Sunday, May 18, 2014

GIRON, ECUADOR - Hiking to El Chorro Waterfalls


 Now that we're all settled into our apartment-city lifestyle, and now that our apartment is finally completely furnished and decorated (well, almost decorated - I always find something to add or subtract) - we are focusing more on LIVING and RELAXING - being Jubilado!  Our days are becoming more free to do the things we WANT to do and LOVE to do - one of those luxuries being traveling Ecuador and exploring the outlying areas.  I love packing my camera and going to new and scenic places with my Bo.

We decided to take off early Sunday morning for a day outing to a town called Giron.  Because we spend a lot of our time in the city, going away for the day is a real treat.  There are so many places we want to visit and see, and for an hour $1.00 bus ride, we can end up in the most amazing towns and scenic areas - one of the great advantages of living in Cuenca.

Giron is a small town about 45 minutes SW of Cuenca with a population of about 12,000.  I wanted to visit Giron to hike up to El Chorro - a majestic waterfall cascading down a mountain outside of the town of Giron.  So, off we went - wearing hiking clothes and shoes and packing our rain gear and a lunch.  We caught a bus from El Centro to Feria Libre Mercado, and from there we flagged down a bus heading for Giron.  It was a beautiful scenic ride.  The bus passed through the small town of Giron and finally stopped for us at a country road that would take us up to the El Chorro area.  It took us about 2 hours to walk this remote uphill winding road to the entrance of the falls.  The day was sunny and warm with brilliant blue skies, and the journey there was another wonderful experiencing talking to locals along the way and watching the tiny faraway falls become closer and closer each step of the way.

We began our hike early - with the roosters!

Most visitors will get off the bus in Giron and then hire a taxi or van to drive them to El Chorro Waterfalls.  Not us, we like to walk and explore and meet the locals along the way - and we did!  The falls are in view (on the right) but seem so far far away - and they were!

El Chorro seemed so far far away - and it was!!

We were surrounded by lush brilliant green mountains along the way.

Samuel was our first local encounter - a kind and engaging gentleman who was walking towards the town of Giron.   He must have been about 90 plus years old.

We visited for a spell, then parted ways - he hobbled on downhill and we continued our journey higher and higher......

The day couldn't have been more perfect weather-wise.  It was raining steadily during our bus trip to Giron, but once we arrived, the majestic clouds and blue skies graced our journey.

El Chorro began to appear closer the longer we walked.  I love this lush, green, mountainous area of Ecuador - it reminds me so much of Oregon.

Another small community appeared along the way - with a tiny church and quite a few seemingly abandoned houses.

We passed by lush farm vegetation....

......and several locals doing their laundry outside their homes (yes, by hand!!).

The road seemed like it would go on forever - and El Chorro began to look closer.......

We decided to stop and take a lunch and water break......

.......and along came Angelo galloping on his horse, Negro.  We had an enjoyable visit and he readily shared with us all about Giron and the people.  He lives on the higher mountain area near the falls and was heading to Giron for the day.  We said our "Chau"s and parted ways.

It's rare to see two extranjeros walking along this long and winding road towards the falls - even the dogs were checking us out and wondering?????

On the weekends Margarita and Zoila roast chickens and Cuy and cook huge pots full of rice and choclo - which they serve at their outdoor restaurant stand.   We visited them for quite awhile listening to their stories about the area, then bid farewell and continued our climb. 

Ahhhhh, I think we're almost there - I think!

Is Bo waiting for me?  Am I lagging behind?  NOT!  I was taking pictures - en serio!!  Isn't this road absolutely beautiful?

I can hardly wait to get there.  SOON!

Look at that blue sky!  The flowers and lush foliage along the way left me speechless.

I've heard this area is called the "Cloud Forest" because of persistent fog at the vegetation level.  Well, we certainly picked the perfect day for warm, sunny, clear weather.  The clouds were high and moving.

It's always heart-warming to see animal families along the way!

More majestic breathtaking scenery before we finally arrive......

.......to "Al Parador" Turistico El Chorro.  A parador in Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries is a type of luxury hotel, usually located in a historic building such as a monastery or castle. This one is located in the foothills of the cascading El Chorro Waterfalls. Here, we were greeted by a young man, charged $1.00 each (take your cedulas or it will be $2 each), and then given tickets which we could show upon our return from the falls for a free Canelazo - a local drink made with sugar cane alcohol or rum, panela (sugar), and ague de canela (water boiled with cinnamon) - very warming going down.

We're glad we brought our rain coat and rain poncho, and that we had on hiking shoes.  It was wet, muddy, and slippery along the way.  The stair climb was about 5 minutes, and suddenly there it was!!!!

Worth every step we took to get here!

This wooden bridge is the higher area where the wind and waterfall spray and rushing water sound is so powerful! We could barely walk out to the center of the bridge and had to hold on tightly so as not to get blown away.  I couldn't see above and could barely see below.  Yet, just to stand there and get sprayed and wind-blown was a rush!  We didn't stay there long because we were soaked in spite of our rain gear.....

We stayed in the lower dryer area for quite some time - of course I was in my glory taking scenic photographs and basking in the lush green and rain forest beauty.  

