Thursday, August 29, 2013

Last Days in Quito

"The shortest poem in the world is you..." - my favorite graffiti in Quito
I spent my last two days in Quito basically just wandering around the city and visiting placed that I wanted to see before I flew out Thursday night.  On Wednesday, I wandered around to find a post office where I could buy some Ecuadorian stamps for a friend from my hometown.  Unlike Lima, there are only a couple post offices in Quito and they have regular office hours so I never had time to get to one while I was working.  I managed to buy a couple different stamps then wandered around Quicentro Mall to try to find some wrapping paper for the little torito that I bought as a gift.  I was not able to find anything that would work until I ran into a store by Baca Ortiz on my way to La Mariscal.  I wound up at the mercado artisenal on Juan Leon Mera to look at any last-minute items.  I ended up buying myself a large, bright blue alpaca scarf/shawl for $4.00 USD.  I also met up with one of my best friends from work at Achiote for the best locro in Quito.  Packing that night did not take very long either.
you know you're hungry now
On Thursday, August 29, 2013, I went to the Centro Historico and walked from Plaza Grande over to Basilica Voto Nacional.  I thought I was taking a decent route when I had looked on a map beforehand, but between the plaza and the church was kind of empty (not a good thing for a street to be in the centro historico), so I walked really fast (all uphill) to get to the basilica.  After about seven or eight blocks, I arrived.  There is a plaza on the southwest side of the church and the towers were open.
Main Towers, Basilica Voto Nacional (Basilica of the National Vow)
I went up the first tower but to go to a second tower, you have to cross a small wooden bridge suspended over part of the church below and then climb up some spiral stairs.  I put one foot on the bridge and the wooden board beneath me creaked loudly so I jumped back and decided that it was not worth it and I didn't really need to go to the other side (I probably would not have chickened out so badly if I had a friend with me, but I went alone so...).  The clocktower though was pretty nifty.  The views from the towers were amazing.  I think I was even able to see the peak of Cotopaxi.  From the windows on the way down from the clocktower, you could see the duck and pelican gargoyles on the church, which made me laugh.
aw hell no...
My taxi driver friend picked me up from the airport and when I gave him the wrapped bull, he gave me a gift too.  It was a hand-carved wooden Galapagos tortoise with a sticker on the bottom shell that had his name on it, so that I would not forget who gave it to me.  It was so kind of him.  Along the way to the airport, he told me about all of the places I will have to be sure to visit next time I come to Ecuador.  As much as I did not like my experience in La Mariscal, it is important to remember that there are wonderful people everywhere and that it is important to be kind to everyone because otherwise you will miss out on making friends with some wonderful people.  
El Panecillo, as viewed from the Basilica's tower
By this time tomorrow, I'll be back in Michigan with my family and getting ready for the next adventure - my third and final year of law school!!!!

"I will always return." ~ Oswaldo Guayasamin

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Party in Peru

This past weekend, starting the day after I finished working at the NGO in Quito, I flew to Lima, Peru, to visit one of my friends from high school in Michigan who is in the middle of her two year service with the Peace Corps.  Although her site is a small town outside of Huaraz in Ancash, she was in Lima this weekend for medical checks so it worked out perfectly to visit.  Even though she had been to Lima previously, she had never before had time to get out and see much of the city (and it was my first time in Peru), so we had a very fun, action-packed weekend and saw nearly everything cool on this list from Time Magazine.
Miraflores from the Highway
Friday, August 23, 2013
This morning, I woke up super early to get to the airport to catch a 7:00am flight direct from Quito to Lima.  My favorite taxi driver picked me up to take me to the airport and we had a great conversation along the way.  I learned that he is actually a professor as well, but since the school where he teaches only contracts professors on a semester-by-semester basis and even then does not pay very much, he works as a taxi driver the rest of the days of the week (and weekend) to supplement his income to support his children's education.

