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Parque Nacional Cajas
04/25/2012, El Cajas National Park, Ecuador

While in Cuenca we took a day trip to a very beautiful park. The drive out was spectacular and well worth the effort of the winding mountain roads.

The Parque Nacional Cajas (Cajas National Park) is a national park in the highlands of Ecuador. It is located about 30 km west from Cuenca, the capital of the province of Azuay. The area of 285.44 km² (28,544 ha) between 3100m and 4450m above sea level offers a tundra vegetation on a jagged landscape of hills and valleys. It was declared a National Park on November 5, 1996.

The name "Cajas" is derived from the "Quichua" word "cassa" meaning "gateway to the snowy mountains" or "caxa" for "cold". It has also been linked to the Spanish word "cajas" meaning "boxes". These are indentations where the water forms lakes and lagoons.

The vegetation was amazing, tiny miniature like plants that reminded me of Alpine tundra. While we were there we feel quite strongly we saw the elusive South American Condor flying very high above (apparently they are very endangered and there is only about 80 surviving today). I did take a few pics but as the birds were so far away they did not turn out well. They also could have been the Cuiriquinga which is a black and white raptor. Too hard for us to tell for sure but they definitely were not vultures because of the elevation.

We really enjoyed the hike we took to the lake. This is a great place to camp if you can stand the cold!!!! Reg had difficulty with altitude sickness again so elected to stay back and visit the museum on site.

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The Sites of Cuenca
04/25/2012, Cuenca, Ecuador

Our first day Cuenca we spent looking for a new Panama hat for Reg. We found a place where the man still makes them the traditional way. There were many different kinds of hats. Reg picked his Panama out - finally one that was the right size and the man posed with Reg for a great picture. We toured other shops that also made the hats but in a more modern way with machinery.

A Panama hat is a traditional brimmed hat of Ecuadorian origin that is made from the plaited leaves of the toquilla straw plant. Straw hats woven in Ecuador, like many other 19th and early 20th century South American goods, were shipped first to the Isthmus of Panama before sailing for their destinations in Asia, the rest of the Americas and Europe. For some products, the name of their point of international sale rather than their place of domestic origin stuck, hence "Panama hats."

We toured through a very busy and amazing market where you could pretty much buy whatever you needed.

The buildings in Cuenca are quite beautiful and the plaza's where everyone meets, especially early evening. The plaza is full of interesting trees, plants and of course the inevitable water fountains.

The hostel was great, especially happy hour and the food!!! It cost $11.00 per person per night including a full breakfast. That is pretty hard to beat.

Our last night we enjoyed a fantastic dinner of curried chicken, beef and tomatos and about 7 side dishes of different things. We had gone in and made the reservation earlier where Alfredo had met the chef. When we came back that evening he seated us at our table and basically told us what we should order. We decided to trust his judgment and we were so glad we did. The food was served family style and was amazing. Dessert was a work of art and plated by the chef himself. We shared some sort of chocolate concoction and it was demolished in seconds. Alas we are getting to the end of our trip and will be heading back to Guayaquil for a family feast. Alia will fly out on Sunday, March 24th. We had quite a trip!!!!

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Ingapirca Ruins, Ecuador
04/25/2012, Canar, Ecuador

On our way from Alausi to Cuenca we stopped to visit the Ingapirca ruins which means "Wall of the Inca". Ingapirca is the largest and best preserved archaeological site in Ecuador, and is located 80 km from the city of Cuenca, in the province of Canar. Its construction combines Adobe coppery brown used by the Canarian culture with bluish green andesite stones brought later by the Incas. It was built with millions of hewn stone in the middle of the eighteenth century.

The Incas were not the first inhabitants of Ingapirca. It had long been settled by the Cañari indigenous people, who called it Hatun Cañar.

A common criteria of archeologists states that the main objective for its construction was linked to cult of the sun.

It is said that the Inca Túpac Yupanqui during the expansion's campaigns of the Inca-Empire trough in south Ecuador, met the Cañari "Hatun Cañar" tribe and strategically married the Cañari princes Paccha, giving birth to the future Inca Huayna Capac in the city of Pumapungo (nowadays Cuenca).

In this way, the Inca dominated the Cañari and they decided to settle their differences and live together peacefully. The Canari people built this complex for the Inca Huayna Capac. They renamed the city and kept most of their individual customs separate.