We met this generous Ecuadorian family today - Miguel and Aleja, and their daughter Maria and grand children Kelly and little Amy.  They too were enjoying their day at El Chorro and we had such a lovely visit with them.  They joined us below for  free Canelazo drinks where we relaxed and continued our visit together.  Then they invited us to come to their home in Baños on Friday and have dinner with them and later attend an evening Fiesta in their town.  They kindly gave us a ride in their van back to Giron where a bus was waiting to take us back to Cuenca.  It was another fabulous day trip - hiking, exploring a new area of Ecuador, talking to the locals along the way, and making new friends.  Guess where we're going and what we're doing on Friday?  To truly get to know Ecuador's beautiful and loving families is the best gift about living here for Bo and me.

 If you decided to visit Giron's El Chorro, don't forget to wear sturdy waterproof hiking shoes, take rain gear, and plan on a full day to enjoy this lush and scenic area.  You'll be glad you went!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mothers Day in Cuenca ECUADOR - Today I honor my mom - Ana Rosa!

Feliz día de las madres -
A vendor walks the streets of El Centro selling flowers and balloons for this highly celebrated day in Ecuador.  
This was the first Mothers' Day that I didn't have my mom to share my words of gratitude and love with.  It's been 3 months since mom died, and though I know her pain and suffering is over I miss her so much.  When Bo and I moved to Cuenca and mom was far away in Oregon, just knowing I could visit her and hold and hug her, or call her and talk to her via MagicJack or Skype made living far away acceptable.  Now I have my memories of my precious mom - and I can focus on the good ones which make me smile.

Today I honored my mom quietly and not with tears but with joy.  I'm joyful for the mom she was to me.  She always told me how much she loved me and she always encouraged me to live my life to the fullest.  I still remember her words of encouragement and her gentle touch.  I remember her laughter and her funny stories.  Mostly, I remember all she taught me from the time I was old enough to learn from her.  She was a mom who taught me to cook and bake, to keep a home in excellence, and to treat others with respect and kindness.  She taught me to be creative and to enjoy and share my God-given gifts and talents.  She gave me confidence by helping me to see myself through her eyes and to believe I was who she told me I was - not just because she was my mom but because she truly believed in me and whom I would become.

One of the most precious gifts my mom ever gave me was a little card that I now have framed and sitting on my desk and which I read daily.  It says:
Today and always, please know that I see you.
I see the path you've made that's all your own.
I see the many unique talents and gifts you  have to share.
I see your brilliance, your enthusiasm, and how deeply you care and hurt sometimes.
I see your hard-earned wisdom, your soft pure innocence, 
your courage and compassion, your unconditional goodness.
I see what a difference you make in this world,
and I hope you know how very much I love you,
and how proud I'll always be to have a daughter as wonderful as you.

Sometimes it's the tiniest of treasures that can touch ones heart forever.  This little card touches me more than my mom could have ever imagined when she picked it and gave it to me years ago.  I know she picked it especially for me because it's what she believed about her daughter - me.  Because of my mom I'm able to go on living my life with a hope and desire that I will continue to make a difference while on this earth - a difference that would have made her truly proud of me.  

If my mom were still alive, today I would have thanked her for being the best mom she knew how to be for me, and I would have told her that I will forever love her and am blessed to have had the gift of being born of, raised by, and loved by her.  She, for me, was the best and God's perfect mom for me!

I miss my mom more than words can express!  She was 82 and living with us in Honduras when this was taken.  
My Mom - Ana Rosa Diaz.  She was born in Puerto Rico and grew up in NYC.  Photo taken when she was 16 and so lovely!

Ana Rosa loved to dress beautifully, and she was the prettiest of moms when I was growing up!

I loved my mom with all my heart -
and I know she loved me!
Yes, my mom was a beautiful woman - outside and inside!  She always put on her makeup and jewelry, smelled like "Windsong" perfume and loved to laugh.  Her favorite flowers were roses, her favorite color was pink, and she loved to give to the poor and less fortunate - whether a homemade meal, or from her own meager finances - she always gave from her heart!  Mom loved pizza with anchovies, she was the greatest of cooks, but mostly she loved her children more than anyone or anything.
One of the greatest of gifts was having a husband and mom who adored each other.  She called my Bo her "Bosito."  She loved her son-in-law so much that she always said, "You're not my son-in-law, you're my SON."  He called her "mom,"  and he took care of her as if she were his own mom.  That is the greatest of blessings in my memories of our times together.
Thank you Bo, for loving my mom with all your heart - and how she loved you!  These photos were taken on her 87th birthday,  one year before she died. 
Yes, today is the day to show our loved ones, especially our parents, our gratitude and love for who they were and now are in our lives.  I know my mom and dad did the best they could in learning to be parents, raising their children together, and making good decisions and not so good decisions along their own journeys in life. My mom had many regrets and expressed them to me during her last few years alive.  I was able to do the same with her - and so we were both forgiven and able to love each other genuinely.  We will all have twinges of regrets for the things we could have done differently.  What's important is we GET TO forgive and to embrace each other right where we are today.  Love and forgive one another while you have each other and make grand memories today.  

