by Susan Schenck
From Cuenca, one of the most astounding day trips is to Giron. Take a bus from Terminal Terreste at 9 a.m. and about every 15 to 30 minutes after that. It costs one hour and one dollar. Once there, you can visit the museum in town. For five dollars, take a cab up to the small waterfall. Be sure to bring your censo card as admission to the hike costs only $1 (locals) as opposed to $2 (foreigners) for the entrance.
Getting to the small waterfalls is no sweat; the path is marked by rails and stairs and it's not much of a climb. Once there, you're rewarded with a scenic view, as well as great drinking water.
But serious hikers will relish the more rigorous trek to the second waterfall, which isn't visible from the ground. It’s about a two-hour affair going up and a 1,100-foot climb. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes that you don’t mind getting muddy. Take a hiking buddy or at least be sure to tell someone where you’re going, as there is a remote possibility of becoming a scene out of the movie 127 Hours, where the guy was stuck somewhere for days. Also be sure to take a backpack with snacks and water, as this hike requires some serious energy and sweat.
When you get to the site of the small waterfalls, there’s a restaurant. Two German Shepherds (belonging to the restaurant owners)—a mom and son)—eagerly accompanied a group of us on the long hike, and when we weren’t quite sure where to go at one point, they actually showed us the way! However, the man who collected our money gave us oral instructions that went (in Spanish) something like this: Go down the hill from the restaurant till you see a path on the left, and take that way up. (To say “way up” was an understatement!) When you get to a major fork in the road, which is after at least half an hour, take the lower path. Then you are about 15 minutes to the falls (reality check: 30 minutes!). Cross the shallow river. (Stepping stones are available, but take it easy and slow!) You will come to a patch of grass, and follow that straight ahead and uphill as the path reappears. Keep on the path through the woods till you get there. The path is very narrow and at times you could fall, so this is not for the fainthearted or those without fairly good balance.
When you get there, the sight of the falls (“el chorro”) is breathtaking, and you realize it’s all been worth the effort. You can get close up, especially if you’re good at maneuvering around and climbing large stones, and feel the falls spray you with its fresh water and negative ions that make one euphoric. But even if you aren’t so daring as to do a bit of rock climbing, you can bask in the presence of the falls and enjoy a picnic.
On the way down, be prepared to see some of the most glorious views you’ve seen in all your years of living in Ecuador. What’s interesting is that poor villagers get to inhabit these hills and enjoy the view on a daily basis—whereas this would be some seriously prime real estate in a place like California.
When you get to the restaurant, you can eat there (or not) and have them call a cab. It’s another 5 bucks down to town. Once there, if you ask any cab for a restaurant recommendation, they all seem to take you to the same place: La Posada. It serves only one selection of meal a day! It’s about $2. From there, you're close to where you catch a bus back to Cuenca.
I recall reading about people who live long and stay fit and healthy. One of their secrets is to climb and hike regularly. The exercise at Giron is so invigorating that I intend to do this at least once a month.
Susan Schenck, LAc, is a raw-food coach, lecturer, and author of the two-time award-winning book, The Live Food Factor, The Comprehensive Guide to the Ultimate Diet for Body, Mind, Spirit & Planet, which has gained a reputation as the encyclopedia of the raw food diet, as well as Beyond Broccoli, Creating a Biologically Balanced Diet When a Vegetarian Diet Doesn’t Work. Go to www.livefoodfactor.com and register for the free newsletter to get a copy of the first chapter of The Live Food Factor.