Saturday, July 02, 2011

A Road Trip

The other day we took a road trip courtesy of Efrain and his Mio Tours company, and a mighty fine trip it was. We started out by heading to Parque Nacional Cajas, a national park. On the way, though, we made a stop at the place where, in 1991, a crowd of over a million people gathered to hear a young woman of 16 who claimed she had been visited by God in a dream and given a message to give to the people. There is a long story here, of course, but our guide, who was in the Ecuadorean Special Forces at the time was among those assigned to protect this young lady. Our guide said that it was a cloudy day but as she began to speak the clouds parted and she was illuminated in sunlight. She then spoke in a variety of languages, including Chinese and German, languages that she didn't know. He said he is Catholic but not a big believer in miracles or anything, but there was no denying what he saw.

Her message was simply to drink of the water that flowed from a nearby spring and to bring water back to those who were sick and they would be cured if they believed. The other part of the message was that even if you have very little, share it with those who are in need. She also claimed to have received a secret message that could only be delivered to the Pope. She did travel to the Vatican and delivered the message which remains a secret to this day.

Here Is Where The Message Was Delivered
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Of course I drank of the water but I haven't noticed any results. Probably because I don't believe. Millions of people still make a pilgrimage to this site every year and they have built a small and rustic chapel where they hold services every Sunday.

By A Nearby Stream
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Of course the scenery along the way to the park was quite spectacular.

Spectacular Scenery
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We had to check in before entering the park. Recent changes in the government here have resulted in a lot of changes in Ecuador. Income taxes were introduced for the first time and a lot of work is being done to upgrade the roads, achools, and the infrastructure in general. I already mentioned how a University education is free to all who qualify. Plus, the new Vice-President is handicapped so a lot is being done for the handicapped and to make things accessible to them. Also, women's rights are being promoted much more than before. Needless to say these changes aren't popular with everyone and there has already been one attempted assassination.

Okay, so that all had to do with the fact that up until recently this wasn't really a National Park, but now it is and you have to check in and pay a small fee. In my case, because I am over sixty-five (I know, it is hard to believe) was fifty cents.

Us At The Lake By The Check-In
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And then we drove on to the highest point in the park where you could get to by car.

Almost Top Of The World, Ma
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That Was Just A Sign, Here We Are
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I had to admire this fellow, he bicycled all the way up here from Cuenca.

What A Man
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After taking in the sights we headed to a little restaurant where we had a delicious lunch of fried trout.

The Restaurant
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After The Meal
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I was going to take a picture of the trout before we ate them, they looked fantastic, but we were so hungry we dug right in. It wasn't until afterwards that I thought about taking the picture.

The trout were as fresh as could be, just caught earlier in the day, and simply prepared by frying in a pan. Just like you would do if you caught them yourself. There are a lot of trout streams here and people come up and pay big money to stay overnight and do some trout fishing.

From here we drove to the other side of Cuenca where there is a little town and a place where they still make the traditional fabrics.

Doing It The Old Fashioned Way
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And, yes, even these people now have to pay taxes. There is no escape.

This was also a museum and we were given an explanation of the whole weaving process, from the spinning of the yarn to the coloring of the fabric. All natural dyes are used, made from flowers and even insects. In fact one insect produces an orange color when mixed with lime juice and then this color turns purple if you add baking soda.

The Mixing Pots
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An Old Loom
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Stuff On The Wall
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And, of course, the Mysterious Chinese Woman couldn't pass up a bargain.

Modeling Her New Shawl
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I would tell you what she paid for it, but the I am afraid this place would be inundated by bargain hunters. Suffice it to say that it was much, much less than you would pay in the United States for one that was made by machine.

Our next stop was at a town famous for its silver jewelry. People come from all over South America to shop here. We didn't linger long because nobody, including the Mysterious Ones, was that interested in spending time in jewelry stores. We did take a stroll around the little park here and I got a nice picture of the local church.

The Church On The Square
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And then it was off to the Panama hat factory, the first factory in Ecuador. Again, this place is a bit of a museum. The hats aren't made in the factory any more, they are now made in homes. Ecuadorean men earn about $265 a month and the women supplement the families income by making the hats.

When we got there several of the women were cooking up something because they were going to have a big party for the workers the next day.

Preparing For A Feast
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And they were obviously going to be roasting a few pigs as well.

Umm, Succulent Looking
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And, in keeping with the generous nature of the Ecuadoreans, we were invited to attend the day long party. But, to be honest, I think it was because the head woman was a bit sweet on Efrain.

We were shown around and Efrain explained the process of making the Panama hats as well as the evolution of their design, from something fairly rudimentary to the fine looking hats you now see.

Efrain Demonstrating A Hat Press
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Hand Stitching The Hatbands
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This factory also has the distinction of having produced the largest Panama hat in the world.

It Is In The Guinness Book Of World Records
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And then we were off to the last stop of our tour, an overlook of the town of Cuenca. Of course on the last leg, because I was singing, or attempting to sing, Pink Shoe Laces, a 1959 hit, Efrain, in self defense, put on a CD of hits of that era. Everything was going fine, Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Dean Martin, until Honey I Miss You by Bobby Goldsboro came on and the Mysterious Ones started weeping.

But they were cheered up by the time we got to our overlook of the town.

Another Spectacular View
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And then it was back to our hotel. We had a great time and were treated to a special fruit and oatmeal drink that was unique to just one town and some sugarcane juice at another stop along the way. As I mentioned before, tomorrow we are going with Efrain again to visit some ruins.

And, yes, I did buy a Panama hat and I won't keep you waiting any longer so see how positively natty I look in it.

Eat Your Hearts Out
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I bought one for Jim, my brother-in-law, as well so now we will be just like twins. Kind of like that guy and Michael Jordan in those commercials for Hanes Tee Shirts.

And now we are off on another day's adventures which, I think, include a large shopping mall and another ride on a local bus. There is a couple staying here who moved to Ecuador from Dallas, Texas and they live in a small town about four hours away by van. They came here just for shopping at this mall. I am so excited.