We really enjoyed this site, the llamas that wandered around and the overall feeling of using our imagination to visualize what life might have been like then. It was amazing to realize that they had water through aqueducts, bathrooms, separate apartments and some amazing views of the countryside.

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La Nariz del Diablo (Devil's Nose) Train Trip
04/25/2012, Alausi, Ecuador

The Devil's Nose is a very popular train ride from Riobamba to the Sisambe train station where it turns around and heads back. We picked up the train in Alausi as we had already been to Riobamba.

The hill is at a gradient of one in 18, and the train journey descends from 2346 down to 1860 meters above sea level, as it traverses backward and forward through the zigzags that make up the Devil's Nose trip. Sometimes the route is too complicated for the train and it will derail from the tracks. In this instance, the engineers usually manage to get things underway again relatively quickly. This is ingenious, in the same way that the building of the train line also was. These days, Quito is no longer connected to Guayaquil by rail and this train ride serves as an opportunity for tourism, which should not be missed.

This is the most dramatic part of the trip. It was quite scary at times especially if you are nervous about heights. Not that long ago you used to be able to ride on top of the cars which of course afforded magnificent views, however, after two tourists were killed they had to close that part of the ride down. The cars were quite attractive and comfortable to ride in and the stairs leading up top are now roped off, darn.

In the pics you can see a sign that says Cambio de Pendiente which literally translated means "pending change". Once we arrived at the Sisambe station we were greeted by traditional dancers demonstrating the different types of dances they perform. After the demonstration they managed to get all of us up for a dance of our own. Inside the station we were provided with a light lunch and soft drink. We had about an hour to wander around the station before heading back to Alausi.

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Tungurahua Volcano & Luna RunTun Hotel
04/24/2012, Banos, Ecuador

Tungurahua is one of the most active volcanoes in Ecuador, and is located about 140 km south of the capital city of Quito.
Tungurahua is a steep-sided strato volcano that towers 3 km above its northern base. Tungurahua volcano has a complex historical record which includes sudden, violent eruptions. The volcano has a diameter of 14 km.

I have just seen on the website that the volcano has had significant increased activity this month. I sure hope for the town's sake that she does not "blow". We took a side trip to the volcano from Baños. The drive was beautiful and we stopped at the Luna Runtun Hotel for a treat. This is definitely a farming area and we saw a lot of activity on the way up. They had spectacular views and a great location. It would have been a fantastic place to stay but I assume pretty pricey.

We then kept going onto the "La Casa del Arbol" - the tree house. This is the best location to view the volcano, "safely". They have a great swing which everyone tried so they could feel like they were swinging out into the void. I was happy to pass on that adventure and took the pictures instead. In some of the pics of the volcano you can just make out that the cloud rising is really gray ash and smoke. We definitely heard it rumble several times while we were there. Emma spent a bit of time talking to the old guy who actually lives there and maintains the washrooms and buildings. It was a great walk and view of a active volcano. We were very lucky again to have good views. After our walk up the clouds moved in and the volcano was hidden.

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Banos, Ecuador

A small town in the central highlands of Ecuador, Baños de Agua Santa is nestled into a valley on the Pastaza River, 8km from the crater of the active Volcán Tungurahua, which means "throat of fire" in the indigenous language, Quichua. The lush and unique topography full of dense vegetation, deep river gorges, and dramatic waterfalls accentuated by the 5,016 meter-high volcano attracts both nature and adventure lovers. Baños de Agua Santa is known as the gateway to the Amazon.

What a great town. We enjoyed the churches, museums, our bed and breakfast (Magic Stone) and our side trip to the volcano. It was amazing how you could photograph anything you wanted in the museum. There were a lot of rooms where they displayed religious robes from past events. I think new garments are made every year. They also had many statues of saints, and angels.

Alfredo and I enjoyed trying our hand at graffiti, ha ha. A bunch of school kids hammed it up for Reg while he was taking a few pictures of the plaza.

The cool mountain air was very refreshing but we were warned that we may not see the volcano due to the cloud cover and rain etc. Our hosts of the B&B were Danish. They were great and cooked fabulous breakfasts.

In the evening before we left, Alfredo, Emma, Alia and I went to the famous hot spring pools. The water was VERY hot and we had to opt for a pool that was a bit cooler. It was great once you got in and the water was very soft.

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