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The International Writers Magazine:Ecuador

Tales of Turi
Tyrel Nelson

I was fresh off the plane and she’d soon be boarding one for the States. Having just a couple of weeks in Ecuador’s Southern Sierra under my belt, I hadn’t seen much more than my new town’s centrally-located churches. On the other hand, my fellow English teacher, Jennifer Adams, got to know every nook and cranny of the historic municipality during her 2_-year stint in Cuenca (~400,000 residents). Therefore, when the petite Asian mentioned one day that she was going to visit the Mirador Turi, I asked if I could join her. I really wanted to see the lionized lookout that I’d only read about in my guide book.

November 16, 2007

It was a sunny Friday morning when I met Jenni in front of Benigno Malo High School. Turning our backs to the neoclassical building, we ambled southward for several minutes on the rough sidewalks of Cuenca’s wide and busy Fray Vicente Solano. Eventually crossing Tres Puentes (one out-of-commission stone bridge sandwiched by two modern versions) as well as the Yanuncay and Tarqui rivers, the two of us reached 24 de Mayo Avenue. From there, Jenni and I took a deep breath and attacked a large cement staircase, beginning the arduous ascent towards Turi.
Climbing various flights of decaying steps, Jenni and I rested on a handful of battered landings until we came upon the Cuenca-Azogues Expressway. Perspiring heavily, the two of us cautiously traversed this broad, bustling artery and quickly crossed the Vía a Turi, the last highway that intersected our route. Unfortunately, it was at this point where I discovered that we were only halfway done with our vertical battle. There were many more stairs ahead.

Much like its predecessor, this sharp, zigzagging staircase covered by tall trees burned our legs and made us sweat profusely. Countless stone treads and umpteen concrete landings sucked the wind out of us. By the time Jenni and I made it to the top, we were drenched, shaky-legged, and gasping for air. Nevertheless, the two of us were finally standing at the Mirador…so I thought.

The "official" Turi rested directly in front of a weathered church of the same name, which overlooked the capital of Ecuador’s Azuay province. The observation deck was distinctly marked by a large railing as well as a huge painting of Cuenca that a few tourists were comparing with the actual town below.

As the midday skies turned to gray, I started to feel raindrops. Nevertheless, I let the wet breezes cool me off while I gazed into the colorful city. The mountainous panorama was great. I could pretty much see everything Cuenca had to offer, even though I did notice that the southwestern corner of the municipality was cutoff by a protruding cliff. Then, when I had finally caught my breath, Jenni told me that the "real" Mirador was another short hike away. And so, I hung my sopping backpack over my shoulders and followed my guide to the chalky chapel’s backside.

Jenni proceeded to lead me down a decrepit road on the west side of the miniature church. Just as we passed the holy house, I tailed my friend as she abruptly broke right, swiftly ascending by a large headstone. Moreover, after passing the lonely gravesite, we darted up a narrow, creepy dirt path, which led to an ugly white shack surrounded by unkempt shrubbery and guarded by a pair of yipping puppies.

Ignoring the annoying ankle-biters as they pretended to pounce, Jenni and I swiftly scampered on the foul-smelling trail to our right, booking through lanky weeds and leaping over trash until we snaked our way up to a small clearing. According to Jenni, the paltry grass platform we were standing on was the "better" Mirador Turi. She was right.
Although it stood only a few dozen meters higher than the touristy viewpoint below, the vistas from this little known lookout were much more desirable. I could observe the forgotten corner from before, easily able to see the Cuencan valley in its entirety. It was fun to pick out familiar landmarks in the salmon-roofed city, which was neatly nestled in a verdant basin.

With the sprinkles persisting, I did manage to snap off a few clear shots of my new home. Only having admired it from the inside, I still thought Cuenca was charming prior to this excursion. My trip with Jenni, however, truly showed me the beauty of my city. I felt lucky to be living in such a pleasing place.

December 21, 2007

I was on the verge of completing my second month in Cuenca when I met my former TESOL classmate from Quito, Liz, who arrived in town with her visiting gringo family. Grabbing a late lunch in Parque Calderón (main plaza), Greg, Laura (Liz’s mother), Catherine (Liz’s older sister), Elizabeth VanDerwerker, and I then ventured into the auburn afternoon, observing what we could while the fading sun was still above the horizon.

