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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

In Search of the Monks' Backs

Do you ever wake up in the morning and just want to do something? No, neither do I...usually. I'm not known as a morning person. I usually think it's amazing that I get up, drink a cup of coffee and go work out. (Better to do it when I'm half asleep, right?)

But yesterday was different. The sky was a bright, pure blue that just called to me and the hill across the valley of Cuenca was mocking me. We'd made a couple of attempts to get to it before. Once was a sad sort of "maybe-we-can-figure-out-the-road" sort of attempt and the other was fairly serious, but we'd come unequipped - meaning no food. So yesterday was the day, dammit! (It felt wrong omitting that word.) Even though we'd gone to the gym first thing in the morning, we thought "why not?"

We sunscreened up (yes, that's actually "a thing"), packed a lunch, loaded up our water bottles and headed off. Here's where the mountain/hill is from our place:
Las Espaldas de Monjos
Now don't get all freaked out, it seems farther than it actually is. At least that's what we told ourselves, anyway. We walked down our little hill, through El Centro, up Avenida Solano past Tres Puentes, up a brutally steep side street to reach the stairs before the stairs of Mirador Turi. We scuttled down a dirt road, crossed Las Americas, climbed the embankment and finally got to the Turi staircase. 439 stairs later we arrived at the church directly opposite (across the bowl of the city) our condo. Now, all we had to do was find the road to Las Espaldas de Monjos.
Closer up view from our place
Actual first steps to Turi
The bell tower of Turi
Don't get us wrong, we'd done as much homework as we could, but maps here don't really go outside the city proper (meaning El Centro) and it's pretty hard to figure it out on online maps if you aren't exactly sure what you're looking for. (It's not like the hill top is marked on Google Maps.)
We asked directions and the two men at the bus stop seemed surprised by our destination, but yes, we were going the right way. They pointed to a road arching up towards the hill top and we merrily went on our way. Sure we had to pass heaps of barking dogs, the further you go into the countryside the more dogs you'll see - no small feat considering how many dogs are in the city.
Seriously gorgeous day.
Baby cow! 
Final-ish stretch
We don't worry so much about the street dogs, but the owned dogs can be aggressive and unpredictable. We passed cows and sheep, more chickens than you can shake a stick at and suddenly the hill came in to view. The only problem was that the road was turning away from it. We carried on, assuming that it would, eventually, loop back. This happened several times and we debated on whether we should give up or not but we finally found ourselves at the ridge of Las Espaldas de Monjos. Of course, you can't see that part from where we live.

We followed the dirt road up and around one of the hills and could finally see a direct road link to our destination. We made it to the cross that marks the top of the hill in two hours and fifteen minutes. Not bad, considering we had to stop and ask for directions a couple of times and took one wrong turn. We honestly should have known that there are no "direct" roads to darn near anywhere here, but in many ways we're still naïve.

Been there, done that!
The views were well worth the walk and we enjoyed our picnic lunch amongst the butterflies that inhabit the summit. I'll let the photos speak for themselves.

Ecuadorian pose!
Las Cajas in the distance

Surrounding landscape
In a fit of pure optimism (buoyed by our success, no doubt) we tried to find a shorter path down, but only got to some steep cliffs that were impassable without mountaineering equipment, so we were forced to hike back up to the summit and return the way we'd come. Fortunately, it was mostly down hill going back, so it only took us a couple of hours.
Artsy pic with the cross's shadow
From the back side of Turi
If walking 18.5 kms isn't your thing, you can always catch the #19 bus and it will drop you off on the road that runs the ridge to the hill, but for us - what would be the fun in that?


  1. Sounds like a really nice day, great weather, good exercise, and feeling good you made it without maps.
    Are you sure they don't have a "Backroads of Cuenca Book"

    1. Maybe that should be my next venture...maybe it will be more successful than my novels! ;0)