Upon arriving in Lima, my friend had already arranged for a taxi driver from the hostel to come and pick me up from the airport.  He was also a very nice person and told me about the city, things to see, and his family.  Even though it was cloudy all day (it's currently winter in Lima), I absolutely loved taking the highway to Miraflores that goes along the Pacific Ocean.  Absolutely beautiful.  
Miraflores Beach
I had about a half hour at the hostel to check in and change from airplane clothes to my suit before getting picked up in another car and going to a Peruvian law firm to meet up with a few Peruvian attorneys.  Both attorneys were incredibly nice people and it was very interesting to learn about their practice, the challenges of practicing law in Peru, and the centralized relationship between Lima and the provinces.  Those were some of the same issues that were discussed in my Law & Development seminar last year (2L) and so it was really great to learn about these topics from these two attorneys' perspective over a delicious lunch at a Peruvian sea food restaurant overlooking the park along the ocean.  I even tried a Pisco Sour, ceviche, yuca, a fantastic tuna, and some other delights from Lima.
Parque de Amor, Miraflores
After lunch, I went back to the hostel, changed, and then took a walk around Miraflores to get to know the area a little better before my friend finished with her Peace Corps things for the day.  I ended up taking a double-decker bus tour of Miraflores from Parque Kennedy and learned a lot about the neighborhood and its architecture.  However, it was freezing on the bus (the second story of the bus was open).  It was funny because during the day, the weather was beautiful, but I guess it can be exactly like Michigan.  It just reinforced the fact that it was rather dumb to completely forget to bring a rain jacket or windbreaker on this trip.  I don't think I'll be forgetting it on the next trip I take.
Huaca Pucllana, Inca Ruins in Miraflores
After the bus tour, I met up with my friend back at the hostel.  We talked and caught up for a bit before going to La Lucha by Parque Kennedy (they have delicious food).  At La Lucha, we met up with two more American Peace Corps volunteers for dinner.  My friend ended up having to get her wisdom teeth out at 8:30pm that night, so we went to a Peruvian oral surgeon's office at night in a car sent by Peace Corps so she could have the teeth removed.  The procedure was surprisingly quick and we then went back to crash at the hostel to hopefully be ready for a full day on Saturday.
La Lucha - best sandwiches!
Saturday, August 24, 2013
We took our time in the morning, but luckily my friend felt fine after getting the wisdom teeth out (which was amazing to me because I had mine taken out the summer before and it took about a week after the surgery to get rid of dry socket and pain issues).  We had breakfast at the hostel and then went to the Barranco neighborhood of Lima.  The streets and buildings along the way were beautiful and it was very cool to see all of the colorful buildings with a view of the ocean along the way.  One of the first things we did upon crossing from Miraflores into Barranco was to cross this bridge into Barranco located behind a very old church.
(this is the church - bridge is off to the left)
You are supposed to make a wish, then hold your breath while crossing the bridge.  If you can make it to the other side and were able to hold your breath the whole time, your wish will come true.  I made it to the other side (although now I cannot remember what I wished for - so hopefully something awesome will happen and the bridge will be right!).  The church next to the bridge was pretty cool, too.  Underneath the red and yellow paint, you could see the adobe construction.  There were also a ton of vultures that lined the rooftop - which was both kind of cool and very creepy.
Feria del Cafe
Wandering through Barranco, we came across a coffee fair in one of the plazas.  We walked around and looked at all of the different coffee-dedicated booths where one woman gave me a sample of Peruvian coffee.  I tried it, first black, and then with sugar, and both times it confirmed the fact that I am a tea drinker.  My friend, who likes coffee, had to finish it for me.  At another booth, there was a woman selling honey that had been made by bees pollinating coffee flowers and that honey was amazing.  It was hard not to take all of the free samples.  There were also some cardboard cutouts at the coffee fair, so of course we took pictures with those.

