2012 Cuenca Perspectives Collage

2012 Cuenca Perspectives Collage
VIVA CUENCA

VIVA CUENCA!

My mission in publishing this blog is first to provide a living history of my settlement and life in Cuenca, and to provide myself and the reader with a journal account delineating my reasons for why I have chosen to settle in Cuenca. Second, the posts are my way of staying in contact with family and friends back in the states, and to provide them with an understanding of a country and culture that most North Americans have little knowledge and awareness. Third, the blog is open to one and all who wish to compare and contrast the experiences of expat bloggers living in Cuenca, so that you can determine whether or not from your perspective Cuenca is an appropriate move for you. Fourth, my blog provides another example of how expats view and interpret life in Cuenca. Ecuadorians and Cuencanos who may read this blog are especially invited to post comments that may enhance all expats understanding and appreciation of Cuneca and its people, or to correct any misinterpretations in my assumptions and perceptions of Cuencano culture. Finally, I hope I can convey the feeling of love and appreciation that grows within me each passing day for this heavenly city nestled in the Andes and its very special people.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

NORTHERN ECUADOR TRAVELS: CHIMBORASO

As the three of us said goodbye to Banos-Abato, we headed southward as we continued along the Avenue of the Volcanoes, and made our way to Chimborazo. The scenery continued to be spectacular. Milton educated us on the various indigenous groups, their history, and how to identify the distinctive groups by their dress.

Last summer, friends of mine from Cuenca traveled with visiting family members to Chimborazo. From the description of their visit, this mountain became of interest to me.  My friends had described the area they visited as a moonscape. Unlike the currently active volcanoes of Pichincha and Tungurahua, Chimborazo is a dormant volcano. It is believed that it hasn't been active since about 550 a.d. Chimborazo's claim to fame is the fact that it, at one time, was believed to be the tallest mountain in the world.  Today, it is considered to be the farthest point on the Earth's surface from the Earth's core, which is 6,384.4 km or 3,967.1 miles.  This is partly due to the earth's bulge at the Equator, which also makes Chimborazo the closest point on planet Earth to the sun.  Since elevation begins at sea level, Chimborazo is 6,384.4 km or 20,564 ft. above sea level, which does not even make it the highest peak in the Andes.*


THE UNVEILING OF CHIMBORAZO












As we drove through Riobamba, the closest city to the Chimborazo National Park, the mountain was shrouded in clouds. It is not uncommon for tourists to see little more than clouds encompassing the mountain peak if not the entire mountain; and consider themselves lucky when they experience even partial openings of the peak among the clouds.









Seeing the peak in all of its magnificent glory is a most blessed event. As we continued our drive through Riobamba, the clouds began to partially separate, and gave us a gradually larger glimpses of the mountain.  As we angled through the city more of the mountain became increasingly visible to us.





The city of Riobamba (below) with Chimborazo in the background:




As if on cue, in less than an hour; the entire peak became a feast for the eyes, as the winds wisped away the final mantle of clouds.  


We were no longer hoping for glimpses, but viewing Chimborazo in it's full-specter glory.




By the time we left Riobamba, the sun was setting, and Chimborazo was dressed in the sun-drenched beauty of its absolute splendor.




I would strongly encourage you, if you are to visit overnight in  or near Chimborazo; that if you can, make reservations to spend the night lodging on the slopes of the volcano by staying at Lodge Estrella del (Lodge of the Stars).  After a photo-fest of taking pictures of the mountain, we drove out of the city of Riobamba into an isolated wilderness that was on the final stretch of road before entering the national park as we arrived at the lodge.  For many mountain climbers, the lodge is where their trek begins.  

It was very cold.  That evening, as we settled into our cabins, it was as if we had left the entire world behind us. The feeling of isolation was enormous, and yet comforting.  Walking from the restaurant to our cabins, we were enraptured by the piercing blackness of the dome above us, which contained more stars than we may have ever seen in our lives, as the three of us were silhouetted against the night sky.  

Marc, once knew all the constellations when he was in the fourth grade. It appeared all of them were present that evening. We recognized the constellations we knew, and spotted what we thought were others, even when we weren't sure of their names. It was even more impressive, when an Ecuadorian like Milton was so moved by the spectacle above us, and had never before seen anything like it.  I did not think to ask if the stars appeared in such celestial glory every night, or were we most fortunate to be at the lodge on such a clear night?

The night air was crisp.  The surroundings so utterly silent.  I never expected that this evening and the next day; Chimborazo was going to etch such an indelible imprint of an experience upon my memory, in my consciousness, and in my heart. An imprint that I believe will endure for the rest of my life.

The three of us entered the lodge restaurant to a very substantial and hearty Ecuadorian meal. With the cold outside, I never appreciated Ecuadorian soup more than I did that evening, and breakfast was just as good the next day.




