September 7, 2010

Hiking in Uchucay

We went to the tourist information office in Gualaceo to ask for suggestions. He recommended we take a taxi to Uchucay, a dairy and trout farming community about a half hour away, which is in the process of establishing itself as a hiking, horseback riding, and trout fishing destination. He called ahead to alert the senior guide that we were coming. We first hailed a regular yellow taxi but the driver told us he couldn't drive there as the road was basically a dirt road and that we needed to take a truck taxi. There are many lined up along the plaza so we went to the one at the front of the line and asked for a ride to and from, thinking he could come back in a couple of hours. The driver explained that he would wait for us instead and we realized why as were traveling there. It was a very bumpy, bone-shaking ride indeed, all the way there!

We agreed to a rate of $15 with the taxi driver, for the round trip and waiting time. Once we arrived we had expected to find some sort of center or tourist office but rather the town was a main dirt road with a few houses on either side (the entire population is 7 or 8 families) and truly verdant countryside. We eventually found ourselves a young guide with the help of one of the only two inhabitants that appeared to be there at that time of the day. It's possible they were all at work out in the fields above, where we couldn't see them.

The guide proudly mentioned he had been trained as a guide and was just the sweetest young man. Apparently the community had joined together to create a hiking path to the top of the nearby mountain. Because we only had an hour or so for the hike he first took us on a lateral hike across the fields of tall grass, where we could eventually join the official path, which had been cleared, and in the steepest parts had wide steps carved out of the dirt.

It had rained rather heavily just a couple of hours previously so the climb was muddy and fairly slippery. Let's just say it was a very physical hike--I'm still not quite sure whether my friend enjoyed it as much as I did!

We went as far as the yellow dot on this picture. At this point the final ascent is fairly vertical and we decided we would leave that part for another day, when we had more time--we had told the taxi driver we would meet him back in a hour and it had already been well over a half hour.

The descent went far, far quicker than the ascent and the guide told us we had done the climb fairly quickly. No wonder we had been breathing heavily at times--I was blaming it on the altitude! The picture above shows the point at which we turned back. You can barely see it because the path narrows and it gets very dark but this is the beginning of the very steep and shadowy final ascent. It was already past 5PM so we deemed it wise to call it a day. The hike, to the point where we stopped, took around an hour and 10 minutes. I don't recommend it for everyone but for those who enjoy a good climb (and no facilities, Uchucay is not quite tourist-ready) I'd say it's worth spending a couple of hours there. Apparently there is also trout fishing and horseback riding so I daresay you could make a day of it if these are activities that also interest you.

The taxi dropped us off at the bus terminal and we took the bus back to Cuenca. It had been a good day. I'll post some pictures of Gualaceo tomorrow as the final chapter of this day trip and I'll make a restaurant recommendation for your visit there!

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