Monday, March 02, 2015

Hola Loja - Or We Came Here for What Reason?

Karen, our neighbor on the first floor had offered to drive us to the shuttle, so we did not have to worry about getting a taxi. Being early by almost an hour, we sat in the office reading our books.

“Ryan, they are boarding” Ron said to me. I think he momentarily forgot we are not flying. The very new sturdy looking van could accommodate seven passengers comfortably. There were two young women sharing the back row with me, but only one young woman used the middle seat in the center row. Ron chose to sit up front next to the driver. 

We take off and I am trying to read. The roads are fine, but it still feels like we have hit turbulence. The captain never warned us to fasten our seatbelts, but all of us did so out of habit. Eventually, we reached the highway where it was smooth flying. Oh right, we are in a van, but honestly, we were flying.

The route from Cuenca to Loja has more curves than the famous Lombard Street in San Francisco. Our driver, who was older than a youngster and seemed competent, drove as he was trying to make the finals of the Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique. I could not see the speedometer or the scenery. All I did see was blur of differing colors. If I had a dollar for every vehicle we passed on a winding road, it would reimburse us for this trip and buy us lunch. Our driver seemed to treat the double yellow lines down the middle of the road as decoration or a suggestion for staying on the lines.

After an hour, we stopped for gas. Climbing out of the van for the men’s room, my real need was to move my stomach back in place. It along with my heart was stuffed in my mouth. What really set me on edge was rounding a severe bend in the road only to find a calf standing in the middle of the highway with its rope dragging behind. The driver slammed on the brakes, which were thankfully, very efficient. No animals of any variety were harmed in the making of this journey.

The two women to my left had the good sense to keep their eyes closed the entire 3 ½ hours. Sitting placidly, eyes opened wide, the woman in the row ahead of me had a rosary going. After the calf incident, she started lighting candles
after pulling her statue of Mary of the Highlands out of her coat. She probably would have started with Gregorian Chants next if she were not fearful of scaring the driver. I tried alternating sleep with reading, with keeping from letting out primal screams. My life passed before my eyes so many times, I was sick of reruns. The return trip may require drugs: sleeping pills, anti-anxiety, or the very least, a bottle of scotch.

When we arrived at ELITE tours in Loja, I was beyond underwhelmed. As soon as we reached what looked like civilization and not highways through the mountains, there was nothing impressive. Standing on the sidewalk trying to hail a taxi, eventually two of them stopped, but when they read the address we needed, they just pulled away. One said something as he drove away, but I could not catch it as he was closing the window at the same time.

Ron went into the office to ask them to call for a taxi for us. Within minutes, a taxi showed up and we were driving, and driving, and driving. As we traveled, I had the impression we were staying in a suburb or even a neighboring town. Ron and I looked at each other with ominous thoughts hanging over our heads. When we reached the street, the driver could not find the house. We had been given intensive directions by the American renting out the apartment, but I assured him it was too lengthy translate to Spanish. His e-mail response was that they were for us. A hell of a lot of good that would do us.

Finally, we made it and met James a rather robust American. As three dogs are jumping all over us making more noise than a nursery school class at recess, we are trying to follow

James. Oblivious to the commotion, he is explaining that he rents these two apartments from Sonia who lives in the house in front. He also ‘manages’ another apartment in a different location. “By the way”, he states “there has been some construction replacing part of the roof. They generally don’t start until 8am. Oh, and the dogs bark. Be careful when you leave, because one dog likes to shit on the welcome mat. If she does, just throw it on the lawn.”

By this point, I was ready to test my survival skills with ELITE Tours and head back to Cuenca. James shows us the shower, proudly stating that they just replaced the head. It is
the type where you risk being electrocuted when you shower. After asking if it was set or needed to be turned on, he demonstrated by turning it on. No water pressure – no hot water. After sighing, saying he did not know how it worked, he walked out. This is a one-room apartment. Bed, kitchen, dresser, TV, and two tables are all in one room. 

When asked about shopping, James suggested a small tienda on the corner a block away. We did stop in there, but they had limited supplies of things that were of interest to us. He also suggested the SuperMaxi “10 minutes” away. There were also multiple restaurants in the same mall for our dinner options.

Twenty minutes of walking later, we asked someone where SuperMaxi was, thinking we had gotten it wrong. We were on the right trail; we just had not walked far enough. The mall, basically a strip mall with a food court in the center, was nothing to rave about. We bypassed the places such as Kentucky Fried Chicken settling on something that looked more Ecuadorian. Though it was edible, it certainly is not worthy of a TripAdvisor review.

Mentally, I have been writing my AirBnB review for this apartment. I cannot forget the roosters that start crowing at 3:30 am. Dogs join the medley at 6am. There is only a
stovetop fueled by propane, but the tank was empty. Water pressure, which is so low, it cannot stimulate the water heater into action and the real kicker: the “coffee maker” looks like a windsock. You have to put the coffee in and pour boiling water over it.

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