These are photos of our cabin. These are the cabins. Believe me, we were truly isolated. Hardly anyone was occupying the cabins the night we were there. Each cabin had about four rooms on each floor.  



Our room with two beds shared a common bathroom with another room across from our room. When we first arrived, the rooms were very cold.  We turned on the electric heater which was made of some kind of molded plastic, and looked like the old fashion radiator heaters that were dependent upon coal to produce the steam and heat. Within an hour, we were relatively toasty. The bathrooms were not heated. However, I was surprised that it was no big deal to shower, and prepare for the day, and not feel terribly cold.  The water for the shower and sink was very hot. No problem there.



The bedding included a very thick and warm comforter, which more than provided enough warmth for the night.  It supplemented the electric heater perfectly. I  slept really well, ensconced in the sounds of the endless wind.



Like the night before, the three of us made our way to the main building to the restaurant for breakfast, with Chimborazo as our constant companion.






It is at 18,000 ft, just 2,000 feet higher than the three of us were, that the ice and snow cap of the glacier is first experienced by climbers.  Most climbers will begin their assent at 1:00 a.m. in the morning.  Once the sun shines, the melting ice and snow can cause avalanches; and slick ice known as black ice can play havoc with the safety of the climbers.  Chimborazo is a treacherous climb, and most climbers who attempt it do not endure the climb to the top.

When my friends visited the area last July, the vicinity was covered in snow.  As you can see, there was no snow while we were there. The fellow at the refuge said there was no particular season for snow.  It could come at anytime.  We could see llama, alpaca, and vicuna at very close range; which dieted on paramo or tundra-type grasses, in a area above the timber line, and below the glacier line. 

Notice below how desolate and stark the landscape is.  Nothing like the lush greenery of Banos-Abato, and yet it has a beauty all of its own that needs to be experienced. 



The vicuna (above) are much smaller than their llama and alpaca cousins.  Their fur is so soft and silky feeling that just a square yard is worth thousands of dollars. The vicuna are not indigenous to Ecuador, but were brought to the country from Peru some decades ago, when they were almost extinct.  Now they are a striving species.




Senor Milton looking chevere (cool).



Marc and Jim Mola



If lady-luck was shining down upon us, she certainly was again on this our second day. Chimborazo continued to dominate the landscape in its awesome beauty with clear skies to the heavens. At the first refuge (Whymper Refuge), we were over 16,000 feet above sea level, which was almost twice the elevation of Cuenca.  I rarely ever had altitude problems in Cuenca.  However, I knew at this elevation of Chimborazo; Marc and Milton were going to have to continue the last 150 yards to the next refuge without me. The last 150 yards is grueling on the lungs, and many stops along the way were encountered by them. 

I stayed behind at the first refuge. Except for about ten minutes, I sat outside to enjoy the utterly beautiful and sunny day, until I couldn't take the cold any longer. Otherwise I spent my time inside; snacking, conversing, and napping.  Two hours later, Marc and Milton returned.  I think this was the highlight of Marc's travel in Ecuador. There was such a smile of satisfaction and quiet exhilaration on his face. This was truly a moment he would cherish.

For me Chimborazo was an awesome experience, and I took it as far as I could.  For many a mountain climber, the challenge still laid ahead. Two thousand feet to the glacier line, and another 2,000 feet to Chimborazo's pinnacle (20,702 ft/6310 m)  to climb Ecuador's highest peak.  I hated to say goodbye to Chimborazo as much as I did to Banos/Abato. I wondered if I would ever return, and I wondered if I would want to.  How could I ever experience it under such optimal conditions again.  Now it was onward to the town of Alausi and the Devil's Nose Train; and finally, Ingapirca which beckoned to us as we continued our trek southward to Cuenca.


*POSTSCRIPT 

Some readers have questioned the statistics of measurement I used in the above account.  Here is some data available from Wikpedia to better understand Chimboraso's elevation and why it is considered to be the highest point from the earth's center:

Farthest point from Earth's center[edit]

The summit of Mount Everest reaches a higher elevation above sea level, but the summit of Chimborazo is widely reported to be the farthest point on the surface from Earth's center,[12][13] with HuascarĂ¡n a very close second. The summit of the Chimborazo is the fixed point on Earth which has the utmost distance from the center – because of the oblate spheroid shape of the planet Earth which is "thicker" around the Equator than measured around the poles.[note 3] Chimborazo is one degree south of the Equator and the Earth's diameter at the Equator is greater than at the latitude of Everest (8,848 m (29,029 ft) above sea level), nearly 27.6° north, with sea level also elevated. Despite being 2,580 m (8,465 ft) lower in elevation above sea level, it is 6,384.4 km (3,967.1 mi) from the Earth's center, 2,168 m (7,113 ft) farther than the summit of Everest (6,382.3 km (3,965.8 mi) from the Earth's center).[note 4] However, by the criterion of elevation above sea level, Chimborazo is not even the highest peak of the Andes.