From the coffee fair, we wandered further into Barranco, and I was very impressed to see the mixture of older colonial and newer modern architecture.  We ate lunch at a very good burrito restaurant in Barranco (owned by an American, I believe) before walking back down to the beach to return to Miraflores.  I took off my hiking boots and waded in the Pacific Ocean(!) for a bit.  I thought I was in shallow enough water that I would be fine with my jeans rolled up to my knees, but then a big wave came and splashed me, getting my jeans soaking wet with salt water.  The water was actually not that cold (infinitely warmer than the water from the waterfalls in Ecuador), and after I got my socks and shoes back on, we continued walking up from the beach to Miraflores.  We rested at the hostel for a bit (so I could dry my jeans and so my friend could work on a couple emails she needed to finish for one of her projects) before planning our next move.
Mother & Child by the Pacific Ocean
That night, we headed out after dark from the hostel to the Parque de Aguas for a light show.  It was so cool to me that the area we were in was safe enough to walk around at night and take public transportation.  The park itself was also very safe and full of families and children eager to see the lights show.  You'd never see anything like this in Quito, so it was so cool for me to see people out and enjoying themselves at night.  It was only a few Nuevo Soles to get into the park, so extremely affordable (probably about $1.00 USD or less).  The lights show itself was pretty cool. There was music and the show took place at one of the main fountains (although I thought some of the other fountains were really cool).  My favorite part about the main show was that they showed traditional Peruvian dance styles from across the country paired with music from those regions.  It was really cool to learn about all of the diversity across Peru through this show.  After the show was over, we walked around to all of the other fountains and then headed over to another park across the street to quick catch the end of the set that DJ Quechaboi was spinning.

Sunday, August 25, 2013
In the morning, we took a couple small buses called convis to the Pachacamac Ruins, about 45 minutes outside of Lima.  We found tour companies on the internet advertising trips from Lima to the ruins for about $45.00 USD but we took our own trip for less than $10.00 USD, just by nicely asking people and police officers for directions.  

Pachacamac Ruins
Pachacamac was built by the Incas on top of another indigenous group's site.  The complex is actually fairly large and there were about 12 different sites to see as well as a small museum.  The pyramid and the Templo del Sol were my favorite of the sites.  It was really cool to walk around the entire complex and hike through the sites.  The Templo del Sol even overlooks the ocean.  It was amazing though how dusty and dry everything was, even though this is the coastal region of the country.  This was the first time today where I felt like Indiana Jones.
One of the coolest things that we say today was the MALI - Museo de Arte Lima, which had an amazing exhibit on José Sabagol (1888-1956).  He is sort of like the Peruvian Oswaldo Guayasamin in terms of his popularity and status as a symbol of that country's nationality.  Sabagol was considered the "first Peruvian painter" because, "for the first time in the history of the Republic of Peru, Andean subjects were incorporated into the collective imagination as a central element of the nation."  Sabagol was one of the main leaders in the quest for "essential Peruvianess" in the indigenista movement.  He also tried to break down barriers between the Sierra and the Coast, Lima and its provinces.  His obra inspired broad and diverse representations of Peru, which included the recovery of the legacy of Peru's indigenous cultures.
Alcalde de Varayoc
Mujer de Varayoc
Las Llamas
Balcón de Herodes

