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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Las Cajas - Remix

There are certain things that I never thought I'd find myself doing (despite what I've said under the influence of alcohol) and buying hiking gear is one of them. The list was long, with crazy things like hiking boots, trekking pants and gaiters. (Those are things that wrap around your legs and hook on to your boots, to protect your lower legs/pants, popular for skiing in the 80's.) Then I had to find a waterproof jacket and a warm hat, never mind the head lamps and neck warmers. It can be an expensive proposition, but well worth it, if you're going to spend several days on the trekking trail.
All decked out
I geared up and felt like a poser. I'm not a took me a little over an hour to hike up the Grouse Grind (for those unfamiliar, here's a reference:, not exactly a record, or even a gold star for my good health. Anyhow, here I am looking like an ad for some outdoor store (Mountain Equipment Co-op comes to mind) with my borrowed backpack and "sport" sunglasses. (Okay, I had those already, I use them for running.) While Ron wore the stuff comfortably, I was a fraud. Six hours later, I was able to claim my right to the togs. I'd crested inclines, reached an altitude of 14,000 ft (almost 4,300 metres) and trudged through rain and drizzle, and faced the gusting wind. Having stared in to the gale we, admittedly, turned around and headed back. Who really wants to hike for 2 hours into driving rain, if you don't have to?

The misty, high part was where we hiked up to.
I was muddy up to the knees, had broken my (already sad) finger nails and had a dirty caboose from slipping in the mud. I was jubilant; having wet wipes does amazing things for my outlook! Sure, I chugged up the hills, bringing to mind the little engine that could, or an asthmatic without their inhalator, but I'd done it.

So we decided to go again - how better to prep for the Salkantay Trail, in Peru? Our trek started out hiking immediately uphill. I couldn't breathe, I wanted to just sit down and let the rest of the group pick me up on the way back, but Ron was having none of it. He cajoled, bullied and cheered my slow progress up the first couple of inclines and then the miracle happened. I still huffed and puffed, but it was manageable. The trail dipped and rose and I was glad that I hadn't given up. Needless to say, the scenery was stunning.

We were in to the trail for about and hour and half, when our old nemesis showed up; not just driving rain, but sleet, heavy and hard, barreling across the lake we'd just stopped at to fuel up. The noise was amazing, but the cold wind and hard pellets were not welcome. It was another line in the sand and we turned back and raced down the same path we'd just walked, trying to outrun the storm. 
The storm chasing us over the ridge.
After the first crest, the rain abated and we successfully avoided the worst of the storm. I was  sad that we had to shut the hike down early, but glad that we weren't soaking wet and bruised from the hail. One day, we'll complete that hike.
Crazy flora...

Yup, that's right, I'm contemplating going out there again, even after our five day odyssey in Peru. I mean, really, why waste all that hiking gear? So for those of you that like the idea, but don't think you can do...well, you'll never know until you try. You might just take to it.
And we met this little guy at the end of the hike...pretty cute, right?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Our Best Friend - How We Travel Comfortably

The first few pictures are there, just because I can post them. ;0)

Rainbows are actually fairly rare in Cuenca, so it's always nice to catch one. Strangely, in the Cañari culture they're an ill omen...I prefer the Irish approach, with pots of gold and leprechauns. But what does this have to do with our blog title? Absolutely nothing. Scroll down the photos and I'll get to my point.

Gratuitous rainbow photos, just because I can!
Okay, so, "best friend"...I know some of you are thinking "Hey, that's me!", but alas, we're talking about something more practical than loving human support (not that we don't appreciate it). So what is it, exactly, that I mean? I'm talking about our sound machine.
Not much to look at, is it?
We bought it, originally, for guests at our bed and breakfast, but wound up using it ourselves to kill out the sound of late night pick-up trucks veering blearily down the road as they left the local bars. (I sounds romantic, no?) It took us about three nights to get used to the sound. (We chose the stream setting...which provides a steady sound with little variety.) There are a several sounds and machines to choose from but we like something consistent without breaks or jarring noises. (Imagine the sounds of the jungle at night...the occasional bird squawk can be off putting.) Ours offers a heart beat to lull babies, but it reminds me of The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe. (Creepy!) Apparently you can also download apps that will run similar sound bites to lull you to sleep and, hopefully keep you there.
The green blobby thing is the volume, true story.

It's not really doesn't block out all the noise of the street, barking dogs or howling wind, but once asleep, it lessens those things and provides a calmer night. (Once you're used to it.) I think it's almost Pavlovian, in that, when I hear the machine, I immediately get sleepy.

Why this ode to a ridiculous little machine? Well, as most of you know, we're heading off to trek the Salkantay trail up to Machu Picchu shortly and the burning question is "Do we take the machine on the trail with us???" I know, it seems ridiculous, but the key to surviving the trek will be a good nights sleep, don't you think? Ours actually can run on batteries, so we're seriously considering the possibility. The machine goes almost everywhere with us and is a blessing for hotels with little sound proofing, strange house noises and other odd sleeping situations you might find yourself in.

