Friday, 15 February 2013

Ecuador By Bug: Cuenca to SigSig

It'd been months since they'd been able to get out of town and finally Sigred sat Fred down with a calendar and they picked a couple of days to venture out of Cuenca.  The next step was deciding where to go.

The basic criteria was as follows: (1) Not more than 2 or 3 hours away in the VW, leaning to 2 hours.  This was because of Fred's sciatica. Neither Fred nor Sigred wanted to exacerbate Fred's condition by cooping him up in the Bug too long.  (2) Preferably some place they'd never been.  While Ecuador is a small country, even after several years they still had not explored it's depth and breadth.  (3) A place that would not only accept Princess but would accept her with open arms.

Fred got on the net and started looking.  After 2 days he narrowed it down to 3 places which he then shared with Sigred.

Sigred approved of all Fred's selections and emails were sent out.  Now you have to recognise that a North American "sense of urgency" does not seem to accompany emails in Ecuador.  One cannot necessarily expect a prompt answer, if any answer at all.  However, within 2 days days they had received 2 replies (one being from their first choice) and a booking was made and a deposit was placed directly in to their Bank.

"Woo hoo!" Sigred allowed herself a jubilant dance looking forward to their mini-holiday to come.

Trip Advisor had provided information on the El Barranco Eco Lodge as follows:

"Do not miss this gem nestled on a hillside on the outskirts of SigSig. This is the place to go for the ultimate in relaxation. Beautiful hand made furniture and appointments throughout. Breakfast is included, but we ate all of our meals here due to the quality of the food, service, and affordability."

...among other recommendations so they were looking forward to their trip with eager anticipation.

The night before they were to set out was a bad one for both of them.  While Ecuador is almost famous for barking dogs, it's not very often this phenomenon affects them.  Unfortunately, that night a lone dog kept them awake for half of the night.

The morning finally arrived and they set off on their adventure, albeit a little groggy.  The drive through the Andes is always spectacular and the closer they got to SigSig the warmer it got.

At one point a high pitched squealing was heard and finally Sigred asked Fred, "Is that us?"

"I don't think so" Fred answered in a much gruffer voice than he usually uses.

Sigred rolled down her window and put her ear outside but couldn't confirm "yes" or "no" as to the squeal's location.

Fred muttered two words "wheel bearings..." and Sigred asked if she should stick her head out the window to see if anything was smoking, all the while calculating the cost of a tow back to Cuenca and the ruination of their small vacation.

"I'll stop soon as we get out of this traffic" Fred advised her.

Eventually they came to a place they could stop and Sigred watched while a long line of traffic went past them and Fred went around the VW inspecting the wheels and the brakes.

"Well..." he told her when he got back in the car, "the brakes seem warm but I think not too warm".  He shrugged and they set off again, both a little trepidatious.

"This is why I hate cars!" Sigred quipped and Fred laughed as they drove away.  They were quiet in the car for 20 minutes or so until they both confirmed the noise was gone.

"I thought it might have been that big truck" Fred thought out loud and then they both agreed they were very very happy it wasn't their little VW.

They stopped in Chordaleg for a sandwich (ham and cheese which is commonly called a "mixto" in Ecuador) and a bottle of "agua con gas", enjoyed their small lunch, paid the $3.50 it cost them and then continued on to SigSig.

The El Barranco Eco Lodge was charming and they were given a small hut built on a tiny hill, accessible only by a short winding path and a couple of flights of stars and overlooking a pool FULL of squealing school children.

While Sigred settled in, unpacking and running back to the office for two extra pillows, Fred got himself down for a  well deserved nap.  "I don't think I'll sleep" Fred told her... but was curled and cozy and deep into dream land before 10 minutes were up.  Princess on the other hand, who usually shares Fred's nap, sat tight and cautious on the end of the bed, alert should any of the school children decide to storm the hill.

After Fred's nap they went for a fairly long walk along the river. Princess was ecstatic as she romped off leash.  It was beautiful, just the slightest tinge of cool in the air and they virtually had the path to themselves.

The lodge apparently has been open for only 2 years although it seems more established than that.  During a conversation with the manager they were told it makes most of it's money from locals using the heated pool.  Fred & Sigred were their only overnight guests and got tons of personal attention.  That evening a special meal was made for them, sautéed chicken steaks, sautéed vegetables as well and rotini pasta.

The staff built a fire in their cozy hut and under no less than 5 blankets both Fred & Sigred managed to have a pretty good sleep... Princess, however, was on alert for much of the night

The next morning, fresh fruit,  buns, scrambled eggs and cafe con leche was provided for breakfast.  The place does't have a menu.  You are given a choice of pork, beef, chicken or fish for dinner and you then decide which earlier in the day.  Later on they go out and buy the ingredients and serve it up with their choice of side dishes.  So far, the food's been great... fresh, interesting and subtly flavoured.   Fred & Sigred were offered the opportunity to have sandwiches made up for their adventures out that day, but declined because, as is usual on a holiday, they were both eating too much.

After a couple of walks with Princess in the immediate neighbourhood, Fred, Sigred and Princess all hopped into the VW and headed off to a museum that exhibited artifacts of the ancient Canari civilisation.  The Canari predate the Incas.  The museum was located way off in the countryside on dirt roads that only kindly could be called rustic ( directions were given to them by the manager of the lodge).

The "curator" of the museum gave a lively tour of the two rooms and multiple exhibits of pottery, arrow heads & tools, costumes and an ancient Victrola - all of course, in Spanish.  Sigred & Fred listened with rapt attention, getting about every 7th word but saying "si" and "uh huh" in the appropriate places and ended up giving a $5 donation at the end, which was well and gratefully received.  When they signed the visitor book, they noted that the last visitor had been at least a week ago

Having received further directions from the curator of the museum, they set off for a 4 minute more drive to a path that would take them to a cave which purportedly had ancient carvings.  They parked the VW in a small, roughed out parking lot and walked 3 minutes more up a path to a cave.  Unfortunately, the carvings were almost a Rorsach test for them, in that they were not pointed out with a bright neon sign.   However, Sigred did manage to take a couple of pictures they believed were carvings.

When they got back to the parking lot, they followed the path in the opposite direction, which meandered along a pretty impressive canyon, but ended up returning to the car without seeing anything more than the canyon and a rather large field of corn.

A quick trip into SigSig to pick up an antihistamine for Sigred (yes, Sigred you've now entered the country), they arrived back at the Lodge just in time for Sigred to have a shower and Fred to have his afternoon nap.  Incidentally, the shower and the antihistamine did the trick and Sigred's eyes ceased to itch and her nose ceased to run.

The evening consisted of (1) another lovely meal; this time trucha (fresh caught trout), sautéed carrots & cauliflower, roasted potatoes then cut into slices with a delicate sauce, plus rice and a fresh green salad (2) another roaring fire in their hut's fireplace (3) another early night, calm, satisfied and comfortable under their multiple blankets.

Breakfast the next day was a finely flavoured omelet with toast & coffee.  The total bill for their stay was $225, which included a 10% tip that they threw in themselves.  Probably a tad expensive for the room at $85 a night.  Their estimate is that the room should probably have been around $60 a night based on similar experiences in Ecuador. 

After breakfast they set off for their drive back to Cuenca.  As is usual, the drive back seemed to whiz along compared to the drive there.  In no time they were home, unpacking, putting all their clothes into the laundry as they were all permeated with smoke smell (due to the fireplace in their room) and having a nice warm bath before Fred's nap.

All in all, a great get away.