Between 1919 and 1923, Sabagol went to Mexico and described the trip to be a huge source of inspiration.  He greatly admired Diego Rivera's work and wanted the Mexican art movement of the time to serve as the model for development of art in Peru.  "By the end of the 1920s, a vision of Peru as a dual - or alternatively, mestizo - nation had taken shape, built on the basis of two clearly differentiated cultural traditions: the Hispanic and the indigenous."  "One of Sabagol's greatest contributions to 20th century Peruvian culture is, without a doubt, his work in the field of revaluing rural and popular aesthetics, undertaken under the influence of his experience in Mexico."  He used motifs inspired by mates (carvings on gourds) in his own art and graphic design projects.  Some of my favorite pieces from the exhibit were: Titcaca, Sembríos Andinos, Algarrobo, Las Llamas, Balcón de Herodes, Indio Quechwa, Alcalde de Calea, Varayoc de Chinchero, and Mujer de Varayac.  The paintings of the indigenous alcades (mayors) dominating the landscape were interpreted as a symbol of indigenous cultural continuity and its modern affirmation.  (Source: Sabagol exhibit in MALI). 
Traditionally decorated Toros de Pucará
On exiting the MALI, I saw more of these little ceramic bulls in the museum gift shop.  I asked the clerk if she knew the history of the bulls, and she was able to tell me that they are called Toro de Pucará and it is an Andean Peruvian symbol from the Sierra region of the country that came after the arrival of the Spanish.  The bulls are a symbol of good luck and families in the Sierra place one in their house to ward off bad luck, bring good luck, and protect the house.  I thought it was pretty interesting to learn more about the bulls - a Peruvian appropriation of a Spanish symbol with a distinct meaning in Andean Peruvian culture.  
Modern-styled Toro de Pucará
After the MALI, we walked into the centro historico and saw the Plaza de Armas and Presidential Palace.  We walked around the plaza to the Iglesia y Monestario de San Francisco, where there is a museum with catacombs underneath.  My friend had already gone through the catacombs tour, so she rested outside while I went into the catacombs.
Iglesia de San Francisco
The tour guide sounded like he came straight from a telanovela.  It was pretty ridiculous and very difficult not to laugh as he talked about a painting of The Last Supper where the artist included cuy (guinea pig) on the table.  Like a telanovela, it is possible that the tour guide memorized a script because he did not seem to understand any of my questions about the catacombs in English or when I asked in Spanish.  Inside the catacombs was pretty cool.  They used to bury people underneath the church until Lima built its own cemetery.  There are thousands of people who were buried in the catacombs.  It was really cool to see this archaeological site too and I even found an old piece of fabric that must have come from the clothing one of the bodies was buried in and noticed a skull with a bullet hole in it.  Now I really felt like Indiana Jones.

Monday, August 26, 2013
Monday was a nice and lazy day.  I woke up early this morning because all of the Chinese students staying at the hostel must have had some event they had to leave early for and were shouting through all of the hallways in Chinese before they left.  They were also shouting right outside my window loudly, so once I woke up, I wasn't able to fall back asleep.  It was really cold in the morning (like Cuenca and Riobamba cold), so I went to the kitchen to make some hot tea (not coffee, see above).  A Swiss medical student was also up early in the kitchen so we ate breakfast together and had a nice conversation.  He was checking out of the hostel that day, but his bus to his next destination was scheduled to leave at 11:00pm, so he spent the day with my friend and me.  
The three of us first went to the market near Parque Kennedy.  My friend had some work to do from a coffee shop, so she worked there while the Swiss student and I went to check out the market.  We were able to get some nice deals and I ended up buying another alpaca sweater.  Now I have one from Ecuador and one from Peru.  And I will be the warmest person in Michigan once it snows.  I also found a little red Toro de Pucará that I am going to give to my taxi driver when he takes me to the airport to go back to the United States as a 'thank you' gift.  I also found this little wooden version of Sorry, but instead of pawns it has llamas, foxes, sheep, and condors.  
Toro de Pucará in Parque Kennedy, Miraflores
After the market, the three of us went back to Miraflores to the park by the ocean with a little mall to check out movie theatre times and ticket specials.  The theatre back by Parque Kennedy had the same movies with cheaper prices, so we ate lunch at La Lucha again (by the ocean this time) then went to purchase our tickets at the other theatre.  We headed to a supermarket to buy some groceries then to the hostel to eat dinner and chill until the movie started at 6:30pm.  We ended up seeing this movie called Freelancers, although it has a different title in Spanish.  At least it wasn't dubbed over, but it still amazes me how a movie with Robert DeNiro and Forest Whittaker could be so absolutely a-w-f-u-l (although maybe 50 Cent should have been the clue there).  At least it was funny because it was so horrible.  

