Azogues - Part 2
Since Omar had his hands full getting his new companion ready for the road, I decided to strike out on my own for a couple of days.
The first thing I wanted to do was donate a few toys to needy kids in the Azogues area. Our Airbnb hostess, Maria Jose, put me in contact with Fernanda. She is a wonderful young woman who was collecting toys for local children. She gave me the basic requirements, and I purchased the items at the Azogues version of a big box store. A couple days later we visited the orphanage and distributed the toys. When I was there, there were four adults attending to the needs of about 18 children. One of the orphans was severely handicapped and another was only 2 months old. Although the house where they lived was modest, you could tell that the children got a lot of love from the staff.
The next afternoon, Fernanda invited me to join her, her boyfriend, her sister, and her husband on a mission to distribute food to needy people living in the highlands around Azogues. Fernanda and her friends collected enough money to provide complete meals for more than 15 families. Most of the meals were given to elderly people in their eighties or nineties who were walking along the road when we drove by.
Fernanda certainly has a big heart, and this holiday season her efforts lifted the spirits of many people in her community.
My next venture was to take a trip to Cajas National Park located just outside the city of Cuenca, Ecuador. Cajas is an alpine park that has many lakes and beautiful streams. When I mentioned my intentions to visit Cajas to Fernanda, she suggested we make a group outing of it. So, the five of us went to Cajas. The fact that Cajas is an alpine park was confirmed by a road sign stating that the elevation at a pass we drove over was 4,000 meters (that’s 13,123 feet). We stopped at one of the trail heads and hiked around some lakes. After hiking for a while, Fernanda found a peaceful spot where she led us in a guided meditation session. Cajas is a perfect place to meditate.
Afterwards we went to a restaurant located within the park that served fresh fish. It was a very rustic place that serves great food at a very modest price. At the restaurant, there was only one menu option, trucha (trout) dinner. If you didn’t want trucha, you were out of luck.
My next adventure was to visit the historic district in Cuenca, Ecuador. The historic district is known for its museums and beautiful churches. My first stop was the Pumapungo Museum where I saw their extensive gold and silver coin collection. The early coins were minted in the 15th and 16th centuries from the gold and silver the Spanish plundered from the native peoples of this region. In addition to the museum, I also walked around and photographed some the churches located there. All of them were impressive in their own way, but one really stood out. The Catedral de la Inmaculada across the street from the Parque Calderon was the most impressive church I had ever seem. It took up half a city block and was constructed with high quality materials throughout. The front door to the church was massive and the alters were remarkable.
The next day I wanted to visit a statue called “Nuestra Señora de la Nube”. This statue of the Virgin is located on a hill overlooking the city of Azogues. I walked from our apartment to the top of the hill which made for about 7 miles round trip. The most difficult part was climbing the last mile to the top. It was very steep, but I was rewarded with some awesome views of the city and the surrounding areas.
My last adventure was a visit to Sangay National Park. Sangay is located about 130 miles from the town where we stayed. So, I had to dust off my trusty BMW and take a ride to Macas, a small town near the park. I decided to book two nights in Macas which would allow me to spend one full day in the park. Sangay is unique in that it has extremes of snowcapped volcanos and another portion that is part of the Amazon jungle. Since my time was limited, I decided to do a short excursion into the jungle. For my expedition, I arranged for a guide from the indigenous tribe called the Shuar. His name was Patricio. He took me into the park to a site in the forest where he had built a house and an open shelter. It was located about two miles from the nearest road and could only be reached by horse or on foot.
When we arrived, we were greeted by his daughter who was in the traditional dress of the Shuar. She was just getting ready to prepare lunch which consisted of fish, plantains, and a variety of potato. The plantains and potatoes were harvested fresh from the garden that was planted next to the buildings. All of the food was wrapped in the leaves from the plants in the garden and placed in boiling water or next to the open fire.
After lunch we walked through the forest to a nearby river. Along the way Patricio showed me the many plants that his people use to cure common ailments. They have a cure for headaches, stomach aches, congestion, cuts and just about anything else you can think of. Other plants he identified were hallucinogenic, producing a mild buzz to a three-day high that you will never forget.
The jungle was beautiful with dense foliage and giant trees. The pictures I took didn’t seem to do it justice, as it is difficult to capture the size and complexity of the plant life in the forest. During the time I was there, the jungle was surprisingly bug free.