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The International Writers Magazine: Ecuador from our travel archives

Hitting the Chor-Princi Trail
Tyrel Nelson

The gloomy Sunday morning sky chilled our bones as my specs-donning friend, Andrew, and I waited for our connection. In fact, the two of us were an hour east of Cuenca, catching up as well as comparing our respective English classes at CEDEI (Centros de Estudios Interamericanos).

Despite the early hour and brisk air we were breathing, Andrew and I were actually happy to be away from the city we’d both been calling home for the past several months. And although he had been through this routine a number of times before, this was the first occasion that Andrew was in these parts NOT to teach English. Besides my need for a daytrip, I was interested in seeing where my friend had educated schoolchildren, given that he had instructed groups as large as fifty.

"This should be our bus," said my fellow teacher, noticing the grumbling auto approaching us from our right.
As the dirty white coach crept closer, I noticed the line’s strange name slapped in blue lettering across the vehicle’s broadside. Moreover, the words, Chor Princi, were oddly spaced apart; painted several feet from each other. Mr. Pratt and I immediately decoded the meaning of this unusual label nonetheless.

"Chor" was short for Chordeleg, which was the town surrounding the decrepit street corner we were standing on. "Princi" represented Principal; our destination that was 45 minutes away.

After dropping its passengers off and circling around the pueblo’s center, the banged-up bus came back to us a few minutes later. Overwhelmed by his stench, Andrew and I quickly boarded and immediately headed to the back, sitting far away from the putrid-smelling, weathered Ecuadorian we followed on. Still, even though we had escaped the odor up front, a pair of rowdy, very young boys used the couple rows of seats behind us as their playground while the bus began to retrace the road from which it came.

Staring to our right, Andrew and I were distracted by something other than the kids to our backs. We were not only fascinated by the far-reaching, healthy countryside, but were also a bit scared by the steep drop-off just below our window. While the near-empty, filthy coach roared around countless curves and blind bends, the two of us wondered how many vehicles had fallen off the dangerous dirt road (which was hardly wider than our bus) and into the Andean unknown. Andrew and I were also surprised that we hadn’t heard more news of busloads that had perished due to the narrowness of this risky roadway. That said, falling to one’s death wasn’t the only obvious hazard of this perilous pass. A person could have been buried just as easily.

As the bus pushed southward, my friend and I scanned the towering dirt cliffs that stood just beyond the windows to our left. During some stretches, there was absolutely no space between the earthy walls and the road. Furthermore, since there were no barriers erected, the hillsides looked like they could crumble without warning. And given the frequent rains that wetted this region, mudslides also had to occur every now and then. Fortunately, we only came across the aftermath of a collapse, which didn’t claim any victims.

More than a half-hour into our ride, the bus abruptly stopped. Looking out the vehicle’s large front window, Andrew and I saw that the road was blocked by a huge pile of dirt. In addition, there was a red backhoe clearing the mound with its bucket. We, however, could see Principal in the distance, and, therefore, told the driver that we were going to ramble the rest of the way.

Apparently knowing something we didn’t, the driver, on the other hand, suggested that Andrew and I wait. The graying, diminutive chauffer confidently predicted that it wouldn’t be much longer until he could get through. The man was right.
A few minutes later, my fellow gringo and I were stepping off the bus, ambling downhill into the tiny community of Principal. The gray clouds on this early-July morn hovered low, covering the peaks of the village’s surrounding green mountains yet providing a fascinating backdrop for the pueblo ahead.

First, Andrew showed me his "classroom" in the town center, where he taught on a handful of Saturdays many months before. Sometimes, he used the band shell that rested on the southern end of the basketball court we were standing on. On other occasions, he taught colors, animal names, and other basics to the kids (who walked almost an hour from Celel, a village to the north) on the cement below our feet. I couldn’t stop thinking about how challenging it must have been to work with no desks, whiteboard, or even a room for that matter; especially since there were dozens of students at times.
After touring his former workspace, Andrew showed me the rest of Principal, which didn’t take very long. Nevertheless, I saw some charm in the puny township due to its vibrant colors, beautiful location, and most memorably, the friendly townspeople who often greeted us while we moseyed along their muddy streets. I definitely felt pleased as we exited the pueblo.

Leaving Principal, Andrew and I began our march, retracing our earlier bus route on foot. We wanted to absorb the incredible scenery and get some exercise. And despite the fact that we had originally planned to hike only two or three hours before catching a bus, Chordeleg still lingered in the back of my mind. Part of me wanted to rove the entire way back. I just didn’t know if Andrew was game.

While the morning fog lifted and the sun broke through, the two of us constantly ogled the Andean ambience and maintained a good pace as we bullshitted past a few different villages. My friend and I also sauntered by numerous indigenous folks, stepped out of the way of passing vehicles, and talked about Andrew’s upcoming union with Mara (María Raquel), the Ecuadorian girl he was about to marry. In truth, we were so busy chatting that we didn’t realize how far we had wandered.

Pressing on, Andrew and I eventually broke his previous record around a couple of hours into the trek. My friend explained that he and another English teacher, Lauren, had tried to wend their way back to Chordeleg after a Saturday class in Principal some months earlier. Notwithstanding, their lack of water and protection from the intense rays above forced them to hop on a passing bus. It was shortly after his story, however, that Andrew recognized some scenery that wasn’t TOO far away from our destination. Consequently, we decided to go for it.

Our legs and feet progressively grew tired along with the intensity of the searing sun overhead. Still, Andrew and I were convinced that Chordeleg would pop up at anytime in the distance. And so, the two of us kept moving forward, determined to reach the canton’s capital. We were too far in to give up now.

After a few long, blind mountain curves only led to longer, blind mountain curves, Andrew and I finally saw the distinct twin towers of Chordeleg’s yellow and green church in the distance. As a result, my friend and I quickened our steps to town, dying to board a Cuenca-bound bus that both of us felt we had earned.

Five hours after our tour of Principal, Andrew and I were slumped in our seats, thinking about our day’s accomplishment as the auto rolled westward. Although we were exhausted and sore, Andrew and I believed the trek was very worthwhile because we had accomplished something that was far from easy.
"Make sure you tell Lauren when you see her," Andrew told me.
I laughed and assured him I would before we went our separate ways from Cuenca’s bus terminal.

Curious, I unfolded my Ecuador map after hobbling into my apartment later that afternoon. I wanted to see if the villages Andrew and I walked through were even on it. Unsurprisingly, there were no dots between Chordeleg and Principal.
Be that as it may, I certainly don’t need a map to think of Celel, Delegsol, Buena Vista, Puzhio, and Soransol.
I’m also sure I’ll see them again someday.

© Tyrel Nelson September 2008

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