Once the movie was over, I still had some soles in coins in my pocket (even after buying airplane snacks), and since the money changers will not change out coins, we took 6.75 in soles to the nighttime market in Parque Kennedy to spend them on as many bracelets as we could buy for 6.75.  My friend is going to Michigan State University for her master's right now and I went to MSU for undergrad, so we bought three matching green and white bracelets and taught the Swiss guy how to say, "Go Green!  Go White!" and give him the third bracelet.  It is possible that he now thinks we are crazy.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013
This morning, I woke up early, ate a grapefruit, then hopped into the taxi to go back to the airport.  For some reason, when I used Expedia to buy my tickets, there was a direct flight from Quito to Lima, but the cheapest option on the return trip was to go from Lima to Bogota to Quito.  Which seemed strange to me, especially once I got to Lima and found out that there were in fact several direct flights from Lima back to Quito.  But, whatever, I went to Bogota.  I hung out in the Bogota airport for about 4 hours watching planes take off.  While I was waiting there, my boss from the NGO in Quito showed up.  Apparently she was in Bogota for a conference that past weekend and was also on her way back to Quito.  We talked for a little bit before boarding the plane to learn that she had a seat in the row behind mine.  Too funny.

Having the chance to visit Lima was wonderful, and it was fantastic to see my friend from my hometown.  The city itself was very different from Quito (it was safer, they had a LIBRARY, and there was water), but next time, I would like a little bit more time in Peru to be able to visit Huaraz and do some trekking there (it is supposed to be beautiful) as well as fulfill a childhood dream of visiting Machu Pichu.  However, it was still a great trip!

Landing in Quito was a breeze and now, I only have one more day to see last-minute things, pack up, and get ready to fly home!

waiting for a convi at the Pachacamac Ruins

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Cloud Forest and a Cascada: Mindo

On Saturday, August 17th, two volunteers and I woke up bright and early in the morning and met at the Ofelia bus stop to head over to Mindo, a 2.5 hour ride away.  Mindo sits at a much lower elevation than Quito, and as the bus drove towards the town, you could feel the temperature rising with the humidity.  The landscape also became thicker and greener with a change from the kind of dry vegetation that I am used to seeing in and around Quito.
When we arrived in Mindo, it was cool to see that it was a place that was enjoyed equally by foreign tourists as native Ecuadorians with their families.  Since one of the travel companions had to work on her thesis on Sunday, we just had the one day on Saturday to stay in Mindo.  We first bought our return bus ticket before the seats filled up.  Unfortunately, the buses back to Quito do not run late, with the last bus leaving Mindo at 5:00pm.  With our limited time, we decided to go to the Tarabita first.  The Tarabita is a cable car that shoots you above the treetops across 530 meters to the other side in less than a minute and a half.  Once you reach the other side, you can enter the hiking trails that lead you to the different waterfalls in the Santaurio de Cascadas.
Since we were pressed for time and still wanted to see other things, we opted for the longer hike with the larger waterfall, Cascada Reina.  The guide at the trailhead told us that the hike would take about 50 minutes at a slow pace.  We booked it through the dense forest, stopping occasionally to admire its beauty and the views across the treetops when a space opened between the trees and vines by the trail.  However, it still took us about an hour and 15 minutes to reach the waterfall.
It was totally worth it though - it was absolutely beautiful.  And because the hike is longer, there were fewer tourists there.  I wish I had water shoes because I would have wanted to swim in the water (unlike Sangolqui, the water here was fresh but not bitingly cold - it was rockier, though).  We stayed by the falls for a bit and waded in the water before drying our feet and heading back through the trail.  It only took 40 minutes (maybe less) on the way back - not really sure why though because it felt just about even in terms of the uphill and downhill parts of the trail.  We estimated that the trail was about 5 to 6 miles total.
We hopped the Tarabita back to zip above the treetops where I shot the video below.  We were moving really fast.  The scenery was gorgeous though.
When we got to the side from which we started, we hopped into the back of a pickup truck to take us back into the town.  We found this little cafe called Cafe Mimi (a friend's recommendation) which turned out to be very good.  After lunch, we hopped into another truck to go back to the Mariposario to see butterflies.  Unfortunately for us, the best time to see butterflies is at 9:00am and they pretty much go to sleep by 2:00pm.  Which was kind of a bummer because we showed up around 3:50pm.  We walked around the garden for a bit, fed some giant goldfish, and watched the humming birds go from feeder to feeder.  They were fairly large for humming birds (at least compared to the ones I have seen in Michigan), and it was fun to see a few different species.
We didn't have too much time left, so we went to a chocolate place to buy some chocolate made in Mindo.  It was amazing - very dark and very pure and very delicious.  After sampling some chocolate, it was time to head back to the bus stop to catch our ride home. If we had more time available (or later buses), it would have been nice to do some tubing or rafting.  All in all, it was another fun weekend trip.  Now, just one more week of work left, then off to Peru for a few days, and then back to the U.S. to finish up law school!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Cotopaxi through the Clouds

