Las Chorreras, a hidden paradise on Ecuador’s southern Andes, Part One
This morning we leave Cuenca, the fascinating Andean city, third largest in Ecuador and a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, located in the southern part of Ecuador’s Andean region. The blue domes of the city’s Cathedral, shine under the morning sun as we set off towards the south west, following the road that links Cuenca in the highlands, with Machala in the extreme south of the country’s Pacific coast. As we leave the urban premises behind, we rapidly encounter all the charm of the Andes’ rural life: small adobe houses, green, yellow, orange and reddish fields, teeming with vegetables, grain, wheat, corn, potatoes and much of the produce which fills with color the picturesque markets of the entire Andean region. Placid fields and green pastures are the quaint home for herds of cattle, grazing lazily under the sun.
Some 30 minutes later, we reach the vast plains of Tarqui, a historic site where an epic battle took place in 1829, between the armies of Simon Bolivar and Peruvian forces. A small Military Museum guards exhibits which include uniforms, weapons, paintings and other memorabilia which honors the heroes of the Battle of Tarqui. The actual battleground was the ample and wind-swept plateau stretching to the east. Marcelo and Maria tell us many interesting stories around the history-filled location. We continue our journey, now descending over a winding road, towards the fertile and subtropical valley of Yunguilla, a placid oasis, where the mountainous scenery changes into one of verdant valleys, filled with a variety of fruit trees, particularly citrus and other exotic fruits. Beautiful gardens covered with colorful flowers surround pretty country estates, which, our guides tell us, are the summer or weekend houses for many Cuenca families. The temperature is delightfully pleasant and a fragrance of fruits fills the air.
Here, instead of climbing over the Andean hills which would take us west, past the town of Santa Isabel and down towards the coast, we instead make a sharp turn to the east, and begin a slightly bumpy yet exciting ride over a secondary road, a mix of cobble-stone and dirt, that takes us back into the past, to the early 1900’s, when people traveled these kind of roads. Framed by eucalyptus trees and dotted with terraced fields of maize and pastures with grazing lambs, the road takes us deep into a secluded and little known area of Ecuador’s southern Andes, into the town of Oña, a commerce hub between the southernmost limit of the province of Azuay and the northernmost limit of Ecuador’s most southern province, Loja, bordering with Peru. An additional ten minutes’ ride from Oña brings us to the small community of El Rodeo. Here we park our vehicle, pick up our backpacks, water bottles and, with the company of a local guide, we start a nature walk, following the course of the small riverine, which later turns into the Rodeo River.
From the instant we start the hike, we can feel a pleasant breeze caressing our cheeks, the intense fragrance of young eucalyptus and the almost musical sound of the small waterway, progressively getting louder as it becomes a river, winding across the vegetation. As we get deeper into more pristine nature, the vegetation begins to display beautiful flowers of bright colors, including some rare orchids, which Maria rapidly recognizes. This is a botanists’ paradise….. A natural observatory around a bend of the nature trail allows us to see an old wooden bridge (which we will be crossing later), and the beginning of a rocky ravine, which will lead us to the small complex of waterfalls and cascades, known as “Las Chorreras”, the target of out excursion for this day. A green prairie is the ideal place to display our field tablecloth, secure it from the wind with small stones on its edges and sit around for a delightful picnic, musicalized by the songs of birds and the background sound of the Rodeo River. The story will continue on the next issue……