Tuesday, September 16, 2014

EL CAJAS NATIONAL PARK (PARQUE NACIONAL CAJAS) - Our Day at El Cajas Rancho HNOS Prado Restaurant and Hiking

A fabulous place to visit for a fabulous meal, to meet fabulous people, and to be guided on a fabulous hike!
Back in January we hiked El Cajas up to 14,000 feet.  It was one of the most difficult hikes because it was straight UP!  But, Bo and I made it to the top, and what a glorious reward awaited us.  The view was breathtaking, and the hike up was stunning as we passed several mountain lakes, saw amazing wild plants, and had a memorable time with one of our guides, Fabian Prado Ochoa.  We didn't know at that time that he would become more than a guide for us but a dear friend and family.

Since that hike, Fabian and his new bride, Maggie, and two of his brothers, George and Wilson join us every Tuesday at our apartment to practice their "English."  Their gift to us has been more than helping us in return with our Spanish.  They are truly our family!  They show up at 7 pm sharp and sometimes stay until after 11 pm.  Our time is filled with learning, laughter, delicious coffee and food that Chef Bo serves while we  practice grammar and pronunciation, and sometimes we have to kick them out - en serio!  We love being together, and we always look forward to our Tuesday "adorables" coming and brightening our week.  Along with the Prado Ochoa brothers and Fabian's wife, Maggie, we are joined by their good friend, Alfonso, and dear friends of ours, Jhady, and her 11 year old daughter, Lizbeth.  Our table is graced with the presence of seven faithful Ecuadorian friends who are hungry to improve their English and who also are our gentle Spanish teachers.  It is a time of conversation, reading, learning more vocabulary, and focusing on correct pronunciation.

Since we began to meet in February, Fabian and George have been continually inviting us to come to their family restaurant again for a day of hiking, dining, and just being together.  We finally set a date to just "do it."  So, on Friday Jhady picked us up at 8:00 a.m. and drove us to the "Rancho Hermanos Prado in the Heart of the Cajas."  What a glorious fun-filled day of spending time with joyful people and getting away from the daily routine of city life.  Rocky, the Prado Ochoa brothers' dad and owner of the restaurant and over 200 acres of private Cajas land, welcomed us and we immediately felt at home.  We sat down and were served hot coffee and bread.  That was just the beginning of a day filled with more delicious food, drink, hiking, music, and more of their family stopping by.

Well, why don't I let my photography tell you the story - yes?

Rancho Prado is a place not to miss!

Go to Occidental bus station at Ferria Libre.    
It is $1.50 each way and about a 50 minute ride.  Just tell the driver you want to be dropped off at Rancho Prado!

Our previous two visits to El Cajas greeted us with beautiful blue skies.
(See previous Cajas BLOG posts in July 2013 and January 2014)  This day was overcast with intermittent misting rain.  A perfect day to spend time in the Restaurant........
.....sipping hot coffee by the fire.
We decided to have a trout breakfast.  What fun to catch our trout and cook it fresh together!  George shows us how to do it!

I entrusted my camera to George when everyone insisted I give it a try!
I'm so glad I did!!   Now, Rocky and Jhady give it a whirl.

Time to go behind the curtain and watch the brothers cook!  
Wilson makes the salad.  I must say, it was one of the most deliciously seasoned salads I've eaten since moving to Ecuador.  He promised he'd show me how to make it.

Fabian takes over the "Trout" frying while Jhady and Wilson observe.

Trout is sizzling away......

.....and the salad is ready!
Oh, what a delicious success!  Cooked to perfection, and ready for the hungry hikers.
We enjoy the delicious food and joyful company together!

Come On, Bo and Linda.  Let's go hiking!!

Which way should we go?  Bo points and off we go!
(L to R - Bo, Fabian, Jhady, Wilson, George)
The trail was flat and close by, the scenery spectacular.  Because of the weather, we decided to stick close to home. George promised me a Llama photography moment.
Wilson spots the Llamas!
What a beautiful creature!!
We saw MANY and I was in photography heaven.
They climbed the mountains in a pack, occasionally stopping to look at us.
In one area we saw Llamas and horses grazing together.
Though overcast, the weather cooperated and it did not rain during our hike.  Only a tolerable mist at times.  The scenery was breathtaking!

While I clicked away, lost in the photography moment, Fabian and Bo hiked along together enjoying their visit......

