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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

We got our tram cards last week and now we are really confused.

 Dear Family and Friends,

We are so happy to be in Cuenca.  It is progressive,  making positive changes in so many areas.  The city is so different from what it was when we moved here 13 years ago.   The changes have come, sometimes it is slow but they happen.  

An example is the tram.  We have been waiting for the tram since we were told it was going to be built in 2012.  Back then they were predicting it would be built and operational by 2015.  The tram finally became operational this year.  It has been operating for free for the last couple of months.  Very soon, in order to ride the tram, we will need to pay.  The way to pay is to buy a card and put money on it and swipe it when you get on the tram. The fare is deducted from the card.

When they took the coin machine out of the buses and started using the cards, the city talked about how they wanted these cards to be good for all public transportation.  (Renting bicycles, taking taxis, riding the bus and even riding the tram when we have one.)

We have been doing this for two or three years now to ride the bus.  We have a bus card that we add money to and the cost of each bus ride is deducted.  The taxis are not taking the cards....yet.  

So doing this for the tram should be very simple.....RIGHT!

There is a small problem.  The buses do not want to share the bus card with the tram.  So for the time being and this is all straightened out, we will have two cards.

There are multiple places around town that you can buy a tram card.  One of those places is the airport.  So we decided to take the tram to the airport to get the card.

Our closest tram stop is just a walk up the river to the bridge.

After we cross the bridge the tram stop is about a half block away.

On the platform is a machine where you swipe your card before getting on the tram.  This deducts the fare.  No cash needed.

I took this selfie on the tram so that you can see that it was not very crowded. Right now the city is only allowing the tram to run at 50% capacity.

They are very good about keeping the cars disinfected at the end of the line.

When we arrived at the airport, we got off the tram and crossed the street.

Inside the airport it was very strange.  All the check in counters were completely empty.  No one!!!

Even the little kiosk for trinkets was completely empty.

Here are the two arrivals scheduled for the day.  They both come from Quito.

And, of course, two departures, for Quito.  Second hand hearsay is that these scheduled flights can be canceled.  We figure if we were going to fly to Quito for a flight out of the country, we would fly to Quito a day or two early so we can make sure we get there okay.

We went to the small tranvia office to buy our cards.  We could only go in one at a time and we social distanced ourselves to even do that.

This is where the confusion comes in.  When I got my card, I looked at it and told the young man that it looks identical to my bus card.  He smiled, rolled his eyes a little, and then took a round sticker with a T on it and put it on the card.  

This is going to be fun watching folks try to use their bus card for the tram and vice versa until they can get things consolidated.

We hopped on the tram, returned home after stopping for lunch.

That is about it for this little outing.

We have been riding the tram for free for about two months now.  The city is going to start charging fares on the tram today.  So we are good to go.

Next week, we are taking another trip out of town.  This time we are headed south.

Until I am able to share the next post with you take care.


Nancy and Chuck

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Exciting Trip to Mount Chimborazo, highest volcano in Ecuador...

Dear Family and Friends,

On Wednesday, Dimitri took us on our Chimborazo adventure.  Actually seeing the mountain can be a hit or miss situation because of the weather in the Andes.  

When we left Riobamba that morning, the mountain was covered in cloud.  As we made our way around to the south side of the mountain, Chimborazo showed herself to us in all her glory.

Here is a sign on the road side telling us what mountain we are looking at and the height. 

Mt. Chimborazo is 6310 meters or 20,702 feet high.  To give you an idea of how high that is Mt. Denali in Alaska, the tallest mountain in the U.S. is 20,310 feet high and Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental U.S. is 14,500 feet high.

The scenery going up to the mountain was beautiful.

Here is one of many canyons around the mountain.

As we climbed higher we could see Vicunas out the window of the van.  Vicunas are relatives of llamas.  They only live in the wild.  According to Dimitri they are very sensitive and cannot be domesticated.  They die if they cannot be free.  Their wool is extremely fine, when woven it is very warm.  It is highly prized and very expensive because the vicuna can only be shorn once every three years and to do this they must be caught in the wild.

We finally arrived at the Welcome Center to the Chimborazo Reserve.  At this spot we were 14,390 feet high.  

The terrain was like a moonscape.  We were well above the timberline.  

We hiked around the area to see the flora. The plants were all unique to us.  They are Andean alpine plants, only growing at these high altitudes

This plant has an orange flower.  It can be used to make a tea that helps with altitude sickness, much like coca leaves.

This tiny plant is a mountain relative to an orchid.  Its blooms are extremely small.

And this is an Alpine Daisy.  It does not have a stem, it blooms right next to the ground.  The conditions are harsh at this altitude and I think it is amazing that plants grow and bloom here at all.

The first hikers refuge was only 8 kilometers away.  We decided to go because there is a road to that point and Dimitri could drive us there.

Before we went we stopped at the gift shop and I bought a second hat to wear under the hat I was wearing and Chuck bought some socks.  We knew we would need them because it was really cold out.

It only took a few minutes to drive the 8 km. to the first refuge.  You can see the refuge building over Chuck's right shoulder.

