Leaving Guamote with Deia only feeling slightly better, we continued down the tracks eventually making our way to the incredible beauty of the farmlands outside a tiny Hacienda called Merced.
Leaving Guamote with Deia only feeling slightly better, we continued down the tracks eventually making our way to the incredible beauty of the farmlands outside a tiny Hacienda called Merced. Atop a short climb which gifted us with several layers of rainbows, we were greeted by one of the seven families that live and work in cooperation with one another to supply nearly everything they need using only the nearby land. As we set up camp in the Hacienda, word of our arrival soon spread throughout. Family after family came to watch as the Gringos set up camp and began our usual evening rituals of cooking and preparing camp. Because we were surely the first from our country to arrive in this tiny middle-of-nowhere place, the locals were more than interested in us. Seemingly a hundred times we answered the questions about where we had been, where we come from, and how we had hiked all the way from the northern highlands to arrive in this off-the-map place. We were again amazed at the kindness of complete strangers and only became irritated as the cultural differences crossed boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed. We were awakened early in the morning, first by rocks hitting our tent, then by the stranger putting his head inside of our tent and making himself comfortable while we, quite confused, proceeded to answer his questions. Soon there were crowds upwards of 50 people starring at our tent in anticipation of our exit. Perfect timing to get as ill as I have ever been. It was all that I could do to keep the children of the Hacienda from following me to the bathroom.
I had come down with whatever Deia had. After a visit to the hospital and an IV, the determination was that we had both been infected with Giardia. For those of you who don´t know, it sucks. Sparing you the details, I was unable to hike, and because AluasÃ was the nearest town, it was there that we would rest while I desperately tried to regain my strength. Because I couldn’t eat, this took nearly four days. Finally on the fourth day, I was able to return to where we had last left our hike. We made our way past the Hacienda in the cover of darkness so as not to attract any more attention to ourselves. We awoke the next morning to bigger rocks hitting our tent. Cultural differences or not, I don´t like rocks hitting my tent.
Hiking again felt extremely good after taking so many days off to recuperate, it wasn’t long before the scenery reminded us of why we are out there, too. Reaching the end of a long plateau, the dramatic cliffs of the 4000 ft. drop and climb that would lead us to Achupallas were more than a welcome site. Despite the fact that we would soon be descending and then ascending the 4000 ft. The beauty of the Andes continues to inspire and amaze. Now there were ruins to cap it all off too, evidence of the historical richness that can be found in the obscure places we visit. Soon after beginning our descent into the valley below, we were told of the impassibility of the river below and the cliffs on the other side. After being given wrong directions for the third and fourth times, we eventually decided to trust ourselves. With forty mile an hour winds and one of the steepest trails we have been on yet, we eventually arrived at a beautiful pasture next to a river. The 90 degree cliffs that the river had carved reminded us of working with Trailhead Wilderness School in Escalante which is one of the more beautiful spots our explorations of the U.S. have taken us to.
The following morning, it wasn’t people who woke us, but rather the winds. With gusts upwards of 60 mph. There was simply no way to sleep through it. We finished our hike down the riverbed and soon arrived at the “impassible” cliffs on the other side. We easily climbed the cliffs and were more than happy to finally begin the Inca Road to Ingapirca. Throughout the Andes there are the remains of the Incan roads. They stretch nearly 4000 miles and even have some of the original stones used more than half a millennium ago. Almost immediately, the Incan road (which really isn’t even a trail, let alone a road) provided some of the most spectacular hiking we have yet encountered. Climbing high out of the village of Achupallas, we spent our first night on the road in a thatch hut. We aren’t quite sure why the hut was there or whom it belonged to, but none the less, at six feet high and with just enough room for our stuff, it was far too interesting to pass up. The next morning we continued our hike with a climb through narrow passages that required hading our packs through giant tunnels that were situated just over a spectacular waterfall, it only got more amazing from here. An error in navigation had put us nearly 1500 ft. above the valley floor and the Incan road and we both were quick to agree that our way was far better. Despite missing a few small ruins, we were awestruck by the endless horseshoe valley that was surrounded by high mountain lakes and amazingly rugged ridge lines. As we made our way to almost 15000 ft, we crossed a pass and were blown away when the other side of the ridge was again endless and even more spectacular than our hike up. Flowers of every color, mountains steeper and more rugged than anything in the Rockies all around us, and the feeling of really being out there all made the day arguably our favorite yet. The experience was only heightened by the perfectly flat lake valley we found further in the day. Probably carved out by the glaciers that have shaped so many of these valleys, we could see for miles, and with only the remains of the Incan road straddling the valley, both of us again quickly remembered why we have chosen to embark on a journey that is longer than either of us can even begin to comprehend at this point. We spent the night inside a larger set of ruins after cleaning the trash that was littered all throughout. Again, we awoke to questions of where we were coming from and where we were going, this time it was 6 am and whomever it was asking the questions appeared from nowhere as there simply were no dwellings within twenty miles. I guess they will find us no matter where we are.
