Saturday, February 21, 2015

Did It, But I Never Want To Do It Again

Wake me when it is over!
After reading TripAdvisor reviews and listening to Mike and Howard give the Amaru Zoologica rave reviews, in spite of the warnings, we wanted to visit. Karenfromchicago who wrote a review on TA was spot on. We heard it was 'challenging', but nothing prepared us for what we encountered. When you have been a smoker for 40+ years and with only 10 years reprieve, this was more like the Mighty Man challenge.

Here is the story. We are living in Gringolandia, which is away from downtown Cuenca. We took a bus to near Museo Todos Santos beyond the downtown area; from there, we walked down the hill crossing the river to hail a taxi. The driver knew exactly where we needed to go. Expecting to pay upwards of $8 for the taxi, it was $2.80. The bus ride was .50 for two of us. So far so good. Pre-warned that some taxis would let you off at the bottom of the hill off the highway, but if it happened, we should insist we be taken to the top. Otherwise, it is a 600-meter climb.

Our driver knew the drill. He took us directly to the parking lot, the closest place to take a car. However, once you reach
the parking lot, you start the ascent to the ticket office. Ascent means a whole lot of stairs and inclines, which have to be navigated before handing over $4 per person for a ticket. With the ticket, you get a map. What we did not find were respirator or pickaxe rentals. They could really clean up if those were available. 

As others have shared, the zoo built on
the side of a mountain needs careful climbing. Before you leave the ticket area, looking at the vista of the city, you realize this is way higher altitude than expected. Cuenca is 2,560 m (8,400 ft) in altitude. There is a significant gain in altitude just at the ticket office. We will reach great heights still as, the fun has yet to begin.

All of the paths to follow are dirt, rock pebble, old trees, or a combination of all of the above. What you will not find is concrete, but only
natural materials in various forms. Do not even dare to come here if it is raining or slightly moist out. Paths are marred by overgrown tree roots and tree stumps, but there are also tree branches that need to be ducked under or pushed back in order to pass. Old tree branches create handrails and though they are as pliable as overcooked spaghetti, they are significantly comforting giving the impression you will not slip and slide breaking an ankle or foot. Speaking of which, if anyone tried this without good sneakers or hiking boots, serious trouble is predictable.

Good excuse to catch my breath.
I lost count of how many times I was bent over gasping for air. At those moments, I would have settled for any air, even pollution would have been welcomed. I think rock climbing would have been less stressful. The exertion gave new meaning to wearing your heart of your sleeve. I seriously think my heart moved out of position from the efforts involved.

You walk, walk, walk and then climb, climb, climb. Just when you think you are about to touch the clouds, that false
The end is out of reach.
security hits you that still is still another climb around the corner. Thinking we have already climbed over all of the halved tree trunks, some rotting and others missing their mission by covering the path altogether, there we were still more to conquer. Descents downward are illusions of false hope. Each time, I thought, "Great, we are finally descending" around the corner was another staircase to heaven that needed mastering. I swear we passed some saints on the way.

Bless me Mother Nature, I have sinned by smoking, but I quit yet you are still punishing me. Some restful spots are provided here and there, but certainly not enough for older folks who are not in shape. Thankfully, the trails are not inundated with people, so we could stand still, heaving and gasping before moving on again.

We never did see the local bears, alpacas or a number of
other animals that the signs led us to believe they would be. No one home at the forest. What we did find fascinating was the monkey area. There are wire circular cages for monkeys to run rampant around an area in safety. There is an underground tunnel for them to run over to monkey island.
You're kidding me~
In one area, a tiny monkey was running free and was within arm’s length, totally oblivious to our existence or aware, but not giving a rip.

The ticket seller mentioned that it would take us about two and one-half hours to get through the zoo. Taking into consideration false stops to regard the vista when we were really sucking in oxygen or trying to keep our hearts from exploding, or sitting in places where there were real benches, it took us more like 3 3/4
We were watching to see if you would make it.
hours. We did take full advantage of large rocks for resting.

At the end, the ticket office was very pleasant about calling for a taxi and he arrived within 12 minutes. Going back, the traffic was extremely heavy so the fare was $8 with a tip. To be fair, we had him drop us off closer the city center so this added to it. I was so grateful to be sitting in one place. I would have paid
We are now proud members of the 2 1/2 mile high club.
him more.

It was a great experience now that it is over. Been there, done that and now it is wiped clean from my bucket list. My back and muscles will keep the memories going for quite some time hereafter.

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