"A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts." -- Washington Irving

Sunday, May 4, 2014


You cannot change the world, 
But you can present the world with one improved person -

Recently, we had an Ecuadorian friend and an ex-pat acquaintance over for lunch.  While our Ecuadorian friend was still enjoying her meal and sharing with us, the ex-pat was finished eating and ready for his “ciggy” fix.  He rose to leave the table to go outside.  WRONG MOVE!  When he got up to exit, our Ecuadorian friend appeared shocked and then became obviously upset.  She was adamant that one does not leave the table when everyone is dining together and others are still eating - it is absolutely rude!  The ex-pat kept taking it back to him asking, “Well, what if someone wants to have a cigarette?”  He missed it big time!  Finally, he put his ciggy craving on hold and reluctantly sat back down out of respect (though he appeared absolutely put-off).  It was a real eye-opener for Bo and me how hurried and insensitive and self-focused some can be compared to a culture that is so affectionate, polite and respectful of each other.  I was thankful to observe this and to understand this dining expectation of our Ecuadorian friend.  It may not be the same for others, but for her, it is important!

Squeezing In Together: 
We have much to learn from living here  - and these are challenging changes that we get to partake in and share with others living here.  We were laughing the other day with another ex-pat friend.  She mentioned how when she first arrived here, she and her family were squeezed tightly into a compact car with some Ecuadorians, a scene that would have been illegal in the states.  She said her daughter reached back to find her seatbelt - which are rarely used here.  We got the picture.  Recently, Bo and I rode in a compact taxi with three other people, including the driver to go look at property.  Bo got the front seat and I was sardined in the back with three others, and two of the women were practically on the floor in the back seat so we would all fit.  Good thing no one was obese or it would never have worked!  It was a cozy, uncomfortable, long ride!  But the conversation and laughter was great!

Cheek to Cheek:
Yes, things are different here in more ways than one - but it’s not necessarily a negative - it’s more of a positive.  The touchy-feely ways of the Ecuadorians is unheard of where we’re from.  If we encounter one of our Ecuadorian acquaintances while walking the city streets, they will give us the “Buenas” with a cheek-to-cheek affection, stop to ask how we are and where we’re going, then say, “Chau” and do another cheek-to-cheek touch.  Even if we visit for 10 seconds!  Never fails.  We encountered one ex-pat couple, and the wife was a cold fish and made it clear to Bo that she didn’t like or do the touchy “cheek-to-cheek” thing.  That was her choice (and it was a good one as far as Bo was concerned!!).  Her husband was the opposite, and a little too touchy-feely willing for me.  Every time I’d see them coming down the street, I’d duck.  He was taking it a little too far - seriously!  I can tell when it’s respectful affection or border-line yucky!  I’ve never encountered any red flag in this area with the Ecuadorians and their genuine affection.  We recently went to the notary office just as they opened for the day.  As we sat there waiting for our appointment time, we observed the employees arriving and greeting each of their co-workers with a check-to-check and saying “Buenos Dias.”  It’s the custom and it’s beautiful to see.  I remember an office job I had back in Oregon where no one ever looked up or acknowledged me when I arrived - it was a very grumpy office with unhappy employees.  Such a difference here.  

Greetings First!
Twice I observed this happening:  I was walking in El Centro with an acquaintance (from the USA) and he stopped to ask a “policia” directions.  The cop looked at him sternly and slowly said, “Buenos dias!!! (He paused for a  long moment staring at him…then said)  Now, how can I help you?”  He was making it clear that asking the directions without greeting him was RUDE!  A NO-NO!  My acquaintance didn’t get it!  I’m stunned when people DO NOT get it!  Bo was in Spanish class the other day.  He said one of the instructors barged into the room and asked his Spanish teacher if she could borrow her board eraser, without acknowledging either of them first.  Bo’s teacher looked at her and slowly said, “Buenos dias.”  She smiled (one of those forced strained smiles) then responded with a "Yes," she could borrow the eraser.  When the instructor left, Bo's teacher said, “She needs to learn some manners - especially if she is an instructor here and representing our school.”  Get the picture???

A Reminder!
these are just a few observations I'm sharing, from personal experience, and something to pay attention to and think about.  Again, respect, formality, politeness, addressing others with affection and kind words, greeting someone before bombarding them with questions or requests - we must pay attention to the culture and learn from the people of Ecuador.  It will make us more sensitive, kinder, and we will continue to be accepted and embraced.  Our words and actions will identify who we are as we settle into our lives here in Ecuador.  Now that Bo and I are residents of Ecuador, it is important for us to learn and understand the culture and vocabulary of a loving people who continue to embrace and accept us.  We are the minority here.  We are being watched.  Our behaviors and attitudes will affect every other extranjero that arrives or already lives here.  It is important for us to guard our reputation and be a people that give and receive respect and who have favor here.  I am thankful that Bo and I have many loving and true Ecuadorian friendships here - families and friends who are watching our back!  A SINCERE AND BIG SMILE goes a long long way!!

When you cross paths with another, 

dare to make them smile.