“Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.”
National parks were set aside by countries all over the world to, amongst many other reasons, give people a chance to escape into the natural world to see how they measure up against forces beyond their control. In this sense, Cajas National Park is a glacially-carved wonderland of uninhabited landscape waiting to be explored. This last weekend I ventured into the park with Zeke, a fellow ex-pat who has put in a considerable number of hours and days making his way through the contours of these mountains. New to backpacking, Zeke has learned backpacking as "trial by fire" in the misty, grassy, and often uniform peaks and valleys of the park - losing and finding his way out of a few incredible solo adventures. For his last jaunt, he imagined a grand north to south route through the park, and together we found a brief description in my hiking and climbing guide to Ecuador that gave us the gusto we needed to plan the trek. By Friday at 2:45pm, we were departing the small pueblito of Miguir along the main highway to Guayaquil in hopes of reaching Soldados on the southern road three days later. The thing was that this trail is not on the park map, so our plan was to route-find our way north to south across the park.
“The old school of thought would have you believe that you'd be a fool to take on nature without arming yourself with every conceivable measure of safety and comfort under the sun. But that isn't what being in nature is all about. Rather, it's about feeling free, unbounded, shedding the distractions and barriers of our civilization—not bringing them with us.”
Most of our friends, and most of the country for that matter, decided to head to the beach for Carnival. Somehow the promise of crowds, cocktails, and 24/7 bass beats didn't inspire Lynsey or I, and luckily our friends John and Janet proposed an intriguing alternative: hiking Ecuador's Inca Trail for three days to Ingapirca (Ecuador's most famous Inca ruins site). Vamòs, it was decided - we would spend Carnival with good friends and open space through yet another spectacular portion of this little gem of a country.
Thanks to good buds at C3 (Cuenca Climbing Center), a sunny and blue Sunday was spent climbing the cliffs of Paute, a small town about an hour outside of Cuenca. These guys go nearly every weekend, and if they're not climbing they're probably kayaking, hiking, or mountain biking. In short, the topography and weather of the area allows for outside ramblings year-round, and this is what I (and hell, we all) need more of.
Here are a few snapshots that capture the day:
Lynsey and I made it back to Cuenca from our whirlwind vacation just in time for the new year. As our bus descended from El Cajas and into the outskirts of the city both she and I shared the feeling that it was good to be home. Our trip took us to remote indigenous villages, coastal fishing towns, and everything in between, but maybe it took seeing all that to realize that Cuenca has a special combination of elements that make it very livable for us. The city has it's faults, undoubtedly, but for this moment we both agreed that there wasn't another place in Ecuador we'd rather call home.
Happy new year friends, family, and web visitors! Two days ago Lynsey and I got home from a 20-day circuit around Ecuador, and there is much to share. We´ve decided to break the trip up into three parts: Volcanic mountain fun, the Cotopaxi experience, and our cruise down the coast. We hope everyone had a great holiday with friends and family, and know that you all were missed! We figured the next best thing to being with those closest to us would be to tour around and get to know our new country - so here are some things we discovered! The map below denotes the first two legs on the journey. It´s interactive so you can zoom, switch to Google Earth, etc. to get a better sense of the landscape. Enjoy!
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We are thankful for old friends
and new amigos,
for comfortable places
and exciting new ones,
for loving families who support us
regardless of country or continent,
and for the good fortune
that has brought us
and sustained us
where we are.
-- Lynsey + Josh --
*turkey designed by Lynsey*
Thanksgiving abroad can be a bittersweet event. Of course, no one here celebrates this holiday, so you just do your best to explain the connections between Pilgrims, turkey, football, and overeating. Polite Ecuadorians smile and say it sounds nice, though I'm not sure how much of the essence our explanations capture. However, the one part universally understood was family. Families here are generally very tight-knit inter-connected units that influence every facet of life. Our students were able to empathize fully when we commented that the hardest part of Thanksgiving was being so far from families and friends. They got that, and probably most wondered if or why they would ever live outside of Cuenca - so far from everything and everyone they've ever known. Lynsey and I also ponder that question from time to time, but knowing that it comes inherently with living abroad . Despite the dull bitterness of missing loved ones, we do want to share some tidbits from Cuenca that we're certainly happy (and thankful) for - here they are:
Our most recent jaunt in El Cajas National Park was inspired by the extra two days we had off for Cuenca Independence Day. Despite there being plenty to do in the city, we both knew that we wouldn't have another chance to get in an overnight backpack in the park before December - so we jumped on it!
Again, I marveled at the fact that the park sits only $2 and 45 minutes from our house. It's our western backyard. For the overnight we decided on a popular hike that begins at a spot along the road called “Tres Cruces.” Those who have seen a park map (or just know the place) may understand our trek as “the 4 to the 7;” taking trail 4 south from Tres Cruces until you hit Trail 7 and then heading west on the old Inca trail to its end spot on the road.
“This is the real secret of life -- to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”I read it as, "Take the world in your hands: TEACH English"
We teach for a non-profit language academy called CEDEI. The acronym stands for a nobel mission: a Center for Interamerican Studies. I like that term “Interamerican.” As you travelers may have noticed, the term “American” takes on an interesting and sometimes controversial connotation in South America. Though I wasn't aware that there was another way to describe myself, a person from the United States, other than as an “Americano,” I recently discovered from my Spanish teacher that I had two alternate ways of describing my origin: either as a “Norte Americano” or as an “Estado Unidensìa.” And I like these, the specificity of the titles, as alternatives to generally claiming two continents as my homeland. However, with “Norte Americano” I could still be confused as either Mexican or Canadian…ok fine, only Canadian, and I guess that wouldn't be so bad either (if know Canadians, then you know what I'm talking about…good folks).
"Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside."Your standard seco de pollo
For the tourist, eating is something to absolutely look forward to when arriving in a new country. Locals preparing local food for great prices - sign me up! For us, though, settling into Cuenca has meant, unless we break our modest bank as regulars at restaurants, finding our way around the markets, grocery stores, and the kitchen. It's been a process, but, most importantly, we are making progress and have a few things we can share with you about culinary Cuenca.
I won't say we never eat in restaurants, but we've found that lunch is the best time to eat out. Why lunch? I guess it's partly the fact that we're generally out and about on foot around lunch time combined with the economy of local lunches here. Called “almuerzos,” the typical lunch can be found in little “hole in the wall” restaurants all over. Generally, an almuerzo will include a fresh-made “jugo” (juice) of local variety, a big “sopa” (soup), and then a main dish of “seco” (…stewish meat dish) served with a gargantuan portion of rice and a small salad on the side. The most typical secos are beef and chicken, but we did accidentally eat cow's intestine the other day (I thought it was seafood...whoops...). Lynsey can get through about 50-70% of a meal, and even I have a hard time finishing one. Ok, ready for the best part that I'm certain you've been wondering about (…$$…)? The whole deal costs $1.25! Even adjusted for inflation this is a great price. I should say that $1.25 has been our personal best find - we paid as much as $2.50+ in the early hungry gringo days. If we're not careful the almuerzo can put us into a coma, but for steady walkers it's the fuel that keeps us scurrying around the city on foot and generally not in any hunger-rush to get back to our apartment for dinner.
"To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts."
This mega entry will do its best to catch everyone up on our first week in Cuenca! It's been seven full days of exploration and learning without work, and to sum it up: we're very happy we chose this place. Here are some observations on the four C's that have been the highlights of our week - read a little or read a lot, como quieres!
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