At this spot we are now 15,750 feet high.  

The first refuge is named Carrel, after the Carrel cousins who accompanied Edward Whymper, who was the first person to ever reach the summit of Chimborazo in 1880.

The second and last refuge before the summit is named Whymper refuge.

Here is the view of the summit from the first refuge.  If you look very close you can see a monument a ways up the mountainside.  

The picture below is where I stopped hiking up the mountain.  If you look close you can see the monument in the picture. I did not feel the need to reach the monument.  Chuck, on the other hand, saw it as a challenge and continued to climb.  

I handed my cell phone to Dimitri and asked him to take pictures while I waited for their return.

Here is Chuck, halfway to the monument.  You can see grave stones over Chuck's left shoulder.  Some graves are of the remains of hikers who tried to climb Chimborazo and died in the process, other markers are for people who had climbed Chimborazo and wanted their remains placed here when they died.

Chuck made it to the monument.  The monument was built in 1983 to mark the bicentennial of the birth of Simon Bolivar, who was the liberator of Ecuador.

Dimitri took this awesome picture of the view looking back from monument.

Another special picture to share.  I took this picture on the way back down the mountain.  It is a vicuna on the horizon.

When we got back to civilization, we stopped for a traditional meal in a really neat house.

Here is Chuck waiting to be served.  Does he look a little tired?

We were back at our B&B by about 2:00pm.  I slept all afternoon.  You do not realize it at the time, but walking around at very high altitudes really takes a toll on your body.  

We did not even go out for dinner.  We ordered food to be delivered.  We went to bed early.

The next morning, Thursday, Dimitri picked us up at 8:30 am to drive us back to Cuenca.  We drove straight through and arrived home about 1:00 pm.

We had a wonderful adventure.  It was a very safe trip with all precautions taken to make sure we stayed healthy.  We would highly recommend this trip if you are in Ecuador and getting sick of being locked down.  

If you want information, you can reach Dimitri on WhatsApp:  593 99 836 9908.

You can also contact Popkje at

Again, thank you Dimitri for such a wonderful adventure.

Thank you all for coming along on this adventure with us. 


Nancy & Chuck

Monday, September 14, 2020

After we reached the top we were amazed at what we saw! .. Sangay National Park...Safe and Short Trip to Riobamba

Dear Family and Friends,

Dimitri picked us up at our B&B on Tuesday morning.  We rode in this same van the whole trip.  Door to door from our home in Cuenca and all places in between.  Besides being an excellent tour guide, Dimitri was an excellent driver.

On our way to Sangay National Park, we passed through a large agricultural district.

Then we started climbing.  The views were fabulous.  

We finally arrived at the lakes section of the park.  Notice on the sign that we were at 11,371 feet above sea level.  I am so proud of Chuck and myself.  We did not suffer one bit from altitude sickness.  I attribute that to the fact that we live at 8,500 feet above sea level in Cuenca and that we have been doing long walks most every day.  

In the photo below is Chuck with Dimitri and Gaby, our local guide.  They are standing in front of Magdalena Lake.

We were surprised to hear this but Dimitri swears it is true.  Do you see the island in the middle of the lake?  Dimitri said in ancient times the island was used to put people on who needed “time out,” kind of like a jail.  I spoke up and said it is not that remote, the people could just swim to shore.  Dimitri said no they could not, nor can anyone else.  He said that no one can swim in these waters.  I asked why and he said some people say it is because the lakes are so close to the equator that there is a vortex that draws you under the water if you try to swim.  I turned to Gaby and she nodded in agreement.

Close by is Black Lake.  Here is Chuck holding the sign up.

Black Lake is another beautiful lake.

From our parking lot where our van was parked, there was a trail that led straight up the side of a hill, or (at 11,000 ft.) a mountain to us.  We squared our shoulders, took a deep breath and began climbing that trail.

When we got to the top we looked down at where we started.  The van in the parking lot and Black Lake across the road.

We did a 180 degree turn and we could hardly believe what we saw.  We were standing at the exact point where the Amazon Rainforest meets the Andes Mountains.  From this point the terrain goes down to the Amazon Jungle.

We carefully made our way down the trail back to the van.  We rode back past the lakes and to a restaurant for lunch.  It looked a little unstable to me, but it was eat here or don't eat.  No other restaurants for miles.

Don't you love the roof?  

Since we were a little early for lunch, we decided to hike around and have a look see.

Oh goodness, how sweet.  Little lamb and Mom.

Believe it or not, this is where people can wait out of the rain for a bus.  Notice the milk cans on the ground.  

Just a nice picture of pampas grass and the view behind.

Here are two brave old people, who we all know and love, out hiking around and thinking about heading back for lunch.

Here we are inside the restaurant.  We had a huge lunch of grilled fresh trout.  Yes the trout came from the river right outside the restaurant.  YUM!

Okay old man, hop in, we've got to get back to Riobamba.

We had a wonderful day.  When we got back to our B&B I took a nice, well deserved, nap.    

The trip we take tomorrow is the highlight of our tour.  We are going to Chimborazo, the highest volcano in Ecuador.  

Nancy & Chuck