Breathless in Cañar

When I posted these photos on Facebook the other day, with the caption “Culebrillas Lake at 4000 meters,” I meant to add “breathless,” which is how Michael and I felt hiking around this spectacular landscape earlier this week with our friend, Lynn.Culebrillas  M. wi lake Paradones M & me culebrillas

It always takes us awhile to adapt to the altitude here (Cañar is at 3,100 mts. or 10,170 feet), but we normally wouldn’t attempt 4000 meters (13,123 feet) within ten days of arriving. However, the road to Lake Culebrillas is notoriously bad, and only during the dry season can a four-wheel-drive vehicle safely traverse the two hours of pot-holed, rocky, rugged, heart-stopping-drops, landslide-vulnerable track called a road. For days, we’d been watching the clear views of the high mountains from our north windows, the same you see at the top of this blog. The lake lies behind the highest ridge, in an intermontane valley, and is the site of the myth of origin of the Cañari people. When we called Lynn to suggest that we take the opportunity of good weather for a day trip, she agreed, driving up from Cuenca with her dog, Ariel, to spend the night so we could get an early start.

Michael and I haven’t been to this lake for years, but it played a part in our very earliest years here, when we organized an overnight camping trip with our first Cañari friends, my photography students and their spouses and siblings. We were a group of about ten. The truck we hired couldn’t make it all the way, so we ended up walking overland. The Cañaris (with their big lungs and oxygenated hearts) leaping over the páramo grass while carrying a large tarp, pots, food, our packs (mine with a heavy Hasselblad camera and gear) and even a bass drum, while Michael and I, carrying nothing, were on our knees every few yards, gasping to catch our breath. We slept by the lake, under the tarp, where our friends built a fire while playing music long into the night. The next morning, a bit sick from carbon monoxide, we walked around the lake and Michael and the boys tried their luck fishing.

It was a wonderful time – a significant moment then and an evocative one now. Antonio, one of my students, died last year, and his wife Edelina, died ten years ago, and the little girl in the photo below now works in a nail salon in New Jersey. Another couple is separated, and a young woman, unmarried but hopeful at the time, is now a “migrant widow” – one of many Cañari women left in marital limbo here, raising children, while their immigrant husbands in the U.S. make new lives, some with new families.

Antonio y Edelina  ME w lamb

Zoila y Rebecaat culebrillas

The bottom right photo is the only one I could find in my digital files from that original trip to Lake Culebrillas – the boys looking for fish with Michael’s net – although the other images were taken around the same year, 1992.



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4 thoughts on “Breathless in Cañar

  1. That last paragraph was so poignant as were the beautiful black and white photos that accompanied it. Whenever I see Ecuadorians here in NJ (and there are a lot of them) I always wonder about their journey north, their reasons for coming and the heartbreak that they carry with them.

  2. oh Judy, your comments and photos are so evocative of both the beauty and the tragedy of third world lives. I so appreciate your balanced perspective.

  3. Judy y Miguel. Hola! Your climb up to over 13K is incredible. Michael, I heard you’re sick. Is it from the altitude? Been doing lots of hiking myself, about 7-10 miles a day. The dog never complains. Portland still suffers from drought, producing sunny weather and lots of stressed plants. For first time ever, am having to water my plants. If you hear from Patty, remind her she promised to visit my garden and give me some free advice. Been hacking down lots of blackberries across the slough, and have the lacerations to prove it.Trying to put in some native perennials. My brother just visited bearing a load of truffles, causing our triglycerides to spike. We will meet him down in Dundee on Wednesday for some incredibly expensive truffle feast. Afterwards, we’ll stop at Carl Junior’s for a triple bypass cheeseburger. Hope you guys are regulating the social whirl in Canar with aplomb, good cheer, and lip-smacking repast. Have any guests parachuted in unexpectedly? Great hearing from you and talk you you soon. –Bruce

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