You’ll all be happy to know that one of my wildest dreams came true last week. I had always wished that I could watch three of Adam Sandler’s latest movies, back to back to back, and that’s exactly what happened on our 8 hour bus ride to Cuenca. My movie critic review? They’re as terrible in Spanish as they are in English, although I’m impressed they found someone who has the exact same tone as him for the dubbing. ¡Que bueno!
Another shot at the student life brought us to Cuenca, but before we got learned in Español we had a weekend to explore the city and surrounding area. The city was a stark contrast to most of what we’d seen in Ecuador so far. Incredible colonial buildings, trendy cafes, English advertisements, a relatively clean river flowing through downtown, McDonalds, and even dogs on leashes. Could have almost sworn we were in Europe and forgotten we were in Ecuador. But then a thundering city bus would blast you with a cloud of diesel exhaust as you step back onto the sidewalk after a $2 almuerzos meal complete with chicken foot soup and you’d remember where you were.
After a full day of cruising the city we ventured an hour bus ride out to Cajas Nacional Parque. A popular day trip for many to hike the shores of Laguna Torreador, we did our research and planned an ambitious day linking 3 hikes together to top out on two peaks and see as much of the laguna dotted terrain as possible. Ambitious was actually wishful thinking and it took just the first trail of the day to have us pulling the pin on any plans to summit that second peak. Fortunately the rest of our day was easy trail, mostly downhill and scenic as we made our way to the park boundary to flag a bus back to Cuenca.
Next it was finally time to get cleaned up, comb our hair, don our nap sacks and head off for our first day of school. We arrived at the Simon Bolivar school, were assigned teachers and issued notebooks in line with our Spanish fluency.
Since we had to stick around the city for the week we were able to establish a fairly good daily routine. We found a nearby park that had a track, fitness stations and public Zumba classes so each morning we headed there for equal parts exercise and people watching. Then it was off to sit one on one in a room with our incredibly patient profesoras and stutter through 4 hours of simple one sentence statements. We’d seek out a $2 lunch spot or head to the markets and debrief with some of the other students and then have the afternoon to entertain ourselves around Cuenca. Ecuador played Chile in World Cup qualifying one day so we piled into a local brewery with the rest of the day-jobless and watched a thrilling game with no winner. The next day we went in search of some more inner city climbing and noticed a bit of a trend. Climbing spots that you can bus to in 15 minutes usually end up being giant rocks with graffiti and a few routes on them, better than nothing though. We opted for the climbing gym the following day which was a tenth of the price compared to back home, and about a tenth of the quality too, but still plenty of local climbers to make us feel like rookies. Also spent an afternoon hitting the tourist spots like the impressive Catedral Nueva and the Museo Pumapungo which had an eclectic range of exhibits from historic currencies to shrunken heads, and they threw in a small bird zoo for good measure. We’d cap off each day with a stop at the market stands to see if we could pick up fresh produce for cheaper than the day before, then make a dinner that actually contained protein and veggies for a nice change from the local carbolicious meals consisting of rice topped with potatoes, an ounce of meat and a side of soup with pasta in it.
Five days in the big city had us ready to get back out to the hills and do some climbing. It did not however, have us ready to carry around packs loaded up with camping equipment, ropes, a full trad rack, and 3 days of food and essentials (pretty sure it’s illegal to camp without a box of wine). Just an hour outside of Cuenca is one of Ecuador’s top climbing spots, the walls of Cojitambo mountain which overlook the town that shares its name. Our intro to Cojitambo was a hellish hike up to the base of the wall on faint trails, at the hottest part of the day, through thorns and overgrown bushes, with our exorbitantly (free vocab booster, you’re welcome) heavy packs. Did I mention our bags were heavy? There may have been some heated moments and some not so nice words exchanged but we did eventually make it to the wall on terms that would allow for climbing without one of us being “accidentally” dropped. The climbing ended up being good, the views were great as usual and eventually our moods improved.
The day ended with another fun bushwhack as we made our way to a different wall at the base of the mountain and set up camp for the night. We feasted on Snoodles (ichiban but better because the name is more fun) and were forced to drink the entire box of wine after one of the afore mentioned thorns poked a hole in the box.
Our stoke level was much higher on the second day. A great mix of challenging climbs with no walking involved, a sporty crack to put our trad gear to use in and the world’s biggest avocados for lunch.
Once again we had to earn our beers that night. A quick stop in the town to grab some cold ones and then hopped on the heel toe express all the way to the top of Cojitambo where we could camp amongst some inca ruins. The ruins are a minor attraction as they don’t compare to ruins you’d see in Peru or elsewhere in Ecuador but we did meet some friendly Ecuadorean tourists who gifted us some oranges when they saw our bags and learned we’d walked the road to the top.
The issue of which view we wanted for our camp spot was a great dilemma to have. We settled on the sunset view and then woke up early and hiked to the highest point to catch sunrise, accompanied by the one dog in Ecuador who doesn’t bark at every dang thing, all dang day and night. Honestly, every night we have camped it is dogs and roosters going off all night and then carrying on all day, non stop for miles around, and sound travels a long way through these hills. Except this guy, he joined us when we arrived and quietly chilled all evening with us, even curled up and slept beside the tent.
One last super chill day of climbing and then it was a bus back to Cuenca, showers to wash three days of sweat and dirt off, splurged on a $9 feast of grilled meats and caught the night bus to Peru. Next stop is Máncora for some beach days, surfing and ceviche.