Our Final Week in Cuenca, Ecuador and a Special Visitor: March 6 – 11, 2016

Mountains in Giron, Ecuador

One of the many things we love about our Marine Corps community is that we are like family.  We forge such strong bonds with one another that we could go years without seeing someone, but when we do finally get back together, it’s as if no time has passed at all.  Brenda and I worked together and deployed together when we were at the I Marine Expeditionary Force.  She was known around the unit as my “Mini Me,” which I have always taken as a huge compliment because she was an outstanding Marine in every respect!  So imagine our excitement when she asked if she could come spend her spring break with us in Cuenca!  Before we knew it, we were picking her up at the airport and whisking her away to our favorite places!

Brenda loves to get outside like we do, so we didn’t let her rest much before we hauled her out for a hike in Cajas National Park.  To get to Cajas National Park from Cuenca, it’s about an hour-long bus ride, and to return you just wait for a bus on the side of the road heading towards Cuenca.

Fun riding the bus to Cajas National Park, Ecuador

Fun riding the bus to Cajas National Park, Ecuador

There are several hikes to take in Cajas, from short day hikes to multi-day hikes.  We didn’t have time for a multi-day, but definitely wanted a bit of a challenge.  We decided to first check out Tres Cruces Hill because it straddles the Continental Divide at almost 14,000 feet!  Literally a “breath-taking” view!

Tres Cruces, Cajas National Park, Ecuador

Tres Cruces, Cajas National Park, Ecuador

Brenda, Kristi, and Kevin hiking in Cajas National Park, Ecuador

Brenda, Kristi, and Kevin hiking in Cajas National Park, Ecuador

Then there was a day hike that took us along several trails and brought us close to one of the paved Incan roads.  It was a chilly, rainy day, so by the time we finished the hike, we were quite anxious to get back on the bus to head back to Cuenca!

Brenda hanging out in Cajas National Park, Ecuador

Brenda hanging out in Cajas National Park, Ecuador

Views of Cajas National Park, Ecuador

Views of Cajas National Park, Ecuador

Chuquirahua thistle in Cajas National Park, Ecuador

Chuquirahua thistle in Cajas National Park, Ecuador

Not letting another rainy day stop us, the following day we headed to Giron where we had heard there were some nice waterfalls.  It was also a great opportunity for Brenda to see the Ecuadorian countryside.   Getting a taxi ride up to the entrance of the waterfalls was no problem, but by the time we were done, there were no taxis in sight, so we had no choice but to walk back to town.  Luckily, by then the rain had subsided, and it was mostly downhill.

Giron Waterfalls, Ecuador

Giron Waterfalls, Ecuador

Brenda having fun at Giron Waterfalls, Ecuador

Brenda having fun at Giron Waterfalls, Ecuador

Farm for sale in Giron, Ecuador

Farm for sale, cheap!

The following day, Kevin was giving a photography class to some of the local ex-pats, so Brenda and I decided to have a Spa Day at Piedre de Agua, a local spa just outside of Cuenca.  It started raining pretty quick after we got there, but we figured what the heck, we were going to get wet anyway.  At one point we were in a hot tub inside a cave with a few others when the power went out.  Luckily, there were candles lit, so we could still see fairly well.  We waited for a bit hoping the power would come back on or the rain would at least subside somewhat, but no such luck.  So we decided it might be best to go outside to hang out in the mud baths.  We had just finished getting ourselves good and muddied up, when one of the staff members came to inform us that they had to close the spa due to the power outage.  Ugh, so much for a Spa Day.  We did get all our money back though!

Getting muddy on a rainy day at Pierre de Agua spa in Cuenca, Ecuador

Getting muddy on a rainy day at Pierre de Agua spa in Cuenca, Ecuador

On Thursday, we were finally back to sunny skies.  We took Brenda through the Pumapungo Museum and to the local Incan ruins.  We had lunch at a new restaurant called Anima.  I had heard some buzz about it, and of course wanted to check it out to see what all the excitement was all about.  The chef of Anima makes all his plates look like a piece of art.  The presentation of the food that was brought out was like nothing like any of us had ever seen, and not only was it beautiful and unique, everything was delicious!  So glad we stopped there!

Beautiful presentation and tasty desserts at Anima restaurant in Cuenca, Ecuador

Beautiful presentation and tasty desserts at Anima restaurant in Cuenca, Ecuador

Kevin photobombing Brenda at Anima restaurant in Cuenca, Ecuador

Kevin photobombing Brenda at Anima restaurant in Cuenca, Ecuador

Our final day with Brenda, we took her to the Amaru Zoo in Cuenca.  We had a blast again with the monkeys, but this time, the lions were the most entertaining.  It is the beginning of spring after all, and what happens in the spring?  The animals get frisky!  Over the course of approximately 45 minutes, we observed a male lion make aggressive advances towards one of the lionesses, and she was having none of it, but this guy would not give up! He is the King of the Jungle, after all, or so he thought!  It looked to us that the lioness was definitely in charge!  It was quite a show!  It’s amazing what we find entertaining!

Lion-look-of-disgust-Amaru-Zoo-Cuenca-Ecuador

Soooo not happy

Lioness-Amaru-Zoo-Cuenca-Ecuador

The lioness trying to avoid the aggressive advances of her mate

King-of-the-Jungle-Lion-Amaru-Zoo-Cuenca-Ecuador-Blank-and-White

Love me, damnit!

Before we knew it, it was time to take Brenda back to the airport.  It was a sad so long, but we knew we would be seeing her again soon since we’d be staying with her during our visit to Northern Virginia in mid-May.

Now-where-did-I-leave-those-keys-monkey-Amaru-Zoo-Cuenca-Ecuador

Now where did I leave those keys?

With our time in Cuenca over, the following day we were on a bus back to Baños, to hopefully get a view of the Tungurahua Volcano that was still lighting up the night sky.  Only, our luck would fail us once again because all we could see was cloud cover…again.  It just wasn’t meant to be for us on this trip.  But alas, we had great things to look forward to: Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, three weeks in the Galápagos, and a trip to the Amazon jungle, so no, we can’t complain!

Brenda and Kristi after our hike in Cajas National Park, Ecuador

Brenda and Kristi after our hike in Cajas National Park, Ecuador