Editor’s note: This is the second of an eight-part series by writer / photographer Brian Buckner about hiking in the Cuenca area. To read the first installment, click here.
By Brian Buckner
I define rural hiking as walking in areas outside the city proper but the outskirts of town is a good place to get started.
You could be hiking on asphalt, a dirt road or a single track path. That’s right, there’s a mix of surfaces as you move away from the city. Specifically, I am speaking of hiking in rural communities. You’ll find yourself walking right next to people who are riding to work on their horse, leading their milk cows to a greener pasture, or simply making their daily harvest of vegetables.
These country treks are similar to city hikes in that you must be aware of where you put your feet. The surfaces are varied and uneven with loose gravel and exposed roots being the norm. Also, be prepared for steep trails and roads, many with bushwhacking grades. There is a lot of going up and then down as you hike through these areas and you may feel a bit winded by your exertion. No worries though as this is how you become acclimated to the environment. After a time or two, you’ll be showing your buds how it’s done.
Let’s talk first about those country dogs, since they can present a major challenge. By the way, I wrote a funny story about them titled, Yard Dogs of Barabon.
Most city dogs keep from underfoot as you walk the sidewalks and don’t exhibit aggressive behavior. On the other hand, many of the dogs in the country are all about protecting their master’s property and family. They will bark and growl from behind fences, or right next to you, during your hikes. They can and will chase you and presumably, bite you. However, I have logged two or three thousand hiking miles in Ecuador and I’ve never been bitten. If they come out barking, you can swing your pack or trekking poles at them to dissuade aggression. A friend throws them meat scraps he keeps in a zippy. You can growl or bark back at them, raising your arms in the air to appear bigger to them. Or, you can just keep walking, keeping an eye out over your shoulder, and see what happens. All these techniques have been tried and proven to work in various situations. All dogs encountered should be regarded as unpredictable. Do what you think is best to deal with them understanding that most don’t need to be dealt with at all.
The Rewards of el campo
Having informed you of what may seem like a perilous route to some,you should also know that it can be the most rewarding. These are my favorite areas to hike as they are very diverse in both culture and geography. You get to see it all in what we call el campo, or the country. I’ve also met more people on these types of hikes than others since I hike where the people live and work. I love meeting them and having chit-chatting with them. We’ll talk about engaging these country people and also, city people, later on. Let’s see where we might go for now!
In the green hills east of Cuenca lies the rural community of Baguanchi. It is picturesque and very pastoral as most of these outlying communities are. The number 15 city bus turns around there.
You’ll arrive from downtown via bus in fifteen or twenty minutes, average. After you’ve arrived, then what? Start walking! Seriously, that’s all there is to it. There are a myriad of tiny rock strewn dirt roads in the area with virtually all of them connect to each other in some way. Get out your smart phone or tablet and open your Google Maps or Google Earth app. Find a route that you like and just follow your blue dot on the map to know your whereabouts, it’s straightforward. More on maps and apps later.
Make a point of greeting those you come across in your walk. Use Spanish as much as you can and smile. Remember, all you need to know to start is how to say “hello,” “good morning” and “good afternoon.”
On the opposite side of Cuenca from Baguanchi, on the west, you will find the small village of San Joaquin and, continuing westward, following a ten-mile stretch of the Yanuncay River, is the town of Soldados. This is one of my favorite areas as you follow the river, surrounded by a pictuesque valley. It’s very green the entire way.
A few miles past San Joaquin is the Cuenca Tenis and Golf Club. You can get off the number 19 city bus there, since that’s where it turns around to head back to town, and start you walk along the river to Soldados. There’s also a green, rural bus that runs this route also but not at all times of the day. You could catch it back to the Golf Club to connect to the number 19 to get back to Cuenca.
Along the road to Soldados, which parallels the river, you’ll find one home or small tienda after another. There are also several churches. The river views change along the route but they’re all great and photo-ops are everywhere. This is a small farming and dairy community. Depending on what time of day, you will see various events of the work day underway. As you pass, be pleasant and greet everyone but let them continue with their work. Everyone will welcome a chance to say hi especially if you’re brave enough to give that new Spanish a whirl.
On your rural hike, remember that farm animals are like all animals, unpredictable and use caution around them. Stopping steers and workers that are plowing is not a welcomed interaction for either the animal or the farmer. Always use your best judgement in interacting with the country folk, realizing how hard they work to earn a meager living. Please give them to do their jobs.
Photos by Brian Buckner.