The highest point on Chimborazo is the farthest point from the center of the earth, thus it is also the point on the earth's surface which is at some time closer to the sun than any other point on the earths surface at any time during one year. Chimborazo is the farthest point from the center of the earth because the earth bulges out at the equator and Chimborazo is located just one degree south of the equator. Mount Everest is 28° north of the equator. This is why Chimborazo is 2.1 kilometres farther from the earth's center than Everest. Chimborazo is 73.5 metres higher than the highest mountain in North America. Chimborazo is often associated with the nearby volcano Cotopaxi although the two volcanoes have completely different structures.

















Friday, January 29, 2016

NORTHERN ECUADOR TRAVEL: PART IV: BANOS-ABATO

Over the last two years, I have traveled to Sao Paulo, Brazil; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Rome, Venice, and Florence; Lima, Peru; and Guayaquil and Quito, Ecuador.  My preference are big cities, and all that they have to offer.  Nevertheless, I  greatly anticipated writing this post and my next two blog posts which deal with something besides big cities, churches, architecture, museums, restaurants, and city landscapes.  Mind you, all these things are my favorite things to do at my age when I travel, but  the opportunity to share with you some of the natural beauty of Northern Ecuador is a real pleasure for me as well.

After my son, Marc and I brought our last day in Quito to a close, we returned to Casa de Eden, our bread-and-breakfast, at 5:45 p.m. to pick up our belongings. We also met  our guide, Milton Chiqui, who was more than fifteen minutes early.  I procured the services of a wonderful travel agency, Expediciones Apullacta, located in in the heart of Cuenca.  The agency is located on the second floor of a beautiful historic building at the northwest corner of Gran Columbia and Tarqui. Arrangements were made for our itinerary of travel, for our hotels and inns, and for transportation and guide service for the remainder of our trip in Northern Ecuador. Maria Velez, my travel representative at Expediciones Apullacta did a beautiful job of taking care of the details, and when I made a change in our itinerary, she handled it expeditiously.

Maria's greatest contribution to our trip was providing Marc and I with a fantastic guide. Milton Chiqui is well educated, very knowledgeable about Ecuador, and exudes an enthusiasm and passion for his love of Ecuador; which made for not only a most enjoyable, but also a very memorable trip. Milton is from Cuenca, and was about the age of Marc, so he made for a great traveling buddy to both of us.  He is a very careful driver, and what I wanted most was convenience.  I don't particularly enjoy long hours riding in a car. Milton always knew where he was going; and from his past experience we were never  lost.  Even when he had never been to Chimboraso before, Milton had everything scouted out beforehand. I did not want to spend hours aimlessly lost on unpaved, rut-spewed, and dead-end back roads of rural Northern Ecuador, no matter how beautiful the scenery. 

I was really looking forward to Banos-Abato, a city of about 20,000 people.  Not only was the area stunningly beautiful, but there was an endless variety of things to do.  Our first night, the three of us went to the thermal baths known as Las Piscinas de la Virgen (The pools of the Virgin). The first pool of water was excruciatingly hot to the point that I stepped into the water and immediately stepped out without a second of hesitation. If I did not already see people in this pool, I would not believe that anyone could endure it.  

Another very hot but more congenial pool was our next attempt. Eventually we became acclimated to the heat of the water.  After awhile, Marc spotted a flow of extremely cold water gushing out of a rock just outside of the pool.  The three of us took our turns standing under the heavy flow of freezing water.  Our movement was as quick as the time it took to enter under the water and remove ourselves just as rapidly. We returned to submerge ourselves from the freezing waters back into the hot bath. Our bodies endured the sensation as if being pierced by a thousand needles.  

After relaxing in the pool for some time, I decided before we left the baths, that I would make one more attempt at the intensely heated pool, which challenged us when we first arrived.  I was able to immerse myself, and remain in the steaming water  for about ten seconds.  After a brief respite, I re-entered the pool from hell again and managed possibly thirty to forty seconds before my abandonment.  A sign above the pool warned us not to remain in the pool more than ninety seconds. I had not experienced anything that heated, since the Japanese baths in Kyoto many decades earlier. I was satisfied with my level of success, and much relieved that I did not experience a heart attack.

Because of the volcanic activity in Cotopaxi and Tungurahua, Banos-Abato was practically like a ghost town.  Government warnings were that if Tungurahua, which sits just above Banos-Abato were to erupt big-time, the city would  be  but a memory in history. The volcano has been active since its last erupted in 1999. That night it rained in the city. We ate a fine Ecuadorian meal, spent time in a local bar, walked back to our hotel in the rain, and looked forward to the activities of the next day.


Below is a photo of our lodging, Hotel La Floresta.





