The sun shone brightly as I travelled across the valley to the Eastern Range of the Andes Mountains. I looked up; but, the majestic bird was not there.
Yesterday, the sky over Cumbaya, Ecuador, a large bird caught my attention, travelling at seemingly extraordinarily high speed across the sky. It was a rare sighting of the glorious bird - the Condor. Today, just blue sky and white, puffy clouds.
The climb was steep; but, the highway was good, though progress was slow. As always, there were large trucks causing long lines behind them. There were no shortage of the reckless racing past, unable to see ahead, forcing their way between other vehicles when a head-on collision with oncoming traffic seem inevitable.
Soon, there were sun showers, then increasingly dense fog. The temperature cooled , and the rain hit the windshield as slush. The rain didn’t last long, though the next two hours were characterized by periods of light rain and fog. At times, I could see the mountains at my altitude clearly, with clouds below and above, lit by rays of oblique sunlight – beautiful.
My friend, Pablo, insisted that we stop at a restaurant owned and operated by a local indigenous leader. I had been there before. Here in the remote Andes Mountains, a cement block building, sometimes shared with a mechanics garage is often the norm. The menu was simple and with almost no choice, - choclo (corn), queso fresco (local cheese) and avas (a bean, popular here). On the table, a bowl of salt provided the only garnishment. There was no coffee or bottled water, just bottled carbonated beverages. The bill, as stated by the host, about $ 7:00; but,” Whatever you think is fair”.
Silly me, an outdoor being from Canada, thinking of the heat of the far side, failed to carry a jacket to protect against the crisp mountain air. Fortunately, I was too captivated by the experience to feel cold, just a bit cool.
The rain brought rock falls and landslides. Most only blocked part of the highway; but, some required heavy equipment to remove. There was little waiting as crews were soon on the scene.
Scenic cascades, torrents of water, dropping over mountain precipices, narrow and wide, added to the scenic wonder. Hydro power plants on the valley floor far below drank their fill.
Along the way: there were trout farms and thermal springs, indicative of the volcanic caldron below the surface; crosses marking the locations of highway deaths; small farms providing subsistence living; pack mules waiting to collect cans of milk and produce for sale; locals waiting along the highway for buses or walking to their destinations; an occasional, “Thank You For Visiting” sign letting you know that the sprinkle of shacks, homes, that you passed with little notice, represented a village; dogs lazing on the highway, heedless of danger and determined that traffic go around them; and, workers repairing a guard rail penetrated by a vehicle that had gone over a cliff. Detours where new bridges were being built were simply passible; if one considers that they were just mud and rock paths.
In all, the trip was typical of travel through the Andes, scenic, interesting, worth every moment.
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