After showing the foreign foursome a handful of elaborate, antiquated churches in the city center, I looked to the sky. Noticing that there were just enough rays left to provide the VanDerwerkers with a sunset view of Cuenca, I proposed the idea to them. They immediately agreed, but things would be different from my maiden march to the Mirador: the five of us had to take a cab and this time, I was at the helm.

Racing its way from the heart of the municipality to the community’s southern edge, our cramped cab dropped the VanDerwerkers and me off atop Turi’s steep cliff. As Greg, Laura, Catherine, and Liz leaned over the robust railing directly in front of the small church, I stood back, watching the South Carolina family stare into the evergreen and apricot valley. Then, I sprung it on them; they hadn’t seen the real deal.

Like Jenni did with me, I took the VanDerwerkers behind the chapel and up boot hill, passing the solitary tomb and taking the skinny, spooky trail towards the ramshackle home. On this occasion, however, there were no irritating pups to dodge, so the five of us slowly weaved our way around the fetid, garbage-laden brush until we arrived at the teensy outlook.
The panoramas were priceless. Fiery orange dots continuously popped up throughout the community, illuminating the Southern Sierra city while dusk set in. Nevertheless, just before the sun said goodnight, it turned the sky into one of the prettiest colors I had ever seen.

A fascinating fuchsia took over the clouds, covering Cuenca with radiant pinks and stunning lavenders. The mixture of hues in the heavens was magnificent; it was a truly breathtaking scene. And fortunately, I was able to share this moving moment with good company.

I was also very pleased to know that this thrilling sunset was the VanDerwerkers’ first impression of the town I had already grown to love.

March 21, 2008

"Brother." That’s what "Turi" means in Kichwa (Ecuador’s most-broadly used indigenous language). Therefore, it was only fitting that I introduced my bro to Cuenca’s. Furthermore, it was a special day to bring Jay to the Mirador. It just happened to be Good Friday and every year, processions march their way from the heart of the city to the milky chapel of Turi.
Never before had I seen a soul occupying the tiny stage that dug itself into the hillside just below the church. However, after my dark-featured brother and I made the long walk down Fray Vicente Solano and completed the hellacious hike up the pair of steep staircases, we came upon an ample audience.

Directly in front of the cement platform stood a dense, crescent-shaped crowd. The colorfully-dressed, sun umbrella-toting spectators quietly watched the performers recite lines from the Bible. Dressed as religious characters, several Ecuadorian actors (young and old) sweated out their scenes under the intense, midday rays.

Keeping the second lookout to myself, I watched my younger kin of 2 years tiptoe behind the back row as he snapped pictures over the heads of the shorter onlookers. Jay also ventured away from the crowd, taking various panoramas of the Cuencan valley from different spots along the small hilltop. Finally, I revealed to my lankier brother the secret that I’d been holding in. He frowned.

Already exhausted from the previous ascent, Jay slowly trudged behind me as we crept along the western side of the chapel and stepped onto the eerie, grassy gravesite. My bro quickened his pace, however, when the two bothersome, familiar faces started barking at us. Jay stayed right on my tail as I sprinted away from the vexatious pups and up the trash-filled, malodorous, snaky pathway. When we arrived at the minuscule outlook, my brother buckled over, placing his hands on his knees and deeply gasping for air. Just a day off the plane, Jay still wasn’t used to the Andean altitude. It was a far cry from his native climate in low, flat Minnesota.

Eventually regaining his wind, my brother wandered about the puny patch of earth, fascinated with the all-encompassing views of Cuenca. After he was done taking several snapshots of the vibrant basin as well as posing for his own portraits, Jay and I eventually figured out the self-timer option, managing to get a shot of us together…on the third attempt. (The camera captured the treetops the first time and fell on the second try).

Although the excursion sucked every ounce of energy from him, Jay, who slept for several hours afterwards, really enjoyed his time above the town. For me, that made the trip all worthwhile.

Turi Revisited…A Few Times
There’s no doubt that I’ve enjoyed each trek up top. In fact, I have admired Cuenca from above six times within the last seven months. Sure, the place has always stayed the same, but the people, weather, and dates (some widely-celebrated) have changed. Therefore, every experience has been unique. Always pondering my next visit, I don’t think I could ever be bored with the Mirador.
So, who’s coming with me for number seven?

© Tyrel Nelson May 2008

Teased by Baños
Tyrel Nelson

If you can only visit one place in Ecuador, it has to be Baños,

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