Friday, September 10, 2010

Transportation of Goods The Dependable Way

Narrow Trail with a Long Way to Fall

If you look carefully you can see the drop off from the trail ahead of our guide.  The picture understates what we are about to see.  Because I can see what's coming up I know I need to put Rachel's big-assed camera back out of harm's way so we can operate in a hands free way.  The picture ahead is not taken.Posted by Picasa

A More Sublime Moment on the Trail

Yes, there were a few fragments of time when we recovered from the adrenaline and absorbed the flora,  fauna, and fragrance of the sierras, the gentle rhythmic clop of the hooves, the wonderment in the reality about where we were and how it changed us forever.   Posted by Picasa

Your Horse Stumbles and Your Day Ends Badly

Posted by PicasaAll of the pictures taken on this trail were from on top of a horse. When the going got tough I had to have my hands free in case the horse fell. What this means is that the pictures of the really rugged terrain where you look over the side and the pearly gates beckon were not taken. We chose life over pictures in this case. I'm not sure whether Rachel would agree to a reprise of this event, but I'd do the camera thing different next time!!

Sheer Drop off Ahead

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Monday, September 6, 2010

Vilcabamba Weekend Adventure

Dear All,

This will be another ‘shotgun’ so please forgive. We will write more personal emails as time goes on, but I thought it would be nice to recap our adventure from yesterday in the high sierras around Vilcabamba.

First a word on our hosteria….It has plenty of charm. We have a bamboo roof and the block walls are painted in a rather garish hue but the arched doorways and windows pull it all together. It is not the Sheraton, but I can’t think of a Sheraton in this world that I’d choose over this one. We were probably hungering for some warm air since the temps have been unusually cool in Cuenca. We have found the weather here to be predictably warm.

Rachel and I spent the night in Loja Thursday night. Loja is a charming colonial city and seemed to be nearly constantly bustling with activity. It is really a happening place. I’m glad however that we had our two nights stay planned for Vilcabamba. The road from Loja to Vilcabamba was severe twisting and turning all the way down the mountains into the valley of longevity. To say it was magical and mystical is selling it short. To me, this is the most beautiful part of Ecuador I’ve seen yet, but there’s so much more to see. I think what makes it seem so special is that you look out into the mountains in every direction and there is almost no habitation. It seems so unspoiled. We had heard of an ‘outsider’ influx and I’m sure that is true, but we just haven’t seen it. There are some beautiful homes here and I’m sure they come from outside money, but so far they are unobtrusive to the countryside. The old part of Vilcabamba is quaint, clean, safe, and full of friendly faces. Rachel and I went for a walk on Friday down a paved country lane past modest and beautiful homes, small farms, orchards and streams constantly with the backdrop of the high Andes.

Yesterday (Saturday) we embarked on an equine adventure into the mountains. We were able to get connected with an outfit that came right to Terra Madre (Mother Earth) to pick us up. We went right to our horses in town where we met with our guide, a 16 year old boy who spoke no English. Our horses looked to be a bit undernourished, but they were rugged beyond imagination. I have learned that the best trail horses here look this way. They proved to be up to the task. We agreed to a ride that took us to a very secluded cascada (waterfall). I don’t know how far in miles our journey took us. I’m thinking our total trip was 15 miles. I can tell you that in all my years of horseback riding I was never on a more challenging trail. When I was in the army in the caisson platoon we rode with the Maryland Park Police on some challenging trails, but nothing like this. I am still absolutely amazed at Rachel’s moxie and grit. For me I’ve spent many hours in a saddle on rough terrain but Rachel is a beginning rider, that is, she was a beginning rider. The trail was well defined but incredibly narrow. It was like a cow path often through rugged rock outcroppings and loose boulders that kept the horses and riders constantly on our toes. There were times when we would look over the side and it was a sheer drop off of some 2000 feet. Yes, one misstep by our horses and we were goners. I still marvel that such a trip was allowed to anyone but expert riders. We had no idea. At one point we met up with some ranch hands that were ‘leading’ a cow and bull by ropes up an incredibly steep slope and onto our path. We were meeting them head on. Our path was so narrow there was not room for either of us to turn around or step to the side. The Holstein bull broke loose of the rope and came charging towards us. Frankly, the situation was extremely dangerous. There happened to be a very narrow ledge that was about four feet above our trail and we somehow managed to get our horses to lunge onto out of the way of the charging bull. The athletic moves we demanded of our horses would have made a goat shudder. This was the high adrenaline portion of our trip. The rest of the trip was more sedate like sitting on a railroad track waiting until the last second before leaping off. I look back at yesterday and thank God we’re all still alive and well with just a bit of stiffness that can only be attributed to 59 year old bodies riding narrow horses with undersized saddles for 4 and a half hours through extreme conditions. Thankfully we got some pictures but really didn’t have the right lenses to take in the extreme drop offs in perspective. At any rate, this was an adventure to be sure and we are certainly richer for it. I can say that the total sensual experience was something that could not be recorded by photos, video, or any other means but the composite receptive organs of human experience. It was fabulous.

Just a word to Rachel’s family and friends…..I will not put her in harm’s way like this again. I had no idea what we were getting into. After the fact I’m glad we did it because it is over and we are safe, but I wouldn’t do it again because the next time we might not be so lucky. We had a marvelous time, one that we’ll remember for a lifetime. I will forever be able to play it back in my mind the precarious situations we were in, remember the sounds, the smells, and especially the visuals of our adventure.

Today we will head back to Cuenca. I’m a little sad at that and I’m sure Rachel feels likewise. It’s not that we don’t love Cuenca, but Vilcabamba is everything that you might read about and more. It is special. I can say that there are a couple enclaves of gringos here that have a condo type community where they have unfortunately separated themselves from the local populace. This has understandably caused some hard feelings with the locals. For this I am personally ashamed as a gringo. I know there are many ‘good’ gringos in country that love the local culture and embrace what it has to offer without tainting it with gringo ways. It seems however that we will forever be trying to ‘make up’ for some ugliness that inevitably follows the few.

Our newfound friends await us in Cuenca for a dinner party tonight in Rachel’s honor. That’s how it is here in Ecuador. The friendships that are so easily forged here are simple, unassuming, and heartfelt. I marvel at how people like Ximena and Miguel and Pincho, Doug and Cindy, Xavier and Chris, Bill and Dean, and countless others just roll out the carpet with warmth and welcome. We met a couple here in Vilcabamba (Ric and Eve) who are helping out with the hosteria. They are likewise full of warmth and good will. It seems like when you are in a foreign country and don’t speak the language very well that there would be insurmountable barriers to living, but the opposite seems to be true. Whenever there is a need, the right person steps forward to help.

Tomorrow we will hopefully get our internet and cable hooked up in the condo. We also have some furniture being delivered. Xavier has ordered an oven, microwave, a washer and dryer through his dealership and these items too will arrive sometime next week. As mentioned earlier, Rachel ordered window treatments, but those won’t happen for another week or two. I’m very thankful for such a wonderful place to live. Keep in mind that all who receive this email have an official welcome to the extra bedroom.

We will be in Ingapurca sometime this week and I’m sure it will be much less of an adventure than what we’ve had here, but probably equally memorable.

Love from Ecuador

Jim and Rachel