We chose not to pay the six dollars to go inside of Ingapirca, as the views were impressive enough from just outside the most famous ruins in Ecuador. Instead we continued south to the large metropolis of Cuenca, Ecuador. For the past year and a half, Coyote, a fellow Appalachian Trail hiker has been on a Peace Corps mission near Cuenca. With plans to meet up and both Deia and I really starving for some outside connection, we went into Cuenca with no idea of how we were going to get a hold of her. We made a stop at the post office and were on our way to the Internet when who do we see, but Coyote. In the third largest city in Ecuador, we simply ran into her at the post office, proving once again that “everything works out on the trail.” We spent the next few days catching up, and learning about the Peace Corps, and how the goals of the Peace Corps are not entirely aide, but also spreading cultural awareness. In Jima, Coyote´s site, we were given the rare opportunity to kill and gut both a pig and a Cuy or Guinenea Pig. This is a very big honor in a small campo town to be offered a Cuy. It was also one of the more memorable experiences of my life to be able to go through the whole process of killing, gutting, and eating my food. Too often, too many people are far removed from their food. I feel as if I learned as much in one day in Jima as I have in a lifetime. I highly recommend the experience to anyone willing.
Sometime during our visit with Cyote, we learned that the Humpback Whales are currently mating and birthing on the coast of Ecuador from now until the end of September. Knowing that it was a rare opportunity to fulfil a lifelong dream of seeing whales close up, we decided to take a vacation to the coast. Salinas is a medium size city on the coast, and definitely off the beaten track for American tourists as the more popular MontaÃ±itas is only an hour north. Our plan was to sit on the beach for a day and go on a whale watch the next, then return to Cuenca that night. Instead we wound up on five whale watching excursions and staying for four days. The coast of Salinas is more than 60km further west than any other point in South America, this provides for the opportunity to see the whales far closer to shore than anywhere else on the coast. We quickly fell in love with the creatures in all of their grace and immensity. We were lucky to meet FEMM researchers Jessica and Andrea who were more than willing to share their incredible knowledge of the species with us. We learned a tremendous amount in our days with them and made some friends out of the deal too. During our four days in Salinas, a place we had been told was dangerous, we were welcomed by and shared many experiences with the locals. Brian is a forty or fifty year old American living partially in Montana, partially in Salinas, and Partially in Mexico. He has been on over 3000 sky dives and clearly shares the same sort of lust for life that Deia and I do. We were invited to dinner at his place and treated with extraordinary hospitality. Also, our whale guide Jessica, asked us to join her for lunch at her place, where we met her sons David and Oscar. Jorge, whose work seems to be more talking with the people than actually working was an incredible host, showing us all around Salinas and helping us to find our way as cheap as possible. Throughout this adventure, we have been welcomed and treated incredibly well by the people of Ecuador. We are both enthusiastic about the type of people we have encountered and the fact that so many cultural differences don´t outweigh the simple human kindness that too many people claim is extinct throughout the world.
Please continue to write, we really look forward to reading emails from all of you. It is hard to maintain relationships with people we meet here as we are always moving on. It is good to hear from everyone back home, if you want to come and visit us, we would love the company. We are now back in Cuenca and will continue south to the Peruvian border over the next two weeks.