Monday, April 11, 2011

Rachel Joins Me in the Cajas

We've been back from Cotacachi for nearly a month.  We left a part of us back there in the Imbabura.  It's not like life is standing still while we're in Cuenca, quite the opposite.  There is so much to do here it is sometimes overwhelming.  We have more freedom to do the things we've always wanted to do, including waking up each morning, looking out our bedroom window on the oft-shrouded Andes and watch this precious city come to life.  I had to use the word precious because it was a word used by a local who met us one day in Parque Calderon as she referred to her native city.  Precious has now forever been imbedded in our psyche as the appropriate adjective for our city.  So we wake each day savoring our coffee in bed while gazing at the Andean city waking before us.  Often we have a Kindle in hand and stretch our minds with a game of Scrabble or begin our day with readings from the Bible.  Inevitably we digress from the Scripture looking for applications in our life today and become a lot richer for it.  It's about placing priorities I guess.  We are getting stronger, wiser, and more fulfilled each day together.  We are ever so slowly learning a little more Spanish.  We are broadening our friendships and acquaintances.  Our Scrabble vocabulary now includes the word 'Qi' which is ever so helpful when you don't have a 'u' to go along with the 'q'.  We know how to ask the whereabouts and howabouts to the locals in Spanish and name most any object in our home in the tongue of the Latins.  We ride our bikes with confidence and delight in the traffic circles (remember Circles of Death?) and find our way easily from the far points of the city to and from our condo.  Rachel and I love each other and our life together in Ecuador.  We are passionate for the whole package.  So why have neither of us posted a single thing to our blog????  Where is our passion?  Where is our INSPIRATION

You don't have to look far in this blog to see that our bicycles are a big part of our life here.  Those Mongeese (two Mongoose bicycles must be known as Mongeese right?) have become our recreation, our transportation, our exercise equipment, and yes, vehicles of Inspiration.  If we only open our eyes, ears, minds, and especially our hearts as we travel around the city or the countryside, surely we will be inspired.  Bicycles allow you to turn your ambition to muscle, wonderment to vision, and on occasions, stretch your sensibilities to extraordinary senses.  They allow you to smell every smell, hear every sound, feel every bump, every drop of rain, and know intimately the path you travel.  For some weeks now I've been baiting Rachel with the idea that she should join me in a biking adventure in Parque Nacional Cajas, a somewhat oxygen deprived environment with challenging inclines and opportunities for unforgiving results should you make a wrong decision.  As with most risks, there are considerable rewards, usually commensurate with the degree of the former.  I've found Rachel not to be one who is shy about living her life to the fullest and knew that with patience she would eventually acquiesce to my invitation.  Our day was complete and we are safely home, a little richer, a little stronger, a little wiser, and yes, a little more inspired.

Our ride began where it always does, in front of our condo, Palermo, on Avenida Ordonez Laso.  The day promised great uncertainty in the weather department.  Recent abundant rains have swollen Rio Tomebamba, the geographic feature we would embrace in awe and proximity for the duration of our trek.  With clouds threatening even at our departure we opted for the shortened version of the Cajas sojourn.  There's no shortcut path to the Cajas, but for the cyclist there's a way to manage your strength, oxygen, and time.  It means (for us) selling our soul to the enemy, the Blue Angels of Death.  Certainly you remember the BAD!   Those big bad blue buses of belligerent belching and bicycle bullying behavior are certainly serpents of satanic intent, but this day we'll hold our nose and sleep with the enemy.  Our strategy was to ride bus #3 to the end of the line with our 'geese' in tow.  Bus #3 takes you out of Cuenca, past Sayuasi gaining in altitude to the west and gives you an enormous leg up on the already daunting thin air of the Cajas.  Usually I ask the bus driver if my bicycleta could be carried tambien (also) and usually I'm answered with an accommodating nod.  Generally the driver discovers that the bags of cobs in the on-board baggage area don't mind sharing space with the two wheeled 'goose' that I hoist aboard.   Even the startled looks on the indigenous passengers turn to amusement as I try to stay upright while holding my bike, straddling the bags of cobs and they often lend a hand as the bus driver tries feverishly to extract my feet from the floor with the jolting, braking, swerving bad behavior typical of the bad boys of the blue.    This time however Rachel and I doubled the trouble with not one but TWO geese of the wheeled persuasion.  Once on board we could sense the reluctance the driver had for allowing our intrusion and I knew that a solid $1 tip per bicycle was the only salve that could assuage the angst of a sworn enemy of all pedestrians, bicycles, and other drivers on earth.  Don't get me wrong.  There are probably some really nice bus drivers out there that don't purposely try to deck every elderly passenger unfortunate enough to be standing in their overcrowded bus.  I'm just afraid that if such a bus driver exists they will eventually certainly fail the annual Mean Bus Driver Fluency Test and be summarily fired.   When we arrived at the end point of the #3 route the driver took special effort to park the bus against a burm where we could extract our bikes only with heroic effort.  Ecuadorian bus drivers are such an anomaly.  Their non-bus driver countrymen are the sweetest, kindest, most accommodating people on the planet.  Surely the bus drivers must be from another country, perhaps planet.  Maybe just being a bus driver here in Ecuador turns your heart to stone.   Shaking off the efforts of this bus driver to spoil our day only took a moment and we were immediately enveloped by the enchantment that shines in the Andean Cajas.

I have ridden my bike many times towards and into the Cajas and the trip always seem to reveal something new and exciting.  This time Rachel was with me and it was like seeing it all for the first time.  What was ordinary before was extraordinary today.

It was wonderful to talk about what we saw together.  The tidy pastures showed how much care the dairy farmers put into their operations.  They picked up every rock out of their pastures and put them into enormous piles for later use in fences or other uses.  We marvelled at how the cows on some 80 degree slopes were able to keep their footing while grazing.  Knowing that most of the farmers milk their cows in the pastures where the cows stand, it challenged our minds to picture such a thing occurring at such slopes.

I'm pretty sure we were flirting with an altitude of about 12,000 feet before we decided to turn around and enjoy the EASY part of our tirip.  You see it was all uphill to this point.  Some of it was 'get off your bike and walk' steep so the progress was slow, laborious, and a little taxing on the lungs.  We stopped often to gather ourselves and enjoy the views and load ourselves with the carbs we brought along.  Rain was setting in and it was time to head back.  We didn't go far and the rain came in earnest.  We had mentally catalogued possible shelters on our ascent so if the weather turned on us we would have protection from the rain on our return.  We found a house under construction that served our purposes well.  In fact, we shared it with a couple young men who found themselves in the same dilemma.  We were grateful for the protection.  After a while we got so comfortable we decided to lay our blanket on the wood floor upstairs and take a little nap.  We simply laughed at our situation and marvelled at how our lives have changed since we were living in the states. 
After a while, the rain let up a bit and we decided to make a break for home.  The residual rain made our rapid descent a little less fun than it would have otherwise been and the drop in temperature made it a little more than chilly.   Cruising on these slopes you can easily reach 40 mph or faster but with the rain pelting you and the chill amplified by the wind, you naturally slow it down a bit.  We had agreed that we would stop for some pork at one of the one-table cafes near Sayausi.  We thought a little traditional choco and puerco would warm us a bit and add a memory or two to an already memorable trip.

 It was memorable.

The remainder of our trip back was uneventful and fast because we were dreaming of hot showers, dry clothes, and a real nap in our nice warm bed.  I'm pretty sure Rachel will join me again in another Cajas adventure but I think we'll opt for some fresh trucha (trout) on our next trip.