Friday, January 27, 2017

WINTER TIME IN SABINO CANYON

One of the things I love about living in Tucson is that people like to come visit us here and enjoy the desert with us.  Recently we were lucky to have a visit from brother Larry and sister-in-law Carolyn.  They were escaping a cold snap in the Pacific Northwest - the lake they live on had frozen over for the first time in 17 years.  Tucson was also having a cold snap and lots of rain.  We had a day between rain storms and decided to go to Sabino Canyon which is a lovely riparian area in the northeastern part of Tucson, worlds away from city life.  Sabino Canyon is located in the Santa Catalina Mountains in the Coronado National Forest. Once in the park you can hike up the canyon on one of numerous trails, or you can take the tram.  We chose the tram because the driver narrates all the way up the canyon telling everything from historical tidbits to biological facts. 

Any visitor to the Tucson area expects to see Saguaro Cactus, and they are not disappointed at Sabino Canyon.


However, deciduous trees are scarce in Tucson but plentiful in the Canyon.



Our area had so much rain that nearly every bridge the tram crossed had water coursing over it.  This made our trip fairly exciting.


I was fascinated by all the textures in the rushing water.


Here you can see that it was a typically sunny (but cool) Sonoran Desert day. 


I never get tired of the Saguaro Cactus.  They don't get "arms" until they are 50-100 years old!


It sounds funny to most people, but it is exciting to see a river with water in it.  We have several rivers in Tucson which only have water in the monsoon.  Sabino Creek has water year round.


Once you reach the top of the canyon, you can ride the tram back down, or get off and walk at different stops.  Since there was water over most of the bridges, we chose to walk between the only two stops where the bridges were dry.  Here is our group - my brother-in-law Frank Odgen, sister Carol Ogden, brother Larry Watson and sister-in-law Carolyn Watson. 


Note how copper-colored the creek is.  This is from tannins leeched from fallen leaves.


A lovely winter day.  In a few more months I'd like to go back to see the wildflowers bloom.


Fall colors, even though it is January.


A "head" stone.


One last look at the rushing waters of the creek. 



Our guide said that the week before they had seen big horn sheep near this part of the canyon but we were not so lucky.  Still, it was an exciting day with the swollen creek and a lovely winter outing.

Audrey

Thursday, August 25, 2016

A WILD RIDE THROUGH THE CAJAS

Several months ago a landing airplane went off the runway at Cuenca's airport which totalled the aircraft. There has been speculation for months vis a vis pilot error or substandard tarmac.  Studies were done.  They contradicted each other.  The net result is the airport is now closed for resurfacing.  It closed a few days before we were to leave Cuenca so we had to figure alternate routes.  Rumors abounded that a shuttle service would start up linking Cuenca to Guayaquil, the next closest airport some 3.5 hours away.  It was difficult to get information about this until Chuck went to the airport and scoped it out.  Sure enough, every hour on the hour big new 15 passenger vans leave the Cuenca airport.  I bought our tickets ahead as they were selling rapidly.  They said "seat 1 and 2" so I figured we were the first purchase for that date.

On our appointed day Jim and I arrived extra early since we didn't know what to expect.  The airport was packed with people traveling,  people buying tickets, transit police, airport officials, a TV crew and dignitaries in business suits.  It was mass chaos and no one seemed to know exactly where we should wait or which van was ours.  I asked at least four different people about this (transit police, ticket office, driver cleaning a van,  passenger clutching a ticket for our same van).  Finally at 5 minutes to 12 ( our ticket was for noon) there was a general movement of people and luggage toward one van.  We got into the crowd.  We waited.  Finally a middle aged guy with an Elvis do came to the back of the van along side an airport official with a clipboard.  Jim's name was called, then mine.  We could not figure out where all the luggage was going to go because this was a van without much more than one suitcase width's room in back.  We shrugged and got aboard.  Of course the seats were not numbered which caused every passenger consternation since they had a seat number on their ticket.

Pretty soon  there was discussion outside about what to do with the extra luggage.  A second van pulled up and the overflow luggage wouldn't all fit in the back of that one either, so some was put on the seats.  Neither van was full of passengers.  Before we left the transit policeman read our names off again and then took a video of us all.  Now we were ready to go but the second bus was blocking our way.  After much horn tooting the second bus finally moved and we were off at 12:15 pm.

At this point I was feeling pretty optimistic since it is a new van service and we were only 15 minutes late leaving.  Before we were out of Cuenca, though, our driver's true colors were shown.  He took a dirt road short cut in order to get ahead of Van #2, barely missing him.  Then we started down the windy 2 hour stretch of highway through the spectacular Cajas National Park.


I love going through this area because of the ever changing tableaux of clouds and scenery, such as grazing llamas and trout streams.  Today, however, I had my eyes closed for most of it because our "cowboy" driver took every curve well over the speed limit throwing the passengers from side to side and even some of the luggage off the upper racks.  I hoped I wouldn't get sick.  I did manage a few photos from the careening van.





This driver was a pass-on-the-curve maverick.  My eyes remained closed for most of the two hours.  I felt sorry for Jim who was sitting in the front seat with a clear view of the the road.

Eventually we dropped down out of the Andes and we could see the banana plantations below us.  And it got hot.  And people asked the van driver to turn on the air.  And he couldn't figure it out.  And one of the passengers knelt on the floor in front of the controls and tried everything.   The only AC was coming from a small vent in the front.  Our individual air controllers  (like on a plane) had nothing coming out.  Mind you, this was a brand new Dodge van; so new the plastic was still on the visors.