.......and Jhady and George pose for the camera!
At every turn the scenery became more breathtaking.....
........A photographer's paradise!

Though it was overcast, it was perfect lighting for my lens.  These beautiful paper trees caught my eye.
Beautiful Andes Flowers graced the path.

So many varieties and colors.  I'm yet to learn to identify them, but Fabian and George know every plant and their medicinal purposes.

Time to head back to the ranch!

A magical waterfall greets us at the entrance.

And inside uncles, cousins, nieces, and more family have dropped by to join our party.

We stay warm by the fire as George and Wilson entertain everyone with their musical talent.

Brandon is on his throne dozing to the laughter, music, and chatter.
He, alone, is worth a trip to the restaurant.  He'll join you on a hike and has been running these Andes for 9 years.  What a beautiful, mellow and sweet dog!

It's beginning to get dark as the sun sets behind the mountains.....

......and adds even more beauty to this marvelous area.

Prado Father and Sons - What a gift it is to know them!
Remember when you decide to visit El Cajas:
1 - Dress for the weather.  Layer your clothes and make sure you wear comfortable water-resistant hiking boots.  Sometimes it is soft and muddy in areas.  You may also encounter areas of water and rocks you have to cross over.  Also, take rain gear, hat, gloves, scarf, warm socks.  Expect windy, cloudy, overcast, misty, rainy, and YES even SUNNY weather.  One never knows what it will be like - so dress for it all.
2 - Go for the day.  You never know what or whom you'll meet along the way.  If you visit the Restaurant, you're sure to have a memorable time and a delicious meal.
3 - This area is not for the fainthearted.  You will be at a higher altitude and in colder weather.  If you are not into hiking, then you might want to just visit the restaurant for a meal, and go on one of their flat lower walking areas.
4 - If you are into seeing and/or photographing wildlife and birds, this area delivers!
5 - You can rent poles and bait here and go to the larger lake to trout fish.  We fished in the little pond just for the experience.
6 - Don't forget your camera and binoculars.
7 - Take toilet paper (always, everywhere), water, and snacks.

Have fun and make it grand.  
Thank you Prado Ochoa Family for another memorable Cajas visit.  
You made it GRAND for us!!
Visit their FACEBOOK page at https://www.facebook.com/ranchohnosprado

Sunday, September 7, 2014

A trip to the ECUAGENERA Orchid Greenhouses and PAUTE - Only 45 minutes from Cuenca, Ecuador!

Ecuagenera Orquideas Del Ecuador

A bus from Cuenca costs 60 cents.  
Hours are M-F 7-6, Sat. 8-6, and Sun. 9:30-6:30 
(of course, check first as things change here daily!).

For plant lovers, the tour is educational and interesting and the variety of unique and colorful orchids are worth the trip.  

The orchid store where beautiful mature orchids are ready to be purchased by Plant Lovers!  

I’m continually amazed at the magical beauty that surrounds Bo and me since moving to Cuenca, Ecuador.  Our city has amazing mountains on all sides,  four rushing rivers (Tomebamba, Yanunca, Tarqui, and Machangara), and because of this “eternal spring” weather - there are beautiful exotic tropical flowers blooming year-round.  

I’m a die-hard mountain girl!  I love hiking up lush green mountain trails (Ahhh, the Cajas), experiencing areas with flowing rivers and magical waterfalls, and learning about an area's exotic plants and flowers.  Bo and I chose to land in Cuenca, Ecuador because from all we researched and read it reminded us of Oregon (remember, we had never been here before for an exploratory trip - and did we pick well!!!).  To this day, I never get tired of seeing the Andes mountains all around us, and I love walking along the Tomebamba River and listening to the sound of the rushing water and seeing the beautiful colorful blooming plants that grace this city.  I absolutely do not miss the long rainy DAMP colder winters in Oregon.  I do not miss those surprise few weeks of bitter cold weather with SNOW and ICE.  I do not miss the 7 to 8 months of continual rain and damp cloudy overcast skies.  Just about every day the sun shines here and the deep blue skies and majestic clouds formations take my breath away.  Every day I thank my God for guiding us to a place that continues to feel more and more like one of the most beautiful places I have ever lived, and we haven’t even begun to explore so many other wondrous areas of Ecuador.  

