Las Chorreras: a hidden paradise on Ecuador’s southern Andes, Part Two
Following our truly delightful picnic in the Andean woods, surrounded by flowers, birds and the almost musical background sound of the river; we continue our walk along a narrow and winding path, while exploring a little known corner of the Ecuadorian Andes, south of Cuenca city. The tall “sigses”, (a relative of the bamboo) plants’ stems line the trail’s sides, and the occasional dandelion flowers add a touch of extra color to the scene. As we approach the Rodeo River’s shore, we also find lots of agave plants with their tall, tree-like flowers, towering high towards the skyline. The green pastures along the river shores also abound with dark-green and thickly leafy weeping-willow trees, some of them bearing their small and bright red flowers.
We have reached the old bridge which we had seen a bit earlier from the distance… According to our local guide, it was built in the early 1900’s, when the area was used as one of the passages for the almost epic, two-week journeys, which took voyagers and merchants, on foot and supported by cargo-bearing mules, from the Andean region to Ecuador’s Pacific coast. Though not dramatic in altitude from the flowing river beneath, the “old” bridge is a picturesque relic of times bygone… built of sturdy native wood, with basic but strong rocky support underneath, and now covered with moss and wild grasses growing between the rectangular pieces of wood which ensemble the bridge, this seemingly simple element, becomes here not only the source of many good pictures, but also the bearer of many stories and legends which make today’s traveler revive travelling along those remote areas, a century ago.
Soon after we cross the bridge, around a steep hill, an impressive view opens up in front of our eyes: a near 100-feet deep natural rock wall on the left side and a slightly smaller one on the opposite side form a rare gorge, with the Rodeo River rumbling down below. This is the beginning of the relatively small but amazingly pretty complex of cascades and waterfalls, called “Las Chorreras” (the name almost literally translates precisely into “waterfalls”). The whole area presents a wild aspect of jungle, with patches of dense vegetation, mosses, ferns, epiphyte plants and even some beautiful purple, yellow and orange orchids along the moisture-filled walls and slopes which surround the canyon. Several natural observatories provide perfect balconies to start watching in admiration the beauty of the place: the first cascade tumbles some 15 feet down from the Rio Negro, over into the Rodeo River, creating a magic veil of mist.
Now our nature trail becomes a steep and descending slippery path, surrounded by dense and thick vegetation and the mist of the cascades spraying our faces and bodies with tiny particles of fairly cool water. We descend with care, holding on to sturdy plant roots, strong lianas hanging from the trees above and any other element we can use to help ourselves not to fall. The adventure is certainly fun and it just adds more thrill to the whole experience…. Reaching the bottom, we are now in front of a bigger cascade, this one free-falling some 30-feet down into the Rodeo River and producing a fascinating natural sound which creates a magic effect to the already surrealistic, wild and pristine views we are seeing. This cascade forms a small sized lagoon of crystal clear waters, an oasis of relaxation that invites the visitor to take a refreshing dip…
Maria, Marcelo, the local guide and myself enjoy this moment of contact with nature at its purest in such a secluded and pristine natural environment, feeling privileged to have the beauty of the cascades, the river, the flowers, the trees, the mountains, the water and even the blue sky, just for ourselves…. To get back to our point of departure, we take a different route, a shorter one, that will bring us in 30 minutes to the town of El Rodeo and then to Oña, for a short visit, before taking up the legendary Pan-American Highway, for an equally shorter and more direct ride than the one we took in the morning to return us, in the early evening, back to Cuenca, after a long day filled with discovery and fun-filled exploration of yet one more hidden natural treasure in Ecuador’s southern Andean Region…….