One word of warning...if you do get used to sleeping with a sound machine, if the power goes out, it will wake you immediately. Short of sitting bolt upright, I awaken abruptly in the silence and groan, knowing that it will take me a while to fall back asleep again without the lulling sound.
Gratuitous cloud shots (sunset) as seen from our apartment

Monday, April 6, 2015

Cajas Virgins No More

In preparation for our trip to Peru, we've been trying to increase our workout regimen and we finally (after all this time!) made it up to Las Cajas, the national park outside of Cuenca. The park is over 28,000 hectares of Andean beauty, with lakes (filled with trout), crags and tors and rolling grass lands cutting through the spires of the Andes. The park is between 3,100 and 4,450 meters in elevation, which sits above and to the west (ish) of the city.

The park is only about a half hour outside the city and can be accessed from several parking places. We were cautioned about safety in the parking lots, if there weren't a lot of cars, don't park there, as it's not 100% safe to park alone. This was sad for me, as I've always felt safe in Cuenca, but we are in a third (or arguably second) world country with wrenching poverty, which can affect personal safety, especially in areas without strong police presence. It was a hard reminder, but one that bears repeating.

The weather can be unpredictable up in the mountains, so you have to take rain gear, wool hats, sun screen and hat, but we lucked out and didn't get a single drop of rain. There are amazing plants, such as the cushion plant, that is lovely and squishy to walk on and protects you from the water accumulating across the boggy ground, plus all these charming little flowers that spring up in unexpected places. 
Andean "Tulips" - actually a type of gentian flower 

Beautiful, but spiky

Like a large "cushion" plant in flower

No idea what these are, but really amazing colours.

"Cushion" plants - like walking in a bouncy castle
You might feel badly that the pictures show mostly overcast skies, but trust me, if the sun had been out it would have been scorching hot and, at least for me, impossible to complete the hike. You cannot underestimate the strength of the sun at high altitudes.
Sky and Ron

Sky and Holly

Everyone but me (convenient, no?)

Axel and Ron at the end of our hike.

We did a ten kilometre guided hike, happily with some friends (they guide for a living) and another friend who just makes things more fun. Since I was just coming off a bit of a cold, I was worried about making the grade, but we did not too badly, considering the extra elevation and my general girliness. (Yes, that is actually a thing.) Sky (our guide) was disgusted by my statements of "Ewww, mud!" and "Pretty!" (This on coming across some interesting plants and flowers.) She actually cut me more slack when I huffed and puffed up the steepest part of the hill like the little engine that could. 

It took us about three hours to complete the trail, which means we only need to do that twice more to complete ONE DAY of the trek in Peru (based on time, not distance). Blame Ron, he's the one who chose the trek on the Salkantay Trail. (Salkantay translates to "savage" in Quechua...his idea, not mine.) A few more times in the Cajas should get us nicely prepped. (Or so I like to tell myself.)
Crazy plants growing in the water.

What we did discover is that we will likely need better hiking boots for the trek, sorry Blundstones. Which we have to get in the next few days, so we can break them in properly, oh and wicking liners and good hiking socks (we have now purchased). Wish us luck!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Son of a Water Leak...the Sequel

We had a little gathering at our place, for people who hadn't seen the new digs and it was actually quite successful. It was really neat to hear both English and Spanish drifting through the apartment and watching the expats working their Spanish skills with the Ecuadorians. The food came out well, for the most part, and it seemed like everyone had a really good time.
Marinated cheese with plum tomatoes
Quinoa salad in fajita shell cups
Tapas platter
Overview: stuffed mushroom caps are missing
We saw the guests off safely and cleaned up the mess and had just settled in to enjoy the rest of the evening when we heard water gushing. We both thought the other was in the other washroom running a tap...but no, rather quickly we figured out that something was horribly wrong. The water line to our toilet in the social bathroom had broken. Of course, that line is the only one that didn't have a proper shut off valve, so we had to go out and turn off the main water valve. By the time we'd taken care of that we still had to mop up a lake of water. At least the floor isn't perfectly level, so that the water stayed in a puddle that ran from the dining room, through the living room and in to the office. Gratefully, it kept away from the wood floors in the bedrooms. There was enough water that we used the dust pan to scoop it up and put it in the mop pail and then got the rest with mops, towels and four bed sheets. There's no pictures as the situation didn't warrant the time it would have taken.

The water line was apparently overly-tightened and snapped from the pressure & we're talking the metal threaded attachment, not the plastic tube! (Boooo!) We're hoping that this is the last of the water problems. I can't decide if it's the third issue or fourth...if you don't have water, is that considered a water problem???

Fortunately the part has been replaced, our carpet is laying flat and we're back to two bathrooms. Fingers crossed that that's the last of our water troubles. (Thanks heavens for yummy food!)
Scones with dried fruit

Fruit plate!