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The International Writers Magazine: Ecuador Day Trips:

A Hike in Girón
Tyrel Nelson

Sheik hates Girón. Given that her husband, Juan José, has to travel to this small town in Ecuador’s Azuay province every Tuesday and Thursday for work, Girón is often the topic of conversation in Room 16. However, my next-door, Costa Rican neighbor didn’t form her opinion based on what Juan Jo had told her. Whether she was lonely or just looking to get out of the apartment, Sheik actually accompanied her Spaniard spouse on the 37-kilometer car ride through the mountains southwest of Cuenca on a few different occasions. Moreover, I felt like I was beginning to know Girón quite well after listening to my neighbor’s very expressive, negative reviews about her jaunts to the tiny community.

According to the Tica, there was no reason to visit Girón. It was ugly, boring, and a waste of time. And on every occurrence that I mentioned I might visit the pueblo, my lanky, graying friend looked at me like I had completely lost my mind. Curious as to why Sheik had developed such a dislike for the community, I decided to do some research.
Apparently, my blunt friend wasn’t the only person who liked to see Girón in the rearview. Contrary to an ever-increasing global population, the Andean village actually got smaller between its last two censuses. From November 25, 1990, till November 25, 2001, the town’s membership dropped from 13,191 to 12,583 residents. Not only did many townspeople pull up stakes in pursuit of better jobs in Cuenca (the provincial capital), but some also packed their bags for the States with the same goal in mind.

Despite this dipping statistic, Girón was one of the few remaining daytrips I still hadn’t taken, which irked me. In addition, there was something looming from the town’s surrounding green hills that I believed I should at least see in person. To that end, I finally gave in to temptation on a sunny morning in mid-July; even with Sheik’s dissuasions. I also managed to drag a friend of a friend, who was visiting Cuenca at the time, with me.

On a gorgeous Sunday morn, Emilyn (a roommate of Margo, my friend and former TESOL classmate in Quito) and I arrived bright and early at Cuenca’s terminal terrestre. After verifying with the fare collector that the price would be a dollar per person, the Montana native and I boarded a Machala-bound bus thinking we’d be in Girón within an hour.
As bad luck would have it, the normally 45-minute ride actually turned out to be twice as long. Whether it was road construction or stretches too narrow to let traffic coming from both directions pass simultaneously, Emilyn and I spent more time stopped in the Southern Sierra Andes than moving. The two of us, though, made light of the situation and eventually arrived at our destination around 10 AM.

Instantly, I felt something staring down at me. Turning to face the leafy cliffs northwest of the community, I saw what had lured me to Girón in the first place. It was El Chorro (Spanish for "stream" or "spurt"); the towering waterfall that had brought most visitors to town. Even though the dark-haired gringa and I were several kilometers away from the cascade, we could still notice its strength due to the way the distant water powerfully gushed down the rocky hillside. Nevertheless, the two of us decided to put El Chorro on hold, provided that we were already in the heart of the municipality. Emilyn and I agreed that Girón proper deserved a look.

The quaint community, in fact, was bustling. Whether it was church-goers or Sunday strollers ambling along the avenues, the entire citizenry seemed to be out and about that morning. Constantly dodging pedestrians, we spent the next half-hour moseying through the pueblo’s pleasant central plaza, skirting its jagged, sore thumb of a church, darting across the dusty yet green park on the chapel’s backside, and briefly touring Girón’s dimly-lit, indoor market. Although it was busy, the two of us were nonetheless pleased by the colorful valley town. After getting a good impression of the thriving municipality, Emilyn and I, therefore, felt it was time to commence the ascent.

Exiting town, we re-crossed the highway that had brought us there, focused on the towering waterfall in the lush distance, and began our vertical battle. It wasn’t long before the two of us went from stepping on ascending asphalt to kicking up dust on the rising road. Slowly snaking our way uphill, Emilyn and I exchanged greetings with many downhill hikers, dodged sprinkler fire, as well as hugged the highway’s shoulder while vehicles continuously whizzed by (some uncomfortably close). Furthermore, it was a beautiful day. Not only did the partly cloudy skies make for perfect walking weather, but they also picturesquely framed El Chorro, which didn’t seem to be getting any closer.

To maintain our sanity during the lengthy trek, my fellow English teacher and I kept our conversation flowing. We compared Quito and Cuenca, discussed our jobs, and talked a lot about our mutual friends. (Emilyn came to Ecuador in the TESOL group after mine and, thus, knew practically all of the people that I did in the capital.) The two of us also mentioned events to come. In fact, Emilyn had less than a week left in-country because she was returning stateside for law school. I, on the other hand, was just annoyed that I had to teach at 7 AM the next day.

Eventually, the sun disappeared along with our energy. As the heavens turned overcast and drops started to fall, Emilyn and I had, in fact, marched 5 kilometers uphill, arriving at El Chorro’s tree-covered staircase at last.
"Prohibido el uso de licor," warned the sign next to the entrance.
After agreeing not to booze it up by the waterfall, Emilyn and I ascended the wooden flights ahead.
A few minutes later, the two of us were standing just in front of El Chorro’s powerful falls, which were bordered by verdant cliffs. Yelling over the deafening sound of the sky-scraping cascade, we got as close as we could to the fury. Emilyn and I managed to briefly fight off the sopping mist and strong gusts created by El Chorro’s wrath in order to take a handful pictures. Satisfied with our photos, we then climbed higher into the forest to get another close view of the falls and its dark pool far below.
Realizing that the trail which led towards El Chorro’s top was roped off, the two of us then opted for the exit. Consequently, we snapped some parting shots, sidled through the many visitors occupying various stretches of the path, and retraced our steps down the stairs.
Be that as it may, as Emilyn and I hopped off the last wooden step, the two of us were stopped by a shorts-donning park employee.
"Good afternoon. Did you two pay?" the young man asked.
"I didn’t know we had to," I replied.

The Ecuadorian explained that he wasn’t there when the two of us entered because he had to give some climbers, who were practicing their scaling skills on prohibited hillside areas, the boot.
"Well, it’s a dollar to get in," the Ecuadorian continued.
Then, the ranger sized us up.
"Are you foreigners?" he questioned.
Figuring we couldn’t prove otherwise, Emilyn and I nodded.
"Then it’s two dollars per person. Where are you from?" the worker further pried.
"The United States, but I’ve lived here for more than ten months. I have an intercultural visa, a CENSO (Ecuadorian ID card), and two teacher cards. Will any of those get me a discount?" I responded.

Despite my efforts to talk him down from the foreigner fee to the citizens’ price, the dark-featured man just smiled and shook his head, clearly not willing to budge.
"It doesn’t hurt to try," I finally conceded and pulled an Abe Lincoln from my pocket.
The boyish-looking Ecuadorian chuckled as he handed me a dollar coin as well as a slip of paper and wished us a good afternoon.

Looking at our ticket as we descended the mount under rapidly clearing skies, I told Emilyn that I almost always bargained and couldn’t help but laugh at myself for attempting to negotiate the aforementioned fee. On the other hand, it was something I had grown accustomed to in Ecuador due to my countless market and taxi experiences. In truth, I almost looked forward to disputing prices with people.

I also couldn’t wait to get home and debate with Sheik. Although I wanted to see El Chorro, I had only read about it. As a result, I didn’t get my hopes up too high due to my skepticism towards the way guidebooks tend to romanticize their content. And because of my neighbor’s badmouthing, I, therefore, wasn’t expecting to see anything special during this trip with Emilyn.

Thankfully, Girón was more than I had bargained for.
© Tyrel Nelson September 2008

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