And it became very hot as we reached sea level.  Remember, this is only a few hours south of the equator, for which Ecuador is named.  In our hot, airless van I was now really feeling ill.  The only consolation was I knew we were on the outskirts of Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city.  I was slightly amused when the driver asked the passenger behind him whether he should turn left or right to the airport.  I became worried when the van driver was stopped at a light further on and asked a street vendor how to get to the airport.  I have been between Guayaquil's main bus station and airport many times and know it only takes a few minutes to get from one to the other.  A good 15 minutes after passing the bus station, after turning in to the convention center, then the civil guard, our driver finally got it right and turned in to the airport.  He didn't park near the entrance, much to the grumbling of the Cuencanos.   We were last off since our luggage had been put on first.  As a final insult, he wouldn't give me our 3rd bag until I gave him $5.  When I asked why, he said "too many bags."

It was nice to go airport to airport and  maybe our experience won't be the norm but I doubt I would use this van "service" again.  Hopefully when we return the Cuenca airport will be functioning again.

Audrey

Sunday, August 14, 2016

INDEPENDENCE CELEBRATIONS, ECUADOR STYLE

Ecuador celebrates three separate independence days.   The 10th of August is one of them and is special to Quito as it was the beginning of their liberation, while Cuenca's big day is the 3rd of November.  My first surprise came when I realized that the 10th of August came and went with no fireworks and nothing was closed.   I learned that like we do in the States, Ecuador moves their holidays so they can have a 3 day weekend.  Sure enough on Friday Cuenca got really empty.  Apparently lots of people go to the coast for their holiday.  We decided to go east to one of my favorite towns, Chordeleg, where their specialty is fine silver jewelry made locally.


First we were going to stop in Gualaceo which is the orchid capital of the world.  They have a really fascinating tour showing the propagation of the orchids.  Alas, as we turned in to the orchid place we saw it was over run with tour buses.  We decided to stop on the way back instead.

In Chordeleg we couldn't believe our eyes - the town was packed with people and there was no parking around the usually peaceful square.  At first we were dismayed but then we noticed that the tourists were at least 95% Ecuadorian!  Apparently not everyone goes to the coast.  There was quite the festive atmosphere and commerce was booming.

It had been 4 years since I was last here and I was amazed at how much more infrastructure was evident in town.  They have built a whole shopping plaza complete with restaurant and tile murals.



When we first came to Chordeleg some 8 years ago the only place to eat was down a dusty side road in the courtyard of a house.  We noticed that the proprietor of this new restaurant was the same guy from the house!

We had live music and really good fried trout.


Here's an example of the fine filigree silver work they do in Chordeleg.


Nancy and I had so much fun shopping and chatting with the shop keepers while Jim and Chuck did their own thing.

After our fun in Chordeleg we headed back to the orchids but alas this time the tour area was closed.  We had to be content with the show room which had an overwhelming amount and variety of orchids for sale.  Chuck found a beautiful huge plant while I settled for this stem of beauties for only $4.50!


We took the scenic route home and stopped by this amazingly old aqueduct along the river.




To get to it we had to go over this really old bridge.


All along the river there were lots of families on the grass having picnics.  Of course we also saw many pigs being roasted along the road.

Today, the final day of the holiday weekend, we went to breakfast downtown and were treated to this gathering of Royal Enfield motorcycles.



Chuck and Jim

Nancy
These are imported to Ecuador from India.

It was an absolutely lovely warm day.



Jim and I walked to Parque Calderón, stopping first at the modern art museum where we loved these stone "Faces of Andian Ethnicities" displayed on an old, old adobe wall.




As we were walking toward the cathedral we noticed there was a huge traffic jam.



Sure enough it was party time downtown with lots of vendors selling everything from hats to art work and the requisite out of tune band playing loudly.



And at Parque Calderón  it was great people watching, as always.

On cell phone with meringues balanced on her head!
My impressions of this Independence Day in Ecuador?  Everyone is out enjoying their country and each other's company.  No big fireworks displays, no "patriotic" clothing or flag waving.  Just good holiday fun.  I'm glad we could be part of it.

Audrey

Sunday, August 7, 2016

HOW I SPENT MY BIRTHDAY

I have always been a proponent of having "A Grand Day Out" for my birthday.  Today I was not disappointed!  We set out from Cuenca early so we could get to nearby Paute in time for the Sunday market.  It was raining when we left Cuenca, but true to form when we reached Paute, some 30 minutes later and 1,000 ft lower, the sun broke through and it became quite warm.  The market was in FULL swing with tons of people and their wares.




This stall was the herbalist.  There were some murky things in a jar and I didn't quite understand what they were used for.


Any type of implement for your donkey could be found here.

Leather saddles

Wooden saddles
Potatoes, anyone?



Or perhaps pasta?


So many great faces!


Last time I was at this market the upstairs was crafts.  Now it is the food court.


After buying a huge bag of Meyer Lemons for $1, and some avocados as well, we left to meet up with friends Randy and Karen who graciously showed us around their house.  We had met Randy years ago when they still lived in Eastern Washington.  It was so nice to see the comfortable nest they have made for themselves in Paute.

We all went to lunch at a wonderful restaurant, Casa Romana, where some of us had the corvina (sea bass) done with tomatoes and capers.  Yum!  Just when I thought we were getting ready to leave, the music changed to "Happy Birthday" and this was brought out to me:

Yes, it was as good as it looks!  This was a great surprise thanks to my brother Chuck.

Hard to top this off, but the drive home was also really nice.  We passed through what I call the "Sunday Lunch" village, where everyone has rotisserie chickens or pigs along the main highway and it is so popular it is difficult to drive through.



He's being carved off the back

He was about the only whole pig left in town

A little farther on we stopped at some roadside "antique" stalls which had an interesting assortment of stuff.  I was quite taken by this chicken wind vane but it won't fit in my suitcase.


All in all it was an excellent birthday grand day out and now we have to rest up for the next adventure.

Audrey