Saturday, November 8, 2008

Rain in Jima Doesn't Mean No Joy

Today I went for a short day trip to the town of Jima, a little less than 2 hours southwest of Cuenca. My friends Casey and Lara are living in Jima, and though it's an extremely small town in the sticks with not much to do, I wanted to check out the town and do a little hiking.

We took off on the 11 a.m. bus out of a hole in the wall "terminal", leaving on an old bus with huge windows, which when you opened them up, half your body was out of the bus. The weather was great as the sun beat down and the temperature permitted just a t-shirt and jeans. It was looking like good weather for hiking, but it's always hard to tell how long the weather will hold here.

Casey had told me that half the fun of Jima was the bus ride, and as we cruised along through the mountains, I could see why. I felt like a kid in a candy shop, looking out the window at all of the scenery. Passing by farms and huge mountain peaks, the bus took one sharp turn after another, steadily rising in altitude.

It was extremely exciting, and as we got off the bigger road, we wound down onto dirt roads that had never even heard of concrete. One wrong move and the bus would tumble down hundreds, maybe thousands of feet, but the driver was careful to avoid the ditches with slowly moving, brown water, and we continued straight on the path.

As we were getting closer to the destination, darker clouds started to roll in, and it was getting colder. It was clear that the perfect weather was not going to hold. The moment we pulled into Jima a thunderstorm broke out. As we ran up the dirt road, slowly becoming a mud road, to their house, it became evident that the climb was not going to happen.

It was a disappointment, but there was still another, easier walk we could do. The rain stopped and we grabbed lunch, and I could see what a friendly town it was. Jima only has about 1,500 people, and since Casey and Lara are the only gringos, they stick out quite a bit. But everyone is extremely friendly, and as we passed, everyone said hello and good afternoon.

The newly married couple eat all of their meals at the same restaurant, and they are only served whatever is being cooked that day. A dirty-white dog named "Paci" follows them around wherever they go and protects them from the other wild packs of dogs that rule the streets of the town. The last volunteer in the town had brought the dog, and now it has an affinity for gringos.

After the lunch we went back to the house to wait out a few more storms that had rolled in. There is literally nothing to do in Jima. The town center has a couple of stores and maybe one bar/restaurant. A church is the tallest building. This small pueblo has dirt road, which in the rain became muddy sink holes, increasingly difficult to walk through. The buildings and houses are run down and dirty, many in disrepair. But there's something awfully charming about the place. There's no Internet. Probably not that many TVs. And few cars running through causing traffic.

But that's what's perfect about it. It's almost what my image of Ecuador was before I got here. The mountains in the background are magnanimous and inspiring, begging you to climb them. It's an incredibly safe town because everyone knows each other, and there's no point in robbing your friend when you know they don't have anything to steal. The tranquility of the town was perfect.

Once the rain had stopped for a third, or maybe fourth time, we decided to go on a little walk through the town. Going down the dirty roads, Paci followed us and ran ahead at times. Going down the steep roads which the couple runs on, it was clear that the rain had worn away, forcing more rocks up to the surface.

Passing by an indigenous woman carrying a heavy load up the hill, we greeted each other and she warned us it was about to rain. No sooner than a minute later the rain started to fall, and we turned back. The walk up the hill was tough, and since we were higher than in Cuenca, about 9000 feet or more, I was breathing deeply by the time we got to the top.

Once more we returned to the house, played some poker, and then I caught the 5 p.m. bus back to Cuenca. The rain continued to fall off and on, but the ride out was as nice as the ride in, even though towards the end it was dark. Tired and somehow sunburned, I returned home to relax and rest for the remainder of the night. All told, it was a solid day.

Above: along the walk through Jima, one of the main roads through town, the view of the mountain we didn't climb from the house

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