Today was the Ecuadorian Independence Day (August 10th).  Instead of staying in Quito to do something, fourteen of us from work hired a driver and a van to take us to the Cotopaxi National Park for the day.  We left around 8:30am and arrived a few hours later.
The park sits at an elevation even higher than Quito so you could feel the air becoming thinner as we drove through the park to go to the parquedero to start the trek.  It is amazing too to see the geographical changes in the landscape in Ecuador.  Quito is dry and dusty but outside the city is lush and green, especially as you drive to lower elevations.  Quito is also nestled between mountain ranges in the Sierra, but the Cotopaxi National Park was completely different.  Generally, it was very flat (except for Cotopaxi and some other volcanos) and the ground was hard, dry, and gravely with the volcanic rocks.

When we got to the parquedero to start our trek, our driver told us that he would wait for us at the bottom because he is prone to altitude sickness.  He instructed us to walk extremely slowly and take as many breaks as needed to avoid feeling sick.  He instructed the smokers in our group to refrain from smoking because that makes the altitude sickness worse.  With these words of encouragement, we were off.
Refugio Jose Rivas
For reference, Quito sits at 9,350 feet above sea level (2,849 meters).  Prior to hiking on Cotopaxi, the highest I had been was to the TeleferiQo in Quito that starts at 10,006 feet above sea level (3,050 meters) and ends at 13,287 feet (4,050 meters).  The parquedero at Cotopaxi where we started our hike was located at 15,091 feet above sea level (4,600 meters) and our destination, the Jose Rivas Refugio, is located at 15,953 feet (4,864 meters).  In contrast to all of this, my hometown in the U.S.A. is located at a mere 650 feet above sea level (198 meters).

We all felt the altitude to varying degrees.  A friend and I hiked up together, stopping along the way to catch our breaths and take pictures (fun and a good excuse to walk slower and rest more).  The hike up was not technically tough, aside from the thin air, but the volcanic gravel was not very stable and it was sort of like climbing a really, really tall sand dune.  The fog was also very thick.  I could not see much past my hand when I held it out at arm's length.  We knew that the edges of the trail dipped off into steep ravines, so we kept following the people in front of us in one direction: up.  About halfway between the parquedero where we started and the refugio, I started getting the same kind of nautious feeling as motion-sickness in a car and the last ten minutes of our hike had a few of us feeling light-headed too.  Although the refugio is actually not that far away, the combination of the high altitudes and wet gravel meant it took us about an hour and twenty minutes to make it to our destination.

