Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Off to Zaruma for the Weekend

With another four day weekend, I decided to get out of Cuenca again as my friend invited me to go with her to Zaruma. Gaby is from Zaruma, and since I know a bunch of people from the small town in the El Oro province, I had always wanted to check it out. Zaruma is about 6 hours away from Cuenca, closer towards Peru. It's considered the coast, but nestled in the hills before the sierra opens up, so while it's a hotter, temperate climate, it's also cooler than the coast.

It's an old mining town that is known for producing large amounts of gold, and it actually has a feel of an old western town that you might find in the United States. Everything is made out of wood and the shops and restaurants even seem like saloons. Only instead of finding a ghost town, you'll find a thriving community.

The ride in wasn't very enjoyable simply because the driver was going way too fast around hair pin turns, causing my stomach to give me the heads up that I might let go of breakfast. The views were still nice even though the heat was nearly unbearable as we descended to the coast and then back up again into the hills. This was the first bus I've ever seen with an armed guard on board, which had me wondering why other buses don't have guards as well.

We arrived in Zaruma as darkness descended, and after getting me settled into a hotel in the center of town, I went with Gaby to her house just outside the center. Zaruma is made up of steep hills, but after months of living at higher altitude in Cuenca, it was no problem for me. Gaby's family was very welcoming and served us dinner ( and they would actually feed me for the entire weekend ). The food was delicious and after dinner we sat and talked as we waited out the pounding rain that had caused a leak in the roof. They laughed that we brought Cuenca's bad weather with us. Once it died down Gaby and her brother Pablo walked me back to the hotel and I went to sleep, ready to rest after a long day.

But rest I wasn't able to, as roosters started in right outside the hotel around 2:30 am. I have no idea what they could have been doing up that early, but it seemed like every few minutes from then until sunrise the roosters woke me up, and by the time Gaby called me around 8:30 am to come down for breakfast, I felt like a zombie. Luckily, the coffee in Zaruma is some of the best coffee in the country.

Most of the coffee in the country is exported, and only Loja and Zaruma are known for keeping their own. There's actually an aroma of coffee throughout the town. I like my coffee with milk and sugar, but the coffee from the town was so rich and tasteful that I didn't even need it. After a breakfast of tamales, Gaby, Pablo and I set off for the mines. Since Zaruma is known for it's mining, naturally there is also tourist mine that you can visit for free. Walking up through the small town, the brother and sister seemed to be greeting everyone they met, a typical thing in small towns here but something I don't see much in Cuenca. The views from the town to the surrounding valley are excellent, and even though I feel jaded by the mountains sometimes, I had to admire them.

Up at the mine we saw a video, put on some boots and hard hats, and walked in for a 10 minute tour. The deeper we went the heavier the air became, and you could see just how tough the conditions were. There were a couple people who mentioned to me that in Chile and Argentina "minas" refers to cute girls, but in the rest of the Spanish speaking world it means "mines." So in other words, once I go to Argentina, I should be careful to say that I've been inside a "mina."

To Be continued...

Above: Classic architecture of Zaruma, inside the church, houses on the hills

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