International Writers Magazine:
Ecuador Day Trips:
Hike in Girón
hates Girón. Given that her husband, Juan José, has
to travel to this small town in Ecuadors Azuay province every
Tuesday and Thursday for work, Girón is often the topic of
conversation in Room 16. However, my next-door, Costa Rican neighbor
didnt form her opinion based on what Juan Jo had told her.
Whether she was lonely or just looking to get out of the apartment,
Sheik actually accompanied her Spaniard spouse on the 37-kilometer
car ride through the mountains southwest of Cuenca on a few different
occasions. Moreover, I felt like I was beginning to know Girón
quite well after listening to my neighbors very expressive,
negative reviews about her jaunts to the tiny community.
According to the
Tica, there was no reason to visit Girón. It was ugly, boring,
and a waste of time. And on every occurrence that I mentioned I might
visit the pueblo, my lanky, graying friend looked at me like I had completely
lost my mind. Curious as to why Sheik had developed such a dislike for
the community, I decided to do some research.
Apparently, my blunt friend wasnt the only person who liked to
see Girón in the rearview. Contrary to an ever-increasing global
population, the Andean village actually got smaller between its last
two censuses. From November 25, 1990, till November 25, 2001, the towns
membership dropped from 13,191 to 12,583 residents. Not only did many
townspeople pull up stakes in pursuit of better jobs in Cuenca (the
provincial capital), but some also packed their bags for the States
with the same goal in mind.
Despite this dipping statistic, Girón was one of the few remaining
daytrips I still hadnt taken, which irked me. In addition, there
was something looming from the towns surrounding green hills that
I believed I should at least see in person. To that end, I finally gave
in to temptation on a sunny morning in mid-July; even with Sheiks
dissuasions. I also managed to drag a friend of a friend, who was visiting
Cuenca at the time, with me.
On a gorgeous Sunday
morn, Emilyn (a roommate of Margo, my friend and former TESOL classmate
in Quito) and I arrived bright and early at Cuencas terminal terrestre.
After verifying with the fare collector that the price would be a dollar
per person, the Montana native and I boarded a Machala-bound bus thinking
wed be in Girón within an hour.
As bad luck would have it, the normally 45-minute ride actually turned
out to be twice as long. Whether it was road construction or stretches
too narrow to let traffic coming from both directions pass simultaneously,
Emilyn and I spent more time stopped in the Southern Sierra Andes than
moving. The two of us, though, made light of the situation and eventually
arrived at our destination around 10 AM.
I felt something staring down at me. Turning to face the leafy cliffs
northwest of the community, I saw what had lured me to Girón
in the first place. It was El Chorro (Spanish for "stream"
or "spurt"); the towering waterfall that had brought most
visitors to town. Even though the dark-haired gringa and I were
several kilometers away from the cascade, we could still notice
its strength due to the way the distant water powerfully gushed
down the rocky hillside. Nevertheless, the two of us decided to
put El Chorro on hold, provided that we were already in the heart
of the municipality. Emilyn and I agreed that Girón proper
deserved a look.
The quaint community,
in fact, was bustling. Whether it was church-goers or Sunday strollers
ambling along the avenues, the entire citizenry seemed to be out and
about that morning. Constantly dodging pedestrians, we spent the next
half-hour moseying through the pueblos pleasant central plaza,
skirting its jagged, sore thumb of a church, darting across the dusty
yet green park on the chapels backside, and briefly touring Giróns
dimly-lit, indoor market. Although it was busy, the two of us were nonetheless
pleased by the colorful valley town. After getting a good impression
of the thriving municipality, Emilyn and I, therefore, felt it was time
to commence the ascent.