I need to get one church in this post.  Although not a large city nor a large church, the interior of the basilica in Banos-Abato was quite attractive.  The exterior is also made out of lava stone from a previous volcanic eruption.



Above is a photo of a street in the center in Banos-Abato, and the photo below is the centro park and plaza in the city.


We had explored a ritzy hotel and grounds, and I captured a view (below) of some of the curve-linear trees.


Later in the day, we ate at the restaurant below.  Banos-Abato has a large variety of bars and restaurants serving not only Ecuadorian cuisine, but also international cuisine as well.




Now the excitement began, as Milton drove Marc and me to the Devil's Cauldron, an area of formidable beauty.  The mountains, the lush green walls of the valley, the falls, and the river were breath-takingly beautiful.





The suspension bridge (above photo) allowed for an amazing walk across the crevice.



The rushing roar of the fall reverberated throughout the valley, and yet it was a scene of utter tranquility.


Along one side of Devil's Cauldron is a walkway and path overlooking the awesome beauty of the cauldron, and is a relatively easy walk for most hikers who are not dealing with serious health issues.  On the other side of the Cauldron is a more challenging walk, which we then attempted.



This more challenging hiking path let us through a cavernous rock of about thirty feet in length where we either had to crawl or crouch down to pass through it.  Once on the other side, it was our intent to walk immediately behind the fall. However, upon our arrival, we discovered that rocks collapsed behind the fall some months earlier, which prevented us from passing under the fall. We were told that attempts were being made to reconstruct and open the damaged area.



Notice the walkway behind the fall in the photo below; where due to the damage, we were not able to enter.


On our way back from the falls, I had to crouch down again to move through the cavern.  Half way through, I moved to the side when there was room enough to allow another couple coming from the opposite entrance to get pass me before I could continue. Upon finally arriving at the other end, the time I spent crouched down sapped all the blood out of my legs.  I had to try three times to stand up, before I could  feel my legs and actually stand again without collapsing.



To be in the midst of such absolute beauty was not only remarkably enchanting, but also gave me a sense of standing in the Garden of Eden.



I had not experienced anything this mystical, since some of the beautiful scenes along the Hozu River in Kyoto, Japan.



Some scenes reminded me of the utter beauty Frodo and Sam experienced in the motion picture, Lord of the Rings, as they made their way to Modar in search of the ring.



Jim and Marc Mola (or maybe Frodo and Sam)


Milton Chiqui and Marc Mola





Jim and Marc Mola


Milton Chiqui and Jim Mola


Marc


Upon leaving the Devil's Cauldron and completing our hike, Milton next took us zip-lining, which is called canopies in Ecuador.  Five different lines were offered. Zip-lining upside down wasn't much of a thrill.  I most enjoyed the lines that involved flying like Superman, and particularly where Marc and I  flied simultaneously side-by-side.  The forward motion coupled with the awesome view of the valleys and ravines below made for something special I never did before. Zip-lining is actually quite safe and tame, as long as the cables don't snap, and your harness doesn't fall off with you in it.

First, upon arrival, we took a cable car (below) across the wide ravine, and then hiked to each of the locations of the various zip-lines




The photo above, is a luminescent caterpillar.  Ecuador is the butterfly and bird capital of the world.



Before we left Banos, Milton took us to the Casa del Arbor (The Tree House).


This wasn't just any tree house.  Here one takes the most memorable swing of their lives into nature.  If not death defying, then certainly awe-inspiring.  It appears in the photo as if one is swinging in a movie studio, while the scene is a studio prop. However, the scene is very real.
















In my posts, many of my photos have presented cathedrals from around the world.  Man-made beauty of some of mankind's greatest artistic accomplishments.  Yet the Cathedral of Nature is splendid in its beauty, and awe-inspiring in its mystical qualities.

Below is an arial view of Banos-Abato nestled in the valley, as we say goodbye and make or way to Chimboraso.  We had not begun to indulge in all the outdoor and adventure-type activities the area offered.  I would gladly return to Para-glide, horse-back ride, and bicycle downhill.  There is also dune buggy riding, river-rafting, bungee jumping, rock climbing, canyoning, and hiking in the wake of the Tungurahua Vocano when not spewing lava; just to name a few fun things to do all within the context of the artistic hand of God.  




As we departed, Milton pointed out to us that Banos-Abato is known as the Gateway to the Orient, which is the Amazonias. If we had the time, it would take only two hours to arrive by car into the hot and humid rain forests.  A two hour drive west as the crow flies and we would be on the Pacific coast.  Now we were heading southward toward one of the highest elevations in the world, and the glacier line.  So much climate change, so much topographical changes all within a country the size of Colorado.  Below is a link to a post I wrote about a year ago on the geographical variations in Ecuador.  It is one thing to read and to write about those variations, and it is quite another to actually experience them.

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