En route from Cuenca to New Jersey I spent the day and night with friends who live outside Quito. We decided that rather than just hang out and visit, an excursion would be a fun way to spend our time together.
An old magazine in their home had an article about some potentially interesting stops within driving distance along with a map that was in truth more of a "suggestion." There was a time when we wouldn't have set out on a day trip with such sketchy information. For starters, we weren't even sure where we were going!
Living abroad for years changes your perception of such "obstacles." No worries, we decided. The worst that can happen is we get lost. We've been lost figuratively and literally lots of times before and survived. What are we waiting for--let's get going!
Off we go in search of Jerusalem National Park. I'm not even sure why that place was chosen. Birds--hummingbirds--something like that. It doesn't matter. We're seeing a beautiful new part of Ecuador. Anything else is a bonus.
Lo and behold, we find it without a hitch. Maybe that really is a map!
The entryway was chained and it appeared no one but us was there, so we parked and started walking. A couple of minutes later we encountered an official-looking guy who told us we needed to buy tickets at a house we had just passed. Who knew? Inside we found a nicely dressed lady and purchased our admission for $1 each (mine should have been fifty cents since I'm over 65 but it wasn't worth bringing up).
What happened next was so weird, almost like a zombie movie. As soon as we got back outside, people started emerging from buildings--the woods--everywhere! Our dollar even got us a private guide. She took us along dirt paths and explained all about the flora and fauna of the park.
The area was quite hot and arid.
Cacti, bromeliads, and yucca were everywhere.
Spanish moss hung from many of the trees.
It was a fascinating tour, although we discovered from our guide the wildlife we had come there to see is active from dawn until around 6 in the morning. Oh well-----.
All of us were quite hungry by this time, so we continued north and decided to stop at the first place that looked decent. A short while later we parked in a small town that had a couple of restaurants. As we walked around stares from the locals, who obviously hadn't seen many gringos, took me back to our earliest days in Cuenca when expats were still a rarity. The first place we went into was apparently out of food. In the other spot the owner was so kind and seemingly honored by our presence. Three full lunches cost us $6 total.
One more stop before heading home--a, what would you call it? A "tangerine-yard" (vineyards imply grapes, right?) producing wine made from, what else, tangerines. Ecuador's season-less climate isn't conducive for growing grapes, and this curiosity was too enticing to not explore. When we got to the correct town we asked the first person we say where the winery was. She immediately gave us detailed instructions, which led us to believe this place must be the real deal.
Not so much. We got there and saw a sign, but the "facility" was just a normal looking house. Could this be it? We got out and saw a lady sitting outside a storage shed with crates of tangerines.
Yep, this was it, and she was the owner's daughter. Confused about why three expat strangers were standing in her front yard, we showed her the magazine. Looking at the first photo she said, "That's my Poppy!" Seeing the next one she exclaimed, "Oh, that's ME!!" Apparently she had never been shown the article, and we were for certain the only gringos who had ever stopped by.
Now filled with pride, she explained that the tangerine juice fermented for two months then aged another nine before being sold. She showed us around the grounds
and was happy to let us purchase a bottle for $8.
On our drive home we encountered a surreal scene. The distant mountains looked like they were from another planet.
This turned out to be a very environmentally unfriendly mining operation producing material used in concrete blocks for housing. Check out the sediment sliding down into the river. Yikes!
What a perfect "Porque no?" (why not?) day this turned out to be. We didn't know exactly what we were doing, or even where we were going. And things turned out even better than we could have imagined. Life is good in Ecuador!