and all. Apparently the pork (chuncho) is delicious but the surrounding areas are not that clean so we all opted to give it a miss. Outside the food hall is a number of local people around a BBQ cooking some Cuy (Guinea Pig) – I am yet to try this exotic delight and I have a feeling that the family I am staying with will one day bring one home to try!
Along the route we stopped to see how the colorful materials are made for clothes, scarves, ponchos etc. It is all done by hand and for the amount of hard work that goes into making them the price is definately a bargin.
In addition to watching how the clothes are made we also stopped at an Orchid Farm. For those not interested in flowers you would still have found the production and preservation of these delicate floweres interesting. Apparently Ecaudor has over 4000 specices – now aren´t you glad I didn´t take photos of everyone of them 🙂
After having lunch at the river where we were entertained by some really sad music sang by some locals picnicing we went on to Chordeleg. Famous for selling gold and silver – at a very reasonable price!!
After I returned to Cuenca my family came to fetch me to take me to the Zhucar, which is where Alfredo has his a house at the family farm. It was a really lovely home and it reminded me of Dad´s farm in South Africa minus the wild animals – all I saw was cows!!
It was relatively late by the time I got to Cuenca from Quito. I was relieved to see my host family were at the airport to meet me.
Maria & Alfredo do not speak any English so it has been an interesting week and I am slowly starting to find my voice. At the moment I am currently attending three classes in the afternoon, which leaves me the morning to explore the city.
I am sure you would all love Cuenca it is a beautiful colonial city with lots of the original buildings still in good condition. In fact some of the very first stores still occupy the same buildings.
In the centre of the town there is a square filled with flowers and I have spent many an hour there taking photos of unsuspecting passers by. There are still many traditionally dressed people which come from the surrounding mountains to sell their goods in the city and you can notice them by their colourful dress and white hats with a black ribbon.
The weather in Cuenca can change in one day so I have had very hot weather and some cold days. It generally rains in the afternoon and the other day we had a great thunderstorm – at least I like them :-).
Being so high above sea level I still find it not that easy to walk at my normal pace or run up the stairs to the school (I was told there are 66 steps…) but luckily the general route to the town center is along one of Cuenca´s rivers – Tomebamba. There is always something interesting happening like people playing music or people washing their clothes!
One of my weekends I went with a group of other students to El Chirro de Giron – which are some waterfalls about 1 hour south of Cuenca. The drive through the Andes was spectacular and we managed to stop to take some photos. We eventually saw the waterfalls we were about to visit in the distance and it dawned on all of us that it was going to be quite a climb to get there.
Not designed for too many tourist visits there was no such thing as stairs or a man made path and I was cursing the fact that I had to carry my backpack for the next two and a half hours to the top. We did of course have to stop a few times to get to the top because of the altitude and I did wonder how on earth I am going to manage the Inca Trail!
The water fall was well worth seeing and if you didn´t find it to be beautiful I am sure anything you brought for lunch would have made up for it. We were lucky not to have rain and spent a good hour around the pools at the bottom of the waterfall.
Our trip back down was just as entertaining and we almost lost one of our party down the hill…I walked behind him from then on….just in case he lost his footing again.