Once at the refugio, we all felt great.  We bought some delicious hot chocolate (I feel so sorry for the people who have to haul supplies up and down from the refugio - although they must have the best lungs in the world).  It was great resting there even though it was also pretty cold, and we met some other travelers, including a French woman who had hiked to the top!  A few people in our group left the refugio to try to walk another twenty minutes up to see where the ice starts, but there was a pretty bad storm higher up, so park rangers would not let people pass for safety concerns.
When we left the refugio to hike back down, it had started snowing!  It was a strange snow - more like a cross between snow and hail.  It reduced some of the fog though meaning we could see around and down from us better.  The white snow covering the black, grey, and red gravel was beautiful.  I thought Cotopaxi was so much prettier in the snow.  It was cold and all we had were sweatshirts and thin windbreakers, but I really enjoyed taking my time walking down to take in the beauty of the mountain around me.  It was so much easier walking down than climbing up.  Where the gravel had been slippery and unstable hiking up, we were able to slide down quickly.  It was pretty fun and only took us about 20 minutes to come down from the refugio to our van in the parquedero.

After our mini-trek, we went to the laguna in the park.  The water level was very, very low, but apparently it is a great place to see different bird species.  We saw a couple, then moved on to another section of the park to look at the changed landscape before returning back to Quito.  I think this was one of my favorite trips in Ecuador thus far and someday, it would be really cool to sumit a mountain (not anything crazy-tall, but maybe see if I can go further than the altitude where we were at the refugio). 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Waterfalls in Sangolqui and Loreto

This Saturday, four of us from the office went to a suburb of Quito about 45 minutes by bus, Sangolqui, to meet up with one of our other coworkers who lives with her boyfriend's family there.  We met up with the two of them as well as two of our other Ecuadorian friends, at a giant multi-colored statue of corn (chocro in Kichwa) at the center of the town.  From there, the eight of us hopped into a pick-up truck that took us up through hills and through the little pueblo of Loreto to the entrance closest to the largest waterfall.   Four of us rode in the cab of the truck, and four of us rode in the bed of the truck (I was in the cab).  The bed of the truck looked pretty bumpy.  At one point, the truck drove over a wooden bridge - this bridge was made of planks of wood placed across one another.  I thought that the truck would fall through, but apparently the wood is holding far.
We hiked in a little ways and found ourselves at the top of the waterfall.  You could go all the way up to the edge.  There usually is a small pool at the top that you can swim in and then dry yourself on the rocks.  However, the water levels were pretty low so we just climbed around on the rocks.  There were some yellow arrows that I think were painted on there to direct hikers.  The area seemed to be popular among local people.
We then went back to the trail and hiked down to the bottom of the waterfall.  We had brought our swimsuits but when I put my foot in the water and could not feel my ankle any more, we decided against swimming and stuck to the hiking.  The waterfall was beautiful though.  After spending some time at the base of the main falls, we decided to hike more through the woods to reach other falls that we could see from a distance.
Along the hike through the forest trail, we crossed a small wooden bridge over a little river and saw a cow with tags on its ears standing by the side of the river.  We had no idea how the poor cow got there, because there were no farms nearby and the trail is pretty heavily wooded, even for people, that for a cow to navigate a narrow, steep trail seems impossible. I went up to the cow, but it turned away and walked a little bit down the river to eat a tree.  Poor cow - I hope it finds its way home.
We did not spend too much time at the other waterfalls, as they were much smaller, but it was cool to see them naturally in the forest.  We hiked back to the entrance where we started (it was much more difficult because now we were going uphill the entire time).  We managed to find another pickup truck that could take us to Loreto where we could catch a bus for $0.25 to Sangolqui.  The four people who had ridden in the truck bed first were adamant about riding in the cab this time, so we switched groups.  It was actually a lot of fun to ride in the bed.  Pretty dusty, but fun, and definitely a 100% Ecuadorian experience.

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