International Writers Magazine:Ecuador
was fresh off the plane and shed soon be boarding one for
the States. Having just a couple of weeks in Ecuadors Southern
Sierra under my belt, I hadnt seen much more than my new towns
centrally-located churches. On the other hand, my fellow English
teacher, Jennifer Adams, got to know every nook and cranny of the
historic municipality during her 2_-year stint in Cuenca (~400,000
residents). Therefore, when the petite Asian mentioned one day that
she was going to visit the Mirador Turi, I asked if I could join
her. I really wanted to see the lionized lookout that Id only
read about in my guide book.
November 16, 2007
It was a sunny Friday morning when I met Jenni in front of Benigno Malo
High School. Turning our backs to the neoclassical building, we ambled
southward for several minutes on the rough sidewalks of Cuencas
wide and busy Fray Vicente Solano. Eventually crossing Tres Puentes
(one out-of-commission stone bridge sandwiched by two modern versions)
as well as the Yanuncay and Tarqui rivers, the two of us reached 24
de Mayo Avenue. From there, Jenni and I took a deep breath and attacked
a large cement staircase, beginning the arduous ascent towards Turi.
Climbing various flights of decaying steps, Jenni and I rested on a
handful of battered landings until we came upon the Cuenca-Azogues Expressway.
Perspiring heavily, the two of us cautiously traversed this broad, bustling
artery and quickly crossed the Vía a Turi, the last highway that
intersected our route. Unfortunately, it was at this point where I discovered
that we were only halfway done with our vertical battle. There were
many more stairs ahead.
Much like its predecessor, this sharp, zigzagging staircase covered
by tall trees burned our legs and made us sweat profusely. Countless
stone treads and umpteen concrete landings sucked the wind out of us.
By the time Jenni and I made it to the top, we were drenched, shaky-legged,
and gasping for air. Nevertheless, the two of us were finally standing
at the Mirador
so I thought.
The "official" Turi rested directly in front of a weathered
church of the same name, which overlooked the capital of Ecuadors
Azuay province. The observation deck was distinctly marked by a large
railing as well as a huge painting of Cuenca that a few tourists were
comparing with the actual town below.
As the midday skies turned to gray, I started to feel raindrops. Nevertheless,
I let the wet breezes cool me off while I gazed into the colorful city.
The mountainous panorama was great. I could pretty much see everything
Cuenca had to offer, even though I did notice that the southwestern
corner of the municipality was cutoff by a protruding cliff. Then, when
I had finally caught my breath, Jenni told me that the "real"
Mirador was another short hike away. And so, I hung my sopping backpack
over my shoulders and followed my guide to the chalky chapels
Jenni proceeded to lead me down a decrepit road on the west side of
the miniature church. Just as we passed the holy house, I tailed my
friend as she abruptly broke right, swiftly ascending by a large headstone.
Moreover, after passing the lonely gravesite, we darted up a narrow,
creepy dirt path, which led to an ugly white shack surrounded by unkempt
shrubbery and guarded by a pair of yipping puppies.
Ignoring the annoying ankle-biters as they pretended to pounce, Jenni
and I swiftly scampered on the foul-smelling trail to our right, booking
through lanky weeds and leaping over trash until we snaked our way up
to a small clearing. According to Jenni, the paltry grass platform we
were standing on was the "better" Mirador Turi. She was right.
Although it stood only a few dozen meters higher than the touristy viewpoint
below, the vistas from this little known lookout were much more desirable.
I could observe the forgotten corner from before, easily able to see
the Cuencan valley in its entirety. It was fun to pick out familiar
landmarks in the salmon-roofed city, which was neatly nestled in a verdant
With the sprinkles persisting, I did manage to snap off a few clear
shots of my new home. Only having admired it from the inside, I still
thought Cuenca was charming prior to this excursion. My trip with Jenni,
however, truly showed me the beauty of my city. I felt lucky to be living
in such a pleasing place.
I was on the verge of completing my second month in Cuenca when
I met my former TESOL classmate from Quito, Liz, who arrived in
town with her visiting gringo family. Grabbing a late lunch in Parque
Calderón (main plaza), Greg, Laura (Lizs mother), Catherine
(Lizs older sister), Elizabeth VanDerwerker, and I then ventured
into the auburn afternoon, observing what we could while the fading
sun was still above the horizon.
