International Writers Magazine: Ecuador
Very Good Day
December 25, 2007
the few days leading up to our first Christmas in Ecuador, my friend
from Loja (the capital of a province in southwestern corner of the
country), Andrew, and I werent sure of what we were going
to do on the 25th. Fortunately, this doubt was removed by my next-door
neighbor, Juan José, on the morn of the 24th. When he asked
us in his lisp-laden, Madrid-soaked accent to fish with him in El
Cajas National Park, we couldnt refuse.
Just before 9 am
on Christmas Day, my neighbor, Sheik, called to let Andrew and I know
that her husband was almost ready to leave. Following my fellow English
teacher outside, I locked my front door and waited with Andrew for the
tall, bald Spaniard to appear. We could hear Sheik and Juan Jo (as she
calls him) speaking, so we remained on the terrace because we didnt
want to intrude.
"Why are they waiting out there? Weirdos
," said my Costa
Rican neighbor, obviously spotting us through her window.
Suddenly, Juan José appeared on the balcony, approaching us with
a map of El Cajas in hand.
"Where do you guys want to go? Which lagoon looks good to you,"
he said after unfolding the grid and placing it on the railing.
Andrew had never been there and I had visited the park just once (without
fishing); we didnt know what to tell him.
"I dont know," I honestly replied.
For the next awkward minute or so, the three of us just stared at the
map. Finally, the Spaniard made a decision.
"How about Laguna Larga," he asked while pointing to it on
the park layout.
"Sounds good," I responded in a relieved manner.
Andrew and I subsequently followed Juan Jo back into his apartment,
where he handed me a pair of fishing poles. Taking turns saying goodbye
to Sheik, the three of us then walked into the chilly, overcast Cuencan
"I hope we have trout for dinner," the Costa Rican said as
we headed for Juans red Chevy Grand Vitara.
Sitting in the front passenger seat, I exchanged small talk with the
aging Spaniard while Andrew listened in the back. The conversation wavered
between interesting and nonexistent as Juan José raced westward
on the winding highway. Forty-five minutes gradually passed before our
miniature SUV rolled through a tiny village barely within El Cajas
borders, pulling into a mucky parking spot just above a narrow river.
After watching Juan fail to convince a local woman into making lunch
for us later, Andrew and I followed him to the gushing waterway. Nevertheless,
the comical Spaniard made just one cast into the rapids before looking
to the peaks above.
"The clouds are disappearing," Juan José pointed out.
"We should fish in one of the lagoons up there. What do you think?"
"Yeah, itll be better to fish in a lagoon," I offered.
"Well, lets go then," my neighbor said.
And so, we retraced our still very fresh footprints to the parking spot,
threw the bags and rods into the back of the Vitara, and spun onto the
main highway in search of a trout-filled lagoon.
A few minutes later, we stopped at an info center to pay our entrance
fee. After showing our identification to the employee inside the building,
Juan José asked the ranger for suggestions.
"What do you recommend? Where is a good place to catch trout,"
the Spaniard inquired.
"Laguna Toreadora," answered the man behind the desk.
"I went there last time and only caught three fish about this big,"
my neighbor said while holding his hands just a few inches apart from
"You should try Laguna Luspa," said the park ranger. "Theres
lots of trout there."
Having no problem with his advice, the three of us listened to the mans
directions and hopped into the Grand Vitara once again, bound for one
of the biggest lagoons in El Cajas.
Despite overshooting our destination, we eventually found the gravel
area where we were supposed to park. From there, Juan, Andrew, and I
crossed the highway, individually balanced on an unstable, wooden bridge,
and set forth on a muddy trail, which ascended into the green mountainside.
As we trudged along the moist path, our strides became slower and our
breaths got shorter due to the altitude.
"You can already feel the difference. And look, weve hardly
hiked," my neighbor told me, pointing to the highway behind us
just a few minutes into the journey.
After taking a handful of more breaks, trekking across wet ground,
and climbing over a few additional hills, the three of us arrived
at the lush, northern shore of Laguna Luspa. The lagoon was massive,
dominating the landscape and bulging with pristine water.
"There has to be trout in there," I told Juan José.
While late morning turned into early afternoon, Andrew took numerous
pictures while Juan and I fished in the cold, windy, and sometimes
rainy weather. However, I stayed in the same area, north of the
lagoon, whereas the Spaniard skirted the perimeter, constantly casting
his line into the water until he disappeared from my vision somewhere
along the eastern shoreline. Finally, after I lost my lure and Andrew
ran out of matches trying to light a fire, Juan emerged from the
"Do you guys want to go," he asked.
Cold, wet, and without
trout, Andrew and I immediately accepted the Spaniards proposal.
While we sped eastward through the mountains, the three of us could
see the menacing clouds looming over Cuenca in the distance. Having
just spoken to his worried wife (who confirmed it was pouring in the
city) on his cell phone, Juan José suggested that we get lunch
and wait out the storm.
"Have you eaten at El Che," my neighbor asked me.
"Yeah, just once," I replied from the same seat I had that
"How is it," Juan continued.
"Its really good," I responded.
"Well, thats where were going," the Spaniard said
while focusing on the slippery asphalt ahead.
we pulled up to a roadside shack in the outskirts of Cuenca. Trying
to not to get drenched, Juan José, Andrew, and I sprinted
to the restaurant, where we quickly found a table. Unlike its makeshift
outer appearance, El Che looks like a museum inside. When I say
museum, I mean that the restaurant is dedicated to the apparently
immortal, Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Apart from its look-alike
owner, who struts around serving the tables in a beret, as well
as fatigues, and wearing a holster complete with a pistol, the walls
are covered with pictures of the famous rebel. Moreover, photos
of Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez, and the Che imitator standing
next to the likes of Ecuadors President Correa, are proudly
displayed throughout the dining area. "Che" even served
Juan, Andrew, and me, demonstrating his comical side.
killing your borrego right now. Itll be ready soon," the
rebellious waiter updated Juan José at one point.
While actually hearing a screaming porker get killed in the back (disturbing,
very disturbing), Andrew and I probably stuffed ourselves with its kin
as the Spaniard enjoyed his lamb. Full and sleepy from the delicious
meat, we then exited the shanty and noticed that the storm had ceased.
Wanting to take advantage of the clearing skies, Juan quickly motored
into rain soaked Cuenca, politely saying goodbye to Andrew and me upon
arrival at our apartment building.
That evening, a rested Andrew and I reunited with Liz VanDerwerker,
an old friend from our TESOL course in Quito. In addition, Liz was accompanied
by her visitors from the U.S., which consisted of her parents, Greg
and Laura, as well as her older sister, Catherine. At Sabaneta, a bar
just down the street from the VanDerwerkers hotel, the six of
us chatted over our food and drinks, each item coming to our table separately
over the next couple of hours. Incredibly, there was a lone, extremely
overworked man operating the packed establishment that night. Noticing
that he was running around like a chicken with its head cut off, we
all felt bad for him.
While I sat back and listened to Andrew and the VanDerwerkers
plans for the rest of the holidays (they were all leaving Cuenca in
the morning), I couldnt help but think about something that Juan
José had mentioned earlier, as we were leaving El Che.
"Fishing in Cajas
lunch with Che Guevara
a very good
day," my neighbor rated our Christmas experience, just before starting
Granted, he isnt a psychic, but the one thing that Juan left out
was "dinner with great people."
It was a very good day indeed.
Nelson March 2008
all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibiltiy
- no liability accepted by hackwriters.com or affiliates.