When time allows, we've been attempting to visit the outlying towns of Cuenca for day excursions.  Our daily life can get pretty busy here during the week - so it was a treat for me recently to be invited by friends to visit the Orchid greenhouses in Gualaceo, and a stop in Paute for almuerzo (lunch).  I had never purchased or grown orchids back in the USA.  Yet, a few months ago I went to a "Going Back To The USA" sale here in Cuenca and bought two large thriving orchid plants because of the photos I was shown of them in bloom.  I had no idea how to care for them or when they bloomed.  My recent excursion to the Orchid farm gave me a greater understanding and appreciation for this amazing and beautiful species of plant. I have a greater understand for the care of two blooming orchids that now grace my apartment now that I know many varieties bloom only ONE to TWO times per year and for only ONE to TWO months long.  My Chocolate Orchid is now in full bloom and does it smell DELICIOUS!!!!

I'll share this day through my lens!

Thousands of tiny orchid seeds are removed from this small pod ready to be planted.

First the seeds are germinated in these glass bottles for up to two years.

The second flask stage takes 6 months to 1 year of cultivating......

.......and finally the fragile healthy starts are transplanted to growing trays where they remain another 6 months to 1 year.

Large greenhouses display thousands of flasks filled with different orchid varieties.

Every jar and flask is carefully labeled with detailed information of each variety and their growing stage.  

Germination flasks can create up to 50 plants, are completely sealed to prevent fungi-growth, and are traded around the world.  

Here are a few of the varieties of the MANY orchids and plants I was able to photograph during our tour.  This Orchid farm grows over 3,000 varieties for trade around the world.

After inhaling the beauty of the many varieties of these blooming exotic orchids, it was time to stroll around the lush manicured grounds.

It was warm and sunny  and we couldn't have picked a more perfect day for our orchid tour!

We fed the grounds birds juicy oranges picked right from the fruit trees....

.....and spent time enjoying the fearless approaching turtle greeters!
A final stop in the colorful Orchid Shop enticed my friend to pick a tall blooming orchid for her classy condo.  Now hungry, we headed for Paute to dine at the Corvel Restaurant for almuerzo.
Refreshing fresh juice.....

......and a $4.00 lunch of Seco do Pollo, steamed seasoned potatoes, and fresh raw salad with a tangy dressing did not disappoint me.  It was satisfying and muy rico!!!
As we headed to our waiting driver, a tiny store with no name and beautiful colorful labeled jars filled with pickled vegetables, sweet marmalades, and freshly baked breads stared back at us and beckoned us in.

Sisters Rachel and Marielena greeted us warmly.  I began to compliment their store and beautifully displayed product with my heart-felt passion, and my enthusiasm opened the door for them to invite us "behind the curtain" (you know how I love going behind the curtain!!!). They gave us a tour of this over 100 year old historic home where bread is baked fresh daily for sale in the storefront . 

 The grounds were so inviting and lush with blooming potted plants, colorful clay pots, and mature fruit trees.
An old tiled tub added character and beauty to the garden area.

The sun was bursting through the trees, 
and ripe yellow lemons smiled back at us.

Their rustic kitchen!

 We were greeted by the baker who was busy cutting dough pieces and rolling them for loaves.  He works in this dark room, but his joyful smile lights it up!!

 A huge vat of dough is ready to roll into bread balls!!!

 He worked swiftly and with expertise, cutting, rolling and stacking perfectly shaped bread balls - something he's been doing for a long long time!

 The sisters invited us to return to the local facility where tours are given of their canning process from start to finish.  Unfortunately the facility was closed for vacation or we would have added that to this amazing day.

We each purchased some of these amazing products.  I went home with  large jars of Coconut marmalade, Guayaba in syrup, and a delicious Papaya-Pinapple preserve ($6 each).  Next visit I will buy their beautiful canned vegetables.

Yes, meeting Rachel and Marielena was a perfect way to end our visit to the ECUAGENERA ORQUIDEAS DEL ECUADOR and a few hours in Paute!  
Es hermoso pasar tiempo con mis queridos amigos en un hermoso paĆ­s.

I hope you enjoyed touring the Orchid Farm through my lens.  Have you been there yet?  Leave me your comments.  I always enjoy hearing from and getting to know our readers!!

Es lindo when I spend time with dear friends exploring my beautiful country!

The kitchen!