Exiting town, we re-crossed the highway that had brought us there, focused
on the towering waterfall in the lush distance, and began our vertical
battle. It wasnt long before the two of us went from stepping
on ascending asphalt to kicking up dust on the rising road. Slowly snaking
our way uphill, Emilyn and I exchanged greetings with many downhill
hikers, dodged sprinkler fire, as well as hugged the highways
shoulder while vehicles continuously whizzed by (some uncomfortably
close). Furthermore, it was a beautiful day. Not only did the partly
cloudy skies make for perfect walking weather, but they also picturesquely
framed El Chorro, which didnt seem to be getting any closer.
maintain our sanity during the lengthy trek, my fellow English teacher
and I kept our conversation flowing. We compared Quito and Cuenca,
discussed our jobs, and talked a lot about our mutual friends. (Emilyn
came to Ecuador in the TESOL group after mine and, thus, knew practically
all of the people that I did in the capital.) The two of us also
mentioned events to come. In fact, Emilyn had less than a week left
in-country because she was returning stateside for law school. I,
on the other hand, was just annoyed that I had to teach at 7 AM
the next day.
sun disappeared along with our energy. As the heavens turned overcast
and drops started to fall, Emilyn and I had, in fact, marched 5 kilometers
uphill, arriving at El Chorros tree-covered staircase at last.
at the Bullring
"Prohibido el uso de licor," warned the sign next to the entrance.
After agreeing not to booze it up by the waterfall, Emilyn and I ascended
the wooden flights ahead.
A few minutes later, the two of us were standing just in front of El
Chorros powerful falls, which were bordered by verdant cliffs.
Yelling over the deafening sound of the sky-scraping cascade, we got
as close as we could to the fury. Emilyn and I managed to briefly fight
off the sopping mist and strong gusts created by El Chorros wrath
in order to take a handful pictures. Satisfied with our photos, we then
climbed higher into the forest to get another close view of the falls
and its dark pool far below.
Realizing that the trail which led towards El Chorros top was
roped off, the two of us then opted for the exit. Consequently, we snapped
some parting shots, sidled through the many visitors occupying various
stretches of the path, and retraced our steps down the stairs.
Be that as it may, as Emilyn and I hopped off the last wooden step,
the two of us were stopped by a shorts-donning park employee.
"Good afternoon. Did you two pay?" the young man asked.
"I didnt know we had to," I replied.
The Ecuadorian explained that he wasnt there when the two of us
entered because he had to give some climbers, who were practicing their
scaling skills on prohibited hillside areas, the boot.
"Well, its a dollar to get in," the Ecuadorian continued.
Then, the ranger sized us up.
"Are you foreigners?" he questioned.
Figuring we couldnt prove otherwise, Emilyn and I nodded.
"Then its two dollars per person. Where are you from?"
the worker further pried.
"The United States, but Ive lived here for more than ten
months. I have an intercultural visa, a CENSO (Ecuadorian ID card),
and two teacher cards. Will any of those get me a discount?" I
Despite my efforts to talk him down from the foreigner fee to the citizens
price, the dark-featured man just smiled and shook his head, clearly
not willing to budge.
"It doesnt hurt to try," I finally conceded and pulled
an Abe Lincoln from my pocket.
The boyish-looking Ecuadorian chuckled as he handed me a dollar coin
as well as a slip of paper and wished us a good afternoon.
Looking at our ticket as we descended the mount under rapidly clearing
skies, I told Emilyn that I almost always bargained and couldnt
help but laugh at myself for attempting to negotiate the aforementioned
fee. On the other hand, it was something I had grown accustomed to in
Ecuador due to my countless market and taxi experiences. In truth, I
almost looked forward to disputing prices with people.
I also couldnt wait to get home and debate with Sheik. Although
I wanted to see El Chorro, I had only read about it. As a result, I
didnt get my hopes up too high due to my skepticism towards the
way guidebooks tend to romanticize their content. And because of my
neighbors badmouthing, I, therefore, wasnt expecting to
see anything special during this trip with Emilyn.
Thankfully, Girón was more than I had bargained for.
Nelson September 2008
outnumbered, wounded bulls entered the rowdy arena to be stabbed to death
by costumed men.
on Santa Cruz
was good. I was recently reunited with my girlfriend, Amanda, who I hadnt
seen in over 5 months, and we were in a place that many people only get
to visit in their dreams.
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