After showing the
foreign foursome a handful of elaborate, antiquated churches in the
city center, I looked to the sky. Noticing that there were just enough
rays left to provide the VanDerwerkers with a sunset view of Cuenca,
I proposed the idea to them. They immediately agreed, but things would
be different from my maiden march to the Mirador: the five of us had
to take a cab and this time, I was at the helm.
Racing its way from the heart of the municipality to the communitys
southern edge, our cramped cab dropped the VanDerwerkers and me off
atop Turis steep cliff. As Greg, Laura, Catherine, and Liz leaned
over the robust railing directly in front of the small church, I stood
back, watching the South Carolina family stare into the evergreen and
apricot valley. Then, I sprung it on them; they hadnt seen the
Like Jenni did with me, I took the VanDerwerkers behind the chapel and
up boot hill, passing the solitary tomb and taking the skinny, spooky
trail towards the ramshackle home. On this occasion, however, there
were no irritating pups to dodge, so the five of us slowly weaved our
way around the fetid, garbage-laden brush until we arrived at the teensy
The panoramas were priceless. Fiery orange dots continuously popped
up throughout the community, illuminating the Southern Sierra city while
dusk set in. Nevertheless, just before the sun said goodnight, it turned
the sky into one of the prettiest colors I had ever seen.
A fascinating fuchsia took over the clouds, covering Cuenca with radiant
pinks and stunning lavenders. The mixture of hues in the heavens was
magnificent; it was a truly breathtaking scene. And fortunately, I was
able to share this moving moment with good company.
I was also very pleased to know that this thrilling sunset was the VanDerwerkers
first impression of the town I had already grown to love.
March 21, 2008
"Brother." Thats what "Turi" means in Kichwa
(Ecuadors most-broadly used indigenous language). Therefore, it
was only fitting that I introduced my bro to Cuencas. Furthermore,
it was a special day to bring Jay to the Mirador. It just happened to
be Good Friday and every year, processions march their way from the
heart of the city to the milky chapel of Turi.
Never before had I seen a soul occupying the tiny stage that dug itself
into the hillside just below the church. However, after my dark-featured
brother and I made the long walk down Fray Vicente Solano and completed
the hellacious hike up the pair of steep staircases, we came upon an
Directly in front of the cement platform stood a dense, crescent-shaped
crowd. The colorfully-dressed, sun umbrella-toting spectators quietly
watched the performers recite lines from the Bible. Dressed as religious
characters, several Ecuadorian actors (young and old) sweated out their
scenes under the intense, midday rays.
Keeping the second lookout to myself, I watched my younger kin of 2
years tiptoe behind the back row as he snapped pictures over the heads
of the shorter onlookers. Jay also ventured away from the crowd, taking
various panoramas of the Cuencan valley from different spots along the
small hilltop. Finally, I revealed to my lankier brother the secret
that Id been holding in. He frowned.
Already exhausted from the previous ascent, Jay slowly trudged behind
me as we crept along the western side of the chapel and stepped onto
the eerie, grassy gravesite. My bro quickened his pace, however, when
the two bothersome, familiar faces started barking at us. Jay stayed
right on my tail as I sprinted away from the vexatious pups and up the
trash-filled, malodorous, snaky pathway. When we arrived at the minuscule
outlook, my brother buckled over, placing his hands on his knees and
deeply gasping for air. Just a day off the plane, Jay still wasnt
used to the Andean altitude. It was a far cry from his native climate
in low, flat Minnesota.
Eventually regaining his wind, my brother wandered about the puny patch
of earth, fascinated with the all-encompassing views of Cuenca. After
he was done taking several snapshots of the vibrant basin as well as
posing for his own portraits, Jay and I eventually figured out the self-timer
option, managing to get a shot of us together
on the third attempt.
(The camera captured the treetops the first time and fell on the second
Although the excursion sucked every ounce of energy from him, Jay, who
slept for several hours afterwards, really enjoyed his time above the
town. For me, that made the trip all worthwhile.
Theres no doubt that Ive enjoyed each trek up top. In fact,
I have admired Cuenca from above six times within the last seven months.
Sure, the place has always stayed the same, but the people, weather,
and dates (some widely-celebrated) have changed. Therefore, every experience
has been unique. Always pondering my next visit, I dont think
I could ever be bored with the Mirador.
So, whos coming with me for